The Consortium

The CIA's Electronic Cash Withdrawals

One of the stranger stories buzzing around the Internet holds that some CIA vigilantes have been rolling down the Interstates in a 16-wheeler trailer-truck with a powerful computer in the back "dialing for dollars." The CIA men supposedly have used the computer to hack into the overseas bank accounts of criminals and move their dirty money into the U.S. Treasury. One version even links this story to Vincent Foster's death by claiming that the patriot hackers had emptied Foster's Swiss bank account in the days before he drove despondently to Fort Marcy Park.

While the chief sources for these tales are pretty unreliable and have offered no supporting evidence for their claims, current and past officials close to U.S. intelligences have told The Consortium that the hacking techniques (sans 16-wheeler) are theoretically sound. Indeed, the sources report that the CIA and the National Security Agency already have used hacking as part of authorized covert operations.

One official said U.S. intelligence hacked into one bank to intercept a payoff from a drug cartel to a corrupt Latin American politician. When the payoff didn't arrive and the politician complained about the missing bribe, the cartel reportedly killed its bookkeeper for suspected theft. When the money disappeared a second time, the cartel shot the politician, the U.S. official said. Clearly, the ability to delete financial records gives the CIA a golden opportunity to disrupt the operations of its adversaries.

The sensitivity of these operations appears to be a factor in the intelligence community's opposition to the overseas sale of sophisticated encrypting devices and its resistance to a civil suit brought by a small computer firm, Inslaw. That firm developed high-powered software which had multiple capabilities, including some for spying. Over the years, Inslaw owner William Hamilton has heard claims that his software was stolen by the government and adapted for intelligence purposes, including the penetration of foreign banks.

The Inslaw case, which has sputtered on and off for a decade, is now in discovery, with Inslaw's lawyers seeking evidence that the software was misappropriated.

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