The Week in Intelligence

on May 19 | in CIA, Congress, NSA

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

Everybody hates backdoors! That’s the message of a letter signed by seemingly everybody in the tech advocacy community opposing recent statements from Administration officials (i.e. the FBI & NSA) arguing they should have a means to access encrypted data and communications. “Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” the letter argues.

The House overwhelmingly approved the USA Freedom Act, which would limit the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program. The bipartisan bill passed 338-88 and would delegate the job of collection of metadata to private phone companies. The bill is not expected to meet the same near-unanimity in the Senate. It faces opposition from a group led by Sen. McConnell, who wishes to reauthorize the Patriot Act entirely.

Twenty former senior CIA officials wrote a letter to the New York Times editor criticizing the paper’s recent decision to publish the names of undercover Agency officers. They note that, “[N]othing is gained by “outing” career operations officers…They operate in the shadows, not because they want to; indeed, a life under cover can be enormously burdensome to family and loved ones. They operate in the shadows because we still need a small cadre of professionals who, when called upon, can operate in secret to protect the country.”

Over at Foreign Policy, Yochi Dreazen and Sean Naylor argue that “The CIA has been pulling the strings of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11.” The piece describes the various turf wars that have occurred between the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies over the last decade. It is an interesting read that at times confuses the CIA for the policymakers the CIA serves. Many examples cited of CIA power are actually examples of the CIA doing the bidding of those in the White House.

The CIA responded to journalist Seymour Hersh’s allegations about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden calling them “utter nonsense.” Hersh, whose previous work had earned him a Pulitzer Prize, claimed bin Laden was actually a prisoner at the compound in Abbottabad and that the Pakistani government collaborated closely on the mission with the U.S. His claims have been dismissed not only by the CIA but also the White House, which said Hersh’s story was riddled with “too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions.”

According to members of Congress who were briefed on the mission, the raid that killed an Islamic State official yielded a “treasure trove” of intelligence. Abu Sayyaf, who has been described as a sort of chief financial officer for ISIS, was killed by U.S. forces in a raid that occurred deep in an Islamic State controlled region of Syria. The chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul (R-TX), said the computers and paperwork taken from the site could help the U.S. learn “where the tentacles reach” from the ISIS leadership.

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to prison for three and a half years for revealing classified information to a New York Times journalist. Sterling had been convicted of espionage for revealing information about agency efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. Prosecutors claimed his actions put people’s lives at risk and endangered national security. The judge who presided over the case said: “There has to be a clear message sent to other people at the agency.” Others have been critical of the case, pointing to the lighter sentence delivered to former CIA Director David Petraeus.

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