The Week In Intelligence

on September 24 | in CIA, Intelligence Reform, NSA

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

According to newly declassified portions of a report from the inspectors general of several Federal agencies, President Bush sought to retroactively authorize portions of the NSA’s collection program after his attorney general refused to certify the program as lawful. The now well publicized incident occurred in 2004 and gained attention due to the fact that the attorney general, John Ashcroft, was in the hospital at the time. Passages in the declassified report suggest the confrontation in the hospital came after the Justice Department found gaps between what the NSA was authorized to collect and what it was actually collecting.

The New York Times reports additional details about the complaints of more than 50 intelligence analysts at CENCOM alleging that military leaders changed analysis to place operations against ISIS in a more positive light. The group is led by a senior analyst with two decades of experience who in 2005 criticized the Bush Administration for its invasion plan. The Times quotes one former head of the CENTCOM Joint Intelligence Center as saying that this group of analysts has been covering Iraq for years, and “If they say there’s smoke, start looking for a firehouse.”

The CIA declassified thousands of booklets and other daily briefs they provided to President Kennedy and Johnson during the 1960’s.  The briefs contained the government’s latest intelligence about the actions of the Soviet Union and other significant events happening throughout the world. Many of the briefs contain information about what are now well-known events such as the building of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Kennedy assassination. 

While at the University of Texas, CIA Director John Brennan said al-Qaeda remains a long-term national security threat despite the rise of the Islamic State. When asked whether al-Qaeda or ISIS poses a greater threat, Brennan implied that there was no real answer to that question. He said that because of what al-Qaeda has done in the past it still represent a significant threat. About ISIS, Brennan said they were like a “very dangerous water leak” but that he considers them to be more of a phenomenon then simply just a terrorist organization because of their broad presence in not just the Middle East.

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson discussed her public outing and what it was like to be a woman in the CIA. The first point Wilson addressed was the misconceptions that are portrayed in movies and television about female agents and how they use their sexuality to acquire secrets. She referred to it as the “honeypot” strategy and said it does not work because there are too many emotions involved. In regards to her outing she said in the aftermath her and her family were definitely in danger and it prompted her family to move to New Mexico. She also said many people were killed after she was exposed for which she feels “deeply disturbed.”

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) said the hack at the OPM was not their responsibility. They had been asked by Sen. Ron Wyden if they had made any recommendations to the OPM on how to better secure the data. That responsibility, they said, lay with the OPM and the DHS. Wyden was not pleased with the answer and called it a “bureaucratic response”and that it was “unworthy of individuals who are being trusted to defend America.” Sen. Wyden also asked why the OPM database goes back thirty years, to which the NCSC claimed the ability the access the ‘whole person’ over a long period of time allows for any issues that may exist or arise to be identified.

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