Privacy-minded netizens use anonymous browsing tools like Tor for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) soothing surveillance-induced paranoia, purchasing drugs, keeping their information safe from the government – and now, apparently, giving information to the government.
“Secure, anonymous, untraceable—traits ever-present in CIA’s intelligence collection mission— and the same is true for our onion site, which is now available over the Tor network,” the government agency wrote on Twitter, announcing the “latest layer” of their operations.
TOR (‘The Onion Router) essentially protects users by encrypting Internet traffic and bouncing it through a series of relays or “onion layers” that mask their actual location. The tool will help people to send in “truly anonymous” tips, whether they want to browse the CIA fact book or turn informant on their government.
“Our global mission demands that individuals can access us securely from anywhere. Creating an onion site is just one of many ways we’re going where people are,” said the CIA’s Director of Public Affairs Brittany Bramell.
While “going where people are” might be a nice sentiment for a delivery service, it rings slightly more threatening when offered by an agency tasked with spying on citizens and overthrowing foreign governments.
Quite a few people on Twitter replied to the CIA’s generous offering, although not exactly with the kind of helpful information the agency might have been expecting.
The irony of the CIA using the same tools and networks as criminals and terrorists the agency claims to be pursuing was certainly not lost on a number of people.
Over the past few years, numerous websites have come out with a so-called “onion-service,” allowing their website to be pursued anonymously. Facebook has had one since 2014, particularly useful for users in countries where Facebook is banned.
Information sharing services on the other side of the fence from the US government, WikiLeaks among them, have also made use of Tor to allow anonymous uploading.
There is a reason for this, however: government documents obtained by journalist Yasha Levine in 2015 show that TOR was funded and controlled by the US government from the very beginning, describing meetings and training sessions with the CIA, NSA, FBI, DOJ and the State Department and demanding monthly status reports.