In 2013, the CIA caught a handful of contractors committing a dastardly crime that sent shockwaves through the intelligence community: snack theft. According to a declassified report obtained by BuzzFeed, a group of unidentified workers hacked into agency vending machines and stole $3,314.40 worth of food between 2012 and 2013 before getting caught.
One contract employee with a “knowledge of computer networks” concocted the scheme, which involved unplugging cables that connected the machines to a digitized payment network and using unfunded cards to get snacks without paying. The contractor then taught the others, and the whole gang went to town on some free spy snacks for months.
The CIA nabbed these perps by installing security cameras near the victimized vending machines. The contract employees were fired, but the Department of Justice did not file charges.
Clearly, stealing from the CIA wasn’t a good idea. This wasn’t the Boys & Girls Club of Langley, Virginia. Nevertheless, I don’t think these were stupid people. They must have had some reason or reasons to think they could go black hat without getting caught. For the sake of empathy, let’s put ourselves in their shoes and try to imagine how they rationalized this:
The CIA had bigger fish to fry.
According to the CIA, their “primary mission is to collect, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist the President and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security.” Do you see anything about candy in there? Exactly—they’ve got more on their plate. How could those contractors have known that the agency would take a break from its explicitly expressed mission statement to hunt them down?
The CIA wouldn’t have noticed.
According to a top-secret document leaked by Edward Snowden, the CIA’s budget in 2013—the year the candy caper concluded—was nearly $5 billion, making it the highest-funded U.S. intelligence agency. Who cares if a few thousand bucks worth of snacks go missing? That’s chump change to the CIA.
It was an audition.
Frank William Abagnale Jr., the famous con artist portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, wound up being hired by the FBI after he eluded the bureau during a six-year fraud spree. Now, imagine all those sexy, fun hijinks from the movie, but with a vending machine. The CIA would be bonkers not to get those clever rascals on their side.
The CIA did some bad stuff, too, man.
Does Nicaragua ring a bell? How about Honduras? Panama? Oh, the CIA wants to get high and mighty about some candy all of a sudden? Come on guys. Get real.