It will go down as one of Wikileaks’ more astonishing achievements that it managed to turn the director of the CIA—a man who some have vilified as the architect of the drone wars and an endorser of torture—into a sympathetic character.
But that’s what happened on Wednesday when the website devoted to transparency and government accountability published loads of personal information about John Brennan, his wife, and children, and other people close to him that had no obvious connection to his work as the CIA chief or his earlier role as President Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.
Wikileaks said the documents it published, which include a lengthy background check form that Brennan was filling out before joining the Obama administration in 2009, were obtained by a hacker who broke into Brennan’s personal email account. Readers hoping to see inside details of Brennan’s role in covert intelligence program were instead shown the names and birth dates of his two daughters, as well as Brennan’s parents’ dates of birth and their home address. Also the same information for his brother. And his sister.
“There is lots of inappropriately disclosed personal information in there. It’s a perversion of transparency to turn it into a weapon against personal privacy,” Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told The Daily Beast.
Aftergood has devoted his career to exposing official malfeasance, especially by intelligence agencies, and has pushed government agencies to ease their classification rules and open more secrets to public view. But he’s long been a critic of Wikileaks, which he sees an outfit recklessly perverting his transparency mission.
The Brennan data dump was strikingly discordant for a website that built its reputation holding institutions and officials to account for their actions, including by exposing military assaults on journalists, revealing duplicity in foreign policy, and peering inside the secretive detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The information on Brennan had no obvious public policy value. But it could prove very useful for criminals engaged in financial fraud and identity theft.
The background form, known as an SF-86, is the one that milions of other government employees have filled out and that were stolen by Chinese hackers in the massive breach of the Office of Personnel Management.
Those intruders are believed to have made off with personal information on 22 million current and former government employees and their families. But unlike Brennan’s information, it has not been put on the Web, according to U.S. officials and security experts who are tracking the fallout from the breach.
Brennan’s wife Kathy is one of those who is now exposed. Her date of birth and her Social Security number are in the form. Armed with that information, a fraudster could file a fake tax return in her name or try to open a bank account.
The phone numbers and addresses of some of Brennan’s former associates have also been published, including Jami Miscik, a career CIA employee who became the agency’s top analyst and left in 2005, and Darleen Connelly, who was the general counsel of a president’s intelligence advisory board.
The CIA condemned the hacking of Brennan’s email and emphasized the damage it could cause to his personal life. (The other files in the Wikileaks dump were of minimal news value. The only revelation came in a report documenting a dispute between Brennan’s company at the time and the CIA.)
“The hacking of the Brennan family account is a crime and the Brennan family is the victim,” a CIA spokesperson said in a statement. “The private electronic holdings of the Brennan family were plundered with malicious intent and are now being distributed across the web. This attack is something that could happen to anyone and should be condemned, not promoted. There is no indication that any the documents released thus far are classified. In fact, they appear to be documents that a private citizen with national security interests and expertise would be expected to possess.”
Wikileaks didn’t respond to a request for comment about why it published the information.