The Week in Intelligence

on December 29 | in CIA, cyber, Intelligence Reform, NSA

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

In January the NSA will overhaul its workforce to “break down cylinders,” improve collaboration, and enhance the mission of the agency. The modernization effort is called “NSA21” and is the first overhaul of the NSA since the 1990’s. Adm. Rodgers spoke at a banquet of the non-profit Intelligence and National Security Alliance and acknowledged that three weeks ago the agency began a new “legal regime” when the USA Patriot Act was replaced by the USA Freedom Act. He also addressed the new budget for the NSA, mind which is less than what had been requested, saying he has had to focus on how to optimize resources. Adm. Rodgers praised the NSA’s workforce, citing its 95% retention rate, but admitted there might be changes in the overhaul. He said: “A diverse workforce is better positioned to anticipate challenges of the future—and that means a whole lot more than skin color.”

Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Senator Mark Warner have an opinion piece in the Washington Post calling for a national commission on security and technology challenges. They note that “the Paris attackers used hard-to-monitor, encrypted applications to coordinate their acts of terrorism,” but that encryption is also integral to our economy and our cybersecurity. Accordingly, “We are no longer simply weighing the costs and benefits of “privacy vs. security” but rather “security vs. security.”

The OPM’s new first-ever cyber chief, Clifton Triplett, says he expects ISIS will at “some point in time” be successful in breaching the OPM’s system. However, in order to make that less likely, he says the OPM should make their access control more “need-to-know.” Triplett explained that the agency will institute the equivalent of tear-lines on network data to grant as little information as possible to authorized personnel because right now access control is “broader than it needs to be.” According to Triplett, the biggest problem with the OPM is that the system is too interconnected with not enough air gaps that physically decouple networks from the internet. “We’re trying to automate and connect one more thing to one more thing,” Triplett explained. “I’ll have a reasonably minor event that will turn into a catastrophic event, and I won’t be able to find out where the root cause was because of the ripple potential.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered a response to Amy Zegart’s opinion piece in Lawfare where she claimed the Senate Interrogation Report is unlikely to change opinions, but will rather reinforce those already held. Most notably, Sen. Feinstein claims Zegart’s piece included multiple “factually inaccurate statements.” She gives examples of such statements and then offers responses. For example, Zegart claimed the report will not “stand the test of time,” Sen. Feinstein rebuttals citing the Senate’s vote in June 2015 to prohibit interrogation techniques not specifically authorized by the Army Field Manual. Other examples include the time it took to create the report, the lack of public hearings involving the report, and how much of the report has been declassified.

Fifteen years ago the CIA assembled a group of experts from outside the agency to predict what the world would look like in 2015. With 2015 coming to an end we can now look back to see how close they came; and some of their predictions might come as a surprise. The most accurate prediction was the rise of internet communication. They said: “Universal wireless cellular communications the biggest global transformation since the industrial revolution.” The “IT Revolution,” as they called it, would also have political consequences and pose new challenges to the Middle East. This came true with the Arab Spring, but also with the rise of ISIS and their use of social media. Other predictions about immigration have revealed to be true such as their prediction that “some political parties will continue to mobilize popular sentiment against migrants, protesting the strain on social services and the difficulties in assimilation.”

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