The Week in Intelligence

on December 7 | in Oversight, surveillance

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Here is what caught our eye in the world of intelligence last week:

The Senate Intelligence Committee will be getting a new chair following Republican victories in the midterm elections. Set to take over is Richard Burr (R-NC), who has promised drastic changes saying he would like to “rip down the rearview mirror that seems to be the motivating tool for the committee, and do oversight in real time.” Here at Overt Action, we think this is right approach that should help the intel community navigate a current, difficult environment.

On Friday President Obama announced his selection of Ashton B. Carter to be the new Secretary of Defense. Carter, a highly educated physicist, comes to the department with years of experience, having worked at the Pentagon during the Clinton Administration as well as serving under previous Secretaries Gates and Hagel. He is credited with being both assertive and intellectual.

During a recent speech at Georgetown University’s law school Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell announced that the Justice Department will be creating a distinct cybersecurity unit within its criminal division. The goal of this new division will be to “provide legal guidance on electronic surveillance investigations,” as well as work with Congress on cybersecurity legislation. Coming during a time of severe mistrust of government surveillance, Caldwell optimistically claimed that the new division will effectively bring criminals to justice while also ensuring the privacy of innocent Americans.

A new bill was introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would ban the government from requiring tech companies to guarantee access to their software. Currently in existence is a law, passed in 1994, which requires telephone companies to provide government officials with wire-tapping abilities. However this law, which the FBI has asked Congress to update, does not apply to cell phone data or other modern Internet communications technologies. Wyden and others in the Senate want to keep it that way, claiming that “strong computer security can rebuild consumer trust that has been shaken by years of misstatements” following the revelations released by NSA leader Edward Snowden.”

A recent FBI sting operation successfully apprehended a Navy engineer who was attempting to leak plans of a new aircraft carrier to Egypt. The engineer, Mostafa Ahmed Awwad, gave drawing of the highly advanced USS Gerald R. Ford, to whom he believed was an Egyptian intelligence officer, but was really an undercover agent. Information was not given as to why authorities initially became suspicious of Awwad, who was born in Egypt but became a US citizen in 2007. He is being charged with attempted exportation of defense articles and technical data.

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