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 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, which appeared on Friday.
“The fictional story that CIA was bilked out of US$100,000 is patently false,” the CIA said in a statement sent to reporters.
“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.
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 cybercriminals 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.
Reached through a chain of intermediaries, the seller reportedly wanted US$1 million after quickly dropping his opening demand of about US$10 million. The US$100,000 was an initial payment by US agents still dubious he really had what he was promising.
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