A 2018 directive by President Donald Trump has allowed the CIA to conduct more than a dozen cyberattacks against Iran and other American foes without approval from the White House.
Yahoo News published a lengthy report on the practice, saying the presidential finding — the technical term for Trump's order — allows the CIA to target Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, and likely others.
A former U.S. government official called the finding "very aggressive" and said it "gave the agency very specific authorities to really take the fight offensively to a handful of adversarial countries."
Another former government official added, "The White House wanted a vehicle to strike back. And this was the way to do it."
The cyberattacks in question involve actions like cutting power to facilities and leaking sensitive documents, and also more offensive moves like destroying equipment and facilities — all without having to ask the White House for authorization.
Further, the finding made it easier for the CIA to target via cyberattacks charities, businesses, religious institutions, and even media organizations suspected of working with the intelligence services of America's foes.
"Before, you would need years of signals and dozens of pages of intelligence to show that this thing is a de facto arm of the government," a former government official told Yahoo. Under the 2018 order, "as long as you can show that it vaguely looks like the charity is working on behalf of that government, then you're good."
Some within the government cheered the 2018 finding, but others are wary of the powers it gave America's top intelligence agency.
"Our government is basically turning into f****** WikiLeaks, [using] secure communications on the dark web with dissidents, hacking, and dumping," a former government official told Yahoo.
Neither the CIA nor the National Security Council would comment to Yahoo about its report.
Yahoo also reported that in 2016 during the final months of the Obama administration, the CIA was ordered not to retaliate against Russia for interfering in the U.S. election. After Trump took office in January 2017, a former official said there was "radio silence" from the White House on taking action against Russia.
"It all dissipated, went to nothing," the official said.
Shortly after he took office, Trump signed a separate order that gave military commanders the power to authorize strikes in certain countries without him having to sign off on them.
Last month, it was reported that the CIA did not do enough to protect itself from cyberattacks despite developing tools to launch cyber operations.
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