It was a busy week in the world of intelligence. Here’s what caught our eye:
Chinese hackers appear to have gained access to the sensitive background information submitted by government employees in order to gain security clearances. The forms that officials believe may have been accessed are known as Standard Form 86. They require applicants to fill out information about mental illnesses, best viagra thumb drug and alcohol use, viagra sale and also information about relatives. Joel Brenner, a former top U.S. counterintelligence official, called it a “gold mine” for the hackers.
House lawmakers voted to reduce the power of the NSA by preventing two surveillance “backdoors” from being created. The bipartisan amendment that was attached to a fiscal 2016 defense appropriations bill passed 255-174. It would ban the government from forcing tech companies to build weak spots in their security systems.
New documents released by the CIA show that officials fought in the years after 9/11 as to whether or not the terror attacks could have been prevented. The newly released documents also include a more complete version of a 2005 report conducted by then CIA Inspector General John Helgerson. The infighting is most clearly evident in a heated letter written to Helgerson by then Director George Tenent. He did not agree with Helgerson’s conclusion said: “Your report challenges my professionalism, diligence and skill in leading the men and women of U.S. intelligence in countering terrorism.”
As part of its yearly intelligence authorization act, the House intel committee included language that would prevent the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) from accessing information related to covert action. The PCLOB as conducted several thorough investigations in NSA surveillance programs. The prospect of the PCLOB turning its attention to the drone program apparently has Congress nervous.
CIA Director John Brennan made a secret trip to Israel last week to discuss the ongoing nuclear discussions with Iran. While in Israel Brennan met with Mossad intelligence chief Tamir Pardo, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Beside the nuclear negotiations Brennan and Netanyahu also discussed Iran’s activities in the Middle East and their influence in places like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
In a letter to the U.S. Senate, DNI James Clapper said that Iran and Hezbollah still “directly threaten the interests of the United State and our allies.” He went on to say that the intelligence community considers Iran to be the “foremost state sponsor of terrorism” and sees them increasing their ability to influence the Middle East. The letter was sent as a response to an early letter sent to Clapper in which lawmakers expressed concern that the threat assessment report submitted to the Senate earlier this year didn’t include Iran and Hezbollah as terror threats.
According to senior British officials, MI6 has had to pull agents out of operations in hostile countries because China and Russia have deciphered files leaked by Edward Snowden. British officials said the information gained by China and Russia gave them “knowledge of how we operate.” The Sunday Times, which first reported the story, confirmed that China had cracked encrypted documents that contained “details of secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified.”