CIA Operations Hacking Household Devices Have Pokémon Code Names

posted on by Eric Stimson
There could be more Starmies on your phone than you think

On March 7, the international document archive WikiLeaks disclosed a trove of evidence that America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is hacking into computers and household devices to conduct surveillance. The disclosure has reignited a somewhat dormant debate about the right to privacy versus the state's imperative to secure its citizens and has seemingly validated wild conspiracy theories. On the lighter side, meanwhile, the disclosure has also provided evidence backing up a less wild theory: that intelligence agents are pretty geeky.

Among the operations that let the CIA hack into personal devices using the Android operating system are Dugtrio (4.0 to 4.1.2), Lugia (MSM devices up to 4.4), Starmie (4.0 to 4.3, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, Galaxy Note and Epic 4G Touch), Spearow (4.1.2), Steelix ("OS before 3 June 2014"), Totodile (Kitkat devices), and "Snubble" (Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5 and Galaxy Note 3). Pokémon code names make up about a third of Android OS exploits. Tellingly, the Pokémon names only go up to Generation 2. Meanwhile, perhaps the most controversial program, Weeping Angel (which lets the CIA hack into Samsung TVs), is a reference to a race in the British science-fiction TV series Doctor Who. The CIA has not officially commented on the leak, but intelligence officials speaking with anonymity say the documents "appear to be authentic."

Among other evidence that spies have a yen for Japanese culture, Pokémon Go developer Niantic has links to American intelligence agencies — its geo-locational software was originally developed for military use, and its founder received early backing from the CIA's venture capital firm. Famous whistleblower Edward Snowden also had a teenage enthusiasm for anime, Japanese, and video games and once worked at an anime-related website called Ryuhana Press; he's also declared glitch Pokémon Missingno. his favorite on Twitter. Who knows what other nerdy secrets might lie buried in the CIA or NSA?

Sources: CNET: Alfred Ng, WikiLeaks, Network World: Bryan Lunduke, The New York Times: John M. Broder and Scott Shane and Reuters: Kristina Cooke and John Shiffman; Images from Bulbapedia (2, 3)

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