AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The list keeps getting longer - the list of U.S. government officials whose personal email accounts appear to have been hacked. The latest would-be victim, and perhaps the most surprising to date, is no less than CIA Director John Brennan. The target, it seems, was Brennan's private AOL account. David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
Welcome back, David.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Thanks Audie.
CORNISH: So this is an alleged hack of CIA Director Brennan's private email account. What's known?
WELNA: Well, you know, this is a story that was first reported yesterday by the New York Post after a bunch of tweets appeared on Twitter over the weekend by at least one of the people claiming to have taken control of Brennan's AOL account. That person, whose name and location was not disclosed by the Post, told the paper that he and some of his friends, who call themselves Cracka With Attitude, had easily broken into the CIA director's personally email and found documents which they then tweeted. Those documents include lists of government officials with security clearances, Brennan's 47-page application for a top secret-level security clearance and a letter that Brendan supposedly drafted about harsh interrogation techniques the CIA had used on terrorism suspects.
CORNISH: So what, if any, of this has been confirmed?
WELNA: Well, none of it by the CIA. All the Agency will say on the record is they are aware of the reports that have surfaced on social media and have referred the matter to the appropriate authorities, presumably, the FBI and the Secret Service. But cybersecurity experts I spoke with today say this looks like a plausible hack, and we certainly have not had any denials that it did indeed take place.
CORNISH: And, as we mentioned, this is a private account. How did this happen?
WELNA: According to the person claiming to have hacked the account, it started with obtaining Brennan's personal cell phone number earlier this year. He says he placed some prank calls to Brennan and then talked to Verizon about providing personal information about Brennan that was then used to fool AOL into thinking that he was trying to change his password. These are what are known as social engineering tactics, and the guy who claims to have hacked the account said it was a cinch to pull it off.
CORNISH: We've talked about government hacks over the last few months, but have the hackers gone after anyone else like this specifically?
WELNA: They have. They say they recently hacked into Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson's voice mail, and today they posted a phone log they linked to Avril Haines, the former number two at the CIA who's now the White House deputy national security advisor. And they say that Robert Work, who's the Pentagon's number two civilian, will be their next victim. But it's not clear how far they'll get. One of their Twitter accounts has already been taken down, and the hacker, who was interviewed by the Post, says he expects to be hounded down. He says, presumably facetiously, that he's thinking of going over to Moscow to hang out with National Security Agency hacker Edward Snowden. Just why he and his collaborators, who he says smoke pot all day long, are doing this is not exactly clear. He says it's to protest American foreign policy and to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.
CORNISH: Now, given what we've heard all about, like, email accounts of, like, government officials the last few months, if any of this turns out to be true, what are the implications?
WELNA: Well, in the immediate future - of course, the apparent hacking of the CIA director's private email account may make Hillary Clinton feel like she's not the only one with explaining to do about keeping a private email account active while heading a government agency. I should note that the hacker says Brennan finally deactivated his AOL account only last Friday. But I think it would also raise some serious questions about the cyber insecurity that seems to permeate official Washington. After all, if the head of the country's premier spy agency is vulnerable, who isn't?
CORNISH: That's NPR's national security correspondent, David Welna.
David, thank you.
WELNA: You're welcome Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.