The Week in Intelligence

on April 21 | in cyber, NSA

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

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is expected to introduce a new bill next week that would cut back on NSA’s bulk phone records collection program. The USA Freedom Act would effectively end the program and instead rely on phone companies to store and provide access to phone records. Despite the early bipartisan support, the bill may struggle to receive enough votes from Senate Republicans, many of whom may view the bill as being too soft on national security. Without progress on this bill, there will likely be an up or down vote on key USA Patriot Act provisions, resulting in either expiration or reauthorization. Both outcomes are less than ideal.

The Business Executives for National Security (BENS) released a report about how to maintain the balance between domestic security and privacy. They believe that counterterrorism efforts and civil liberties do not stand in opposition to one another. Their first recommendation was to establish Fusion Centers, which would “serve as coordination mechanisms for federal, state, and local authorities” with the purpose of providing efficient ways of sharing data. This is, to be blunt, a foolish recommendation. 

A group of respected computer security experts wrote a letter to Congress arguing that they don’t need new legal authorities to share information that helps prevent cyber attacks. The letter takes aim at cyber security legislation , stating that “threat data that security professionals use to protect networks from future attacks is a far more narrow category of information than those included in the bills being considered by Congress.”

CIA Director John Brennan visited Egypt on Sunday to meet with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to discuss regional conflict and terrorism. The trip to Cairo was unannounced. Brennan was also able to meet with Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate Khaled Fawzy. A government statement from Egypt said the discussion between the three focused on “ways of enhancing bilateral relations.”

A top U.S. military official said the Pentagon is prepared to draft thousands of private sector and National Guard cyber experts in the case of a network emergency. Called “surge forces,” these recruits will be trained by the Department of Defense and tasked with defending the energy sector, telecommunications, and any other infrastructure deemed critical. The experts are needed to combat the growing threat of cyber-attacks; however, their recruitment is also a way for the government to compete with the private sector for scarce cyber talent. Some lawmakers have advocated for a civilian “cyber militia” or something similar to a digital ROTC program to provide education and workforce development for cyber issues.

Julius Taranto, in a piece for Lawfare, reviewed the book by author Tricia Jenkins titled The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television. In his review, Taranto first addressed the reality that public relations crises are something the CIA deals with all too frequently. The agency, being a covert enterprise, is rarely able to brag about its successes, but faces intense scrutiny and attention over any mistake. Jenkins’s book claims that Hollywood has become the loophole for the CIA to address this image asymmetry. She argues that despite the inaccuracies depicted in many shows, the romanticized representation of spies has public appeal. According to Jenkins, if the shows were to feature the more accurate “buttoned-up colleagues” they would likely draw less interest.

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