The Week in Intelligence

on March 9 | in CIA, Intelligence Reform, NSA, ODNI

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

The Obama Administration is on the verge of allowing the NSA to share more of its intercepted data with other intelligence agencies without first applying privacy protections. Currently, NSA analysts filter intercepted information for the rest of the government and only pass on the portions of the emails and calls they feel is pertinent to the CIA, or FBI. The new changes would allow analysts from other agencies to evaluate raw information for themselves with the hopes of that they will recognize any possible ounce of value that a different analyst or agency missed.

However, the changes also mean that more people will be looking at private messages, some of which may belong to American citizens. Privacy advocates have criticized the change, but the Administration claims the draft that will permit the sharing will “protect privacy, civil liberties and constitutional rights while enabling the sharing of information that is important to protect national security.”

The ODNI released a second batch of documents confiscated from Osama bin Laden’s compound the night he was killed. In total, another 113 documents were declassified and released; still only a fraction of what was gathered during the raid in May 2011. Most of the material came from the last decade of bin Laden’s life and included letters he wrote to his lieutenants and loved ones.

Though the documents do not offer any major revelations they do show how bin Laden struggled to keep al-Qaeda’s main branch and its offshoots under control. One document is an education syllabus of sorts for new recruits that lists the subjects and skills recommended to be taught. Another document outlines a “chief of staff committee” style of military command intended to possibly be used as a structure for al-Qaeda. A similar structure is used by almost every NATO nation including the United States. Also declassified was a will thought to have been written by bin Laden in the 1990’s in which he mentions he has $29 million in a bank account in Sudan.

Adm. Michael Rodgers spoke at the RSA 2016 convention is San Francisco and discussed the state of cyber security in the United States as well as three things that keep him up at night. He told the crowd of security experts that his greatest fear is a cyber attack against U.S. critical infrastructure; which he claimed was not a matter of if, but when. Rodgers cited the example of the cyber attack on the power grid in Ukraine which left almost 100,000 homes without power and was the first confirmed cyber attack that led to a loss of power. The second thing he claimed he feared was data tampering, which unlike data being stolen or deleted, is much more difficult to detect.  

The third thing Adm. Rodgers said keeps him up at night is the potential that non-state terrorist organizations change their use of online resources from that of a recruitment tool and propaganda generator to an offensive weapon. Finally, Rodgers encouraged security experts to bring their talents to the government in partnerships and said the current debate on encryption is harmful to both sides.

photo: U.S. Navy Cryptanalytic Bombe (NSA)

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