The Week in Intelligence

on January 12 | in CIA, Foreign Policy, NSA

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It was busy in the world of intelligence last week, with news about the CIA, NSA, ODNI, FBI, and Congress.  Here is what caught our eye:

Republicans in Congress have claimed that the attack at Charlie Hebdo in Paris justifies NSA surveillance measures. A concern expressed by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Bob Corker (R-TN) has been the fading public support for NSA in the midst of a rising threat of terrorism. He believes that Americans must be reminded that the only thing which can prevent future acts of terrorism is “outstanding intelligence-gathering.” The link between the attack and NSA surveillance is a stretch but we agree with the sentiment.

The White House announced on Friday that David Cohen, who formerly served as Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence for the Treasury Department, will be named the next Deputy Director of the CIA. Other candidates from inside the agency may have been hampered by their association with the enhanced interrogation program, according to the Washington Post. Despite having never worked for a spy agency, Director Brennan gave Cohen high praise saying he “brings a wealth of experience on many of the issues that we focus on.”

Over at the Washington Post blog, Philip Bump has called out the IC for its tendency to release declassified documents late in the day on Fridays. It seems this otherwise time-tested communications tactic might not work well at a point when intelligence officials are trying to rebuild trust with the public. Check out Marshall’s commentary about this very issue two weeks ago.

In a letter to President Obama, Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a series of recommendations which she stated “are intended to make sure that the United States never again engages in actions that you have acknowledged were torture.” Along with the letter, the Senator also announced her intentions to file legislation to “ban the long-term detention of CIA detainees, limit the list of interrogation techniques used by intelligence officials and provide swift Red Cross access to detainees.” She also hopes to reform the declassification process, which she calls “slow and disjointed.”

At the National Interest, Matthew F. Ferraro has written a good piece of analysis about the recent proposal to eliminate the CIA’s separate divisions in favor of creating “hybrid units focused on individual regions and threats.” He argues, “The CIA’s successful reorganization would be the most significant evidence yet that the intelligence reform effort, so often maligned, has succeeded at the place some thought it least likely…” Check out Aki’s analysis about this proposed reorg.

The New York Times reports on a recently declassified report from the DOJ Inspector General that documents the FBI’s expanded use of FISA surveillance authorities. “[T]he inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, concluded that the F.B.I. was doing a good job in making sure that the email accounts targeted for warrantless collection belonged to noncitizens abroad.”

FBI Director Comey strongly defended the bureau’s conclusion that North Korea was behind the Sony hack. He said that he has “very high confidence about the attribution” and provided additional details about the FBI’s analysis. This should (but probably will not) quiet skeptics. The Director is unlikely to have made such a statement if the case weren’t rock solid.

The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community recently published a report evaluating the ODNI’s performance under the Reducing Over-Classification Act. The report gives the ODNI good marks and states, “IC IG found no instances where classification was used to conceal violation of law, inefficiency, or administrative error…” It would seem Senator Feinstein, given her efforts to get the EIT report released, might disagree with that point.

In a piece for Politico titled “Why Congress is Broken” Congressman Mike Rodgers (R-MI), the former HPSCI Chairman who has retiring after fourteen years, offers his view on the characteristics of a successful Congress. Rogers states that,”The House Intelligence Committee passed good, important legislation largely because Dutch [Ruppersberger] and I were both willing to take some lumps from our partisan caucus members in order to advance an issue important to national security.”

The Democrats named Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, as the new ranking member of HPSCI. Let’s hope he and new HPSCI Chairman Nunes continue in the bipartisan spirit established by their predecessors. 

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