The Week in Intelligence

on July 28 | in CIA, cyber, Homeland Security, NSA

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

The NSA will be shortly barred from accessing a previously held database containing Americans’ metadata. Yesterday, the ODNI announced NSA analysts will be denied access to this database on November 29th, 2015, although some will be able to view certain historical documents for three months after that. This change is due to the recently-passed USA FREEDOM Act.

The Obama administration might be preparing to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard who was sentenced to life in prison in 1985. Pollard, who is up for parole in November, served in the U.S. Navy as a civilian analyst before he was caught passing documents to Israel. He has been the topic of discussion between Israel and the U.S. many times throughout the years, but the U.S. has never considered releasing him until now.

An audit of the U.S. Treasury’s computer system found its lax security made it vulnerable to hackers. The system at greatest risk is the Treasury Foreign Intelligence Network, which is used by intelligence agencies to share secret information regarding sanctions against countries such as Iran or groups like Hezbollah.

Auditors found that up to 29% of the Treasury’s devices connected to the intelligence network did not meet federal cybersecurity standards. The audit was prepared in late 2014 but obtained by Reuters through a FOIA request this week.

According to a “highly confidential” report, China feared casinos in Macau were being used by U.S. intelligence agencies to entrap and blackmail Chinese officials. Many of the casinos China feared were being exploited by the FBI or CIA are owned by Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate and a top financial backer of the Republican Party.

The report, prepared by a private investigator, said: “Many of the (Chinese) officials we contacted were of the view that US intelligence agencies are very active in Macao and that they have penetrated and utilized the US casinos to support their operations.”

In a piece for Just Security, U.S. Marine Corps JAG Kurt Sanger dismisses the idea CIA operatives are armed forces under international law. In 2010, the German Federal Prosecutor General wrote an opinion stating he believed the operatives involved in a CIA UAV strike in Yemen qualified as armed forces under international law. Sanger argues this “stands in opposition to a long held US position regarding the law of armed conflict,” even though it makes the U.S. an outlier in the international community.

Glenn Gerstell — a top Obama campaign fundraiser and prominent Washington, D.C . attorney — has been chosen as the new top lawyer for the NSA. Although he is well known in legal circles, having helped run a major legal firm and serving on many public boards, he is considered an unknown by many security lawyers and experts. His appointment hasn’t been officially announced but some believe his experience with a large firm will be good preparation for overseeing a sizable team of government lawyers. In addition, many issues NSA’s legal staff must grapple with are not always related to security or surveillance.

photo: An interior shot of the Venetian Macao casino, owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands. It is the largest casino in the world. (Wikicommons)

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