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What We Know About the Hack of the CIA Director’s Private Email

CIA Director John Brennan

CIA Director John Brennan // Richard Drew/AP

A hacker claims to have accessed the personal email account of John Brennan, director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. In a Twitter post that is no longer available, the hacker posted an image of what appears to be a spreadsheet containing the personal information of a number of government officials, including Brennan.

The CIA said it was investigating but wouldn’t confirm if the account was legitimate. The hacker, who claims to be 15 years old, told Motherboard that getting into Brennan’s email, where he claims to have found the spreadsheet, was “not hard at all.”

So did a teenager really hack the director of the CIA? Here’s the spreadsheet that was posted on Twitter, with sensitive data redacted:

The alleged CIA spreadsheet

Here’s what we were able to determine about the posted information:

  • The spreadsheet contains a few ptt.gov email addresses. PTT likely stands for Presidential Transition Team, which was formed as Barack Obama prepared to take office in late 2008 and early 2009.
  • The AOL email address attributed to Brennan was used to register the domain weeplayinfo.com, which was a childcare center run by his wife, Kathy Brennan.
  • The dates of birth are generally correct.
  • The birthday listed for Don Gips, former US ambassador to South Africa, appears to be the result of a formatting error. His real birthday, when typed into Microsoft Excel as a series of unseparated numbers, converts to the one listed.
  • There are other formatting issues. Some of the birthdays don’t follow the format specified in the header. Brennan’s own birthday is listed in a day/month/year format rather than month/day/year.
  • All but two of the Social Security numbers were in fact issued by the US government after the date of birth of the person associated with it. (We used this tool to validate the numbers.) But it wasn’t possible to verify if the numbers are correct.
  • The two Social Security numbers that are invalid are missing a digit. It’s possible this was simply the result of a spreadsheet application automatically removing a zero from the first digit. If that was the case, those numbers check out, as well.
  • Only the columns for first names and middle initials are listed, though last names can be deduced from the email addresses. It’s possible the screenshot merely cut off the column of last names.
  • The names in red appear to indicate people who don’t have security clearance. We couldn’t verify if that information is accurate.
  • The “Phone Number” cell is highlighted in a design that looks like the person who took the screenshot was using Apple’s Numbers app on a Mac.
  • Robert Harding, the former Army major general who was unsuccessfully nominated as transportation secretary, is listed twice with identical information.

None of which demonstrates that the spreadsheet is real or that a hacker got into Brennan’s personal email account. But it’s everything we know, and now you know, too.

By David Yanofsky Quartz October 20, 2015

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