Details of a secretive CIA project code-named Protego developed in conjunction with U.S. defense contractor Raytheon has spilled onto the web courtesy of whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks, which released the data as part of its Vault 7 leaks of information from the U.S. intelligence service's Engineering Development Group.
The information, revealed in four secret documents and 37 related technical manuals, details the Protego missile control system that is installed on board military aircraft manufactured by United Technologies subsidiary Pratt Whitney. The company produces engines for military aircraft including the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon, F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, B-52 strategic bomber, among other aircraft presently in service across 27 air forces worldwide.
A PIC-based system developed by Raytheon, Protego – named after the Shield Charm deflecting attacks in the fantasy novel series Harry Potter – uses microcontroller units to exchange data and signals over encrypted and authenticated channels. The documents released by Wikileaks reveal the project scheme, its description and a guide on how to configure and build Protego images.
While the data may seem hard to decipher for the average lay person unversed on computer science and military-technical jargon, the sensitive and highly-classified documents detailing the U.S. military sector's intellectual properties could come in handy for U.S. foes and friends keen on perfecting their own defense systems.
The Pentagon frequently complains that the Chinese military-industrial complex uses classified U.S. technical documents acquired through espionage or weapons plans reverse-engineered after being acquired through third parties to produce indigenous variants of top-tier U.S. weapons systems such as the fifth-generation F-35 JSF and semi-autonomous Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle.
In April, CIA Director Mike Pompeo used his first public speech as spy agency chief to denounce leakers who have plagued U.S. intelligence.
“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said.
WikiLeaks said it could discover “no indication” why the Protego project was included in Vault 7, which is comprised of 8,761 documents detailing the CIA's Engineering Development Group, Langley's hub for hackers developing malware and espionage tools.
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials claim that the CIA's own contractors breached security and handed over the Vault 7 documents to WikiLeaks.