February 11, 2018
Washington (AFP) - The CIA on Saturday categorically denied reports that it was fleeced by a mystery Russian who promised compromising information on US President Donald Trump.
The secretive agency rarely issues any kind of comment, but came out to deny the report in The New York Times and a similar one in The Intercept, an online journal focusing on national security issues.
"The fictional story that CIA was bilked out of $100,000 is patently false," the Central Intelligence Agency said in a statement sent to AFP.
"The people swindled here were James Risen and Matt Rosenberg," the CIA said, referring to Times reporter Rosenberg, who wrote the story, and Risen, a former Times reporter who authored The Intercept's article.
Both reports appeared on Friday.
The president tweeted approvingly that The Times article shows a need to "drain the swamp" in Washington.
In a story worthy of a John le Carre novel that included secret USB-drive handovers in a small Berlin bar and coded messages delivered over the National Security Agency's Twitter account, CIA agents spent much of last year trying to buy back from the Russians hacking programs stolen from the NSA, the Times reported.
The seller, who was not identified but had suspected links to both cyber criminals and Russian intelligence, tantalized the US spies with an offer of the NSA hacking tools that had been advertised for sale online by a group called the Shadow Brokers.
Some of the tools, developed by the NSA to break into the computers of US rivals, were used by other hackers last year to crack or infect computer systems around the world. The Times described the Americans as "desperate" to get the tools back.
Reached through a chain of intermediaries, the seller reportedly wanted $1 million after quickly dropping his opening demand of about $10 million.
The $100,000 was an initial payment by US agents still dubious he really had what he was promising.
In its report, the Times cited US and European intelligence officials, the Russian, and communications the newspaper reviewed.
The seller also repeatedly pressed US agents with offers of compromising materials, or kompromat, on Trump, the Times said.