March 8 (UPI) -- The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into the release of a large cache of potentially classified information by Wikileaks on Tuesday -- thousands of documents the website says reveal the entire cyberespionage capabilities of the CIA.
Multiple U.S. officials confirmed the investigation, which will be coordinated by both federal agencies. The main thrust of the probe, the officials told CNN on Wednesday, will be how WikiLeaks acquired the nearly 8,000 items it published and whether the site might be holding more.
The documents, which WikiLeaks termed "Vault 7," specify the hacking capabilities and methods used by the United States' spy agency to tap into electronic devices like smartphones and smart televisions. The site called it "largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency."
Much of the leaked data was in the form of computer code -- several hundred million lines of it -- that reveals what WikiLeaks said is "the entire hacking capacity of the CIA."
Since Tuesday's release, U.S. officials have scrambled to find out who may have been behind the leak, how they obtained it and what federal laws they may have violated. The FBI's investigation will proceed in that direction, officials said.
Forensic examiners will also work to determine whether all of the documents included in the leak are indeed genuine, or whether they have been altered. The White House said Wednesday that, as a policy, it does not confirm or deny the authenticity of leaked classified information for security reasons.
Tuesday's leak of alleged classified materials could be the largest and most significant since whistleblower Edward Snowden gave a trove of hijacked intelligence data to The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers in 2013, which exposed a sweeping domestic phone surveillance program at the National Security Agency. Snowden, who faces felony charges in the United States, was granted asylum by Russia and has been living in an undisclosed location in Russia for the past three years.
"There is heavy [expletive] coming down," a veteran cyber contractor who once worked in the CIA Center for Cyber Intelligence, told Fox News.
It is likely only a matter of time before the source of the leak is identified, experts say, because security at the CIA is so great and computer activities are so electronically traceable that investigators should be able to narrow the pool of candidates.
"What's clear to me [is] the preventive controls were broken, or the detective controls were broken," Brian Vecci, a technological evangelist for cybersecurity company Varonis, told Fox News. "Meaning, either too many people had access to the information, or the people that had access weren't being recorded and analyzed. Or both."
President Donald Trump's administration has become increasingly vocal in recent weeks about repeated leaks concerning political and intelligence matters, and the president himself is said to be furious about the ongoing lack of institutional integrity, The Washington Post reported.
The White House said Wednesday that the "Vault 7" leak, as well as others, should be worrisome to everyone because it threatens to undermine national interests.
"This should be a major concern to people, in terms that leaks are coming out," press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday. "Having these ongoing disclosures of national security and classified information is something that everybody is outraged [about] in this country. This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our country, our security and our well-being."
Spicer, though, qualified some of his comments about leaks in general by deflecting blame toward former President Barack Obama's government. He also criticized what he said has been an uneven response to leaks under both presidents.
"All of these occurred under the last administration. That is important," Spicer said. "Over the last two years ... it's interesting how there's sort of a double-standard with when the leaks occur [and] how much outrage there is.
"When it dealt with Hillary Clinton it was complete outrage. ... I don't want to get into confirming or denying this particular [leak]. I think it is interesting how different subjects are approached."
As a Republican candidate for president last year, Trump praised Wikileaks for publishing hacked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and encouraged them to release more. The messages were thought by some, including the FBI, to have been obtained by Russian hackers as part of a covert conspiracy by the Kremlin to sway the presidential election in Trump's favor -- a theory WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly rejected.
"There is a big difference between disclosing John Podesta's Gmail accounts and the back-and-forth about his undermining of Hillary Clinton and his thoughts on her on a personal level, and of leaking classified information," Spicer said Wednesday when asked if Trump is still a supporter of Wikileaks. "There is a massive, massive difference between those two things. ... Again, the interest and the outrage that occurred last year by Democrats about a lot of leaks, it's interesting we're hearing not as much outrage now when it comes to some of our issues of national security."