Among all the victims of ISIS, here’s one that has gone nearly unnoticed: study abroad.
Don’t worry: “study abroad” itself remains highly popular. The number of Americans studying overseas in 2014 was 5.2% higher than in 2013, according to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Report, following a trend that has seen student expats more than tripling over the past two decades. More young Americans than ever before see studying in a foreign country as a necessary part of preparing for a professional career.
Just not in the Muslim world.
304,467 American students studied overseas in 2013-14, and of the top 25 destinations almost half (12) were to Western countries. The top four were the UK, Italy, Spain, and France; China is now at number 5, after a remarkable surge in popularity. More non-Western nations emerge farther down the list: Costa Rica (8), Japan (10), South Africa (11), India (12). Although Europe remains on top, with 53.3% of the total, Latin America is popular (16.2%) and Asia is well represented (11.9%). Even sub-Saharan Africa gets a nod.
But the Middle East and North Africa—the area containing most of the world’s Muslim-majority nations—represent barely 2% of the total. And even this statistic is deceiving, because the single most popular Middle Eastern destination is Israel. There’s nothing wrong with studying in Israel, of course, but last year the tiny country hosted more Americans than all the Muslim-majority Middle Eastern nations combined. True, Jordan and the UAE get a substantial number, but 11 out of the remaining 15 Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East and North Africa had fewer than 30 American students each. That’s .0001%, if you’re counting.
Why does this matter for intelligence? Because a crucial part of doing the job is providing context for understanding what’s going on in the world. We can have the best HUMINT, SIGINT, and IMINT in the world, but as an analyst if you can’t bring a sense of cultural context to what you’re seeing, you can’t help the policymaker see what’s really going on.
We’ve been deluged lately by a lot of intelligence community plans, assessments, and reorgs. I managed to catch up on this material over the Presidents Day holiday. Here are a few things that stuck out to me. I’m being a bit critical below, but overall this material shows that the intelligence community is aggressively trying to adapt to the modern challenges it faces. That’s a good thing.
A little more than a year ago, I published an analysis of the intelligence budget (Doing Way More With Much Less). It’s time I update that analysis based on the budget request the President sent to Congress last week.
The figures below are the same as those provided by the ODNI, only adjusted for inflation. They include appropriated funds for 2015 and requested funds for 2016 and 2017. You can also see intelligence budget trends going back to 1980, again adjusted for inflation. For more on the methodology, check out this report from the Congressional Research Service.
Overall, the situation has changed from 2014, when the intelligence budget had declined for five straight years even while the intelligence community was being asked to respond to new crises around the globe. At that time, I was skeptical that the IC would be able to adapt sufficiently to a world of declining budgets and growing threats. Assuming that appropriated funds are close to requested amounts, the budget is now basically flat and was slightly up in 2016. Continue Reading
This is a reposting from Just Security.
Since the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris set off another around of debate about exceptional access, a lot of ink has been spilled on the subject of whether or not there is evidence indicating the perpetrators used encrypted devices and communications tools. This week on Lawfare, for example, Carrie Cordero argues that US and French authorities should provide more information about whether attackers in San Bernardino and Paris used encryption tools.
This back and forth about “evidence” has ignored the reality that most people in the modern world now use encryption technologies in one way or another. At this point, it is safe to assume that whenever a terrorist attack occurs or a crime is committed, encryption will often be implicated, whether through the use of encrypted iPhones and Android devices or through the use of encrypted messaging apps.
In the encryption debate, we need to understand the degree to which encryption is a real impediment to law enforcement’s ability to satisfy its public safety mission. But the fact alone that encryption was used during the commission of a crime or in planning a terrorist attack doesn’t provide us with any insight. Examples in which terrorists use encryption only tell us what we already should know to be true — that encryption is becoming more popular.
This does, however, raise another question: If the evidence mentioned above doesn’t suffice, how would we know if law enforcement really has a problem? Continue Reading
Here’s what caught our eye in the world of intelligence this week:
A piece for The Washington Post details a CIA practice known as “eyewashing” where internal memos that contain false information are transmitted throughout the agency. The tactic has been hailed as being both an important security measure, but also a significant potential for abuse. “Eyewashing” is seen by some agency veterans as a way to protect vital secrets, though many admitted the practice was very rare. Other officials say there is no clear mechanism for distinguishing eyewash cables from legitimate communication. False information could end up being examined the CIA Inspector General, buy Congress, or being declassified for historians. More likely however would be a case of unintentionally deceiving the wrong agency employees. Former CIA Inspector General Fred Hitz has said; “Somebody who is not clued in could take action on the basis” of false information.
More details have emerged about the NSA’s plans for a major reorganization which is expected to be publicly rolled out in the coming weeks. The overall goal of the reorganization is to merge offensive and defensive divisions of the agency with the hope of making them more adept at facing digital threats of the 21st century. Most notably, the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates, which normally have been the ones to spy on foreign targets and defend classified networks against spying, will be combined into a Directorate of Operations. Adm. Rodger’s hinted at this change while speaking at the Atlantic Council last month. He said: “This traditional approach we have where we created these two cylinders of excellence and then built walls of granite between them really is not the way for us to do business.” Similar to the recent CIA reorganization, the NSA revamp, which is being dubbed NSA21, will seek to place analysts and operators together. Continue Reading
The very American origins of the Edward Snowden/NSA controversy often means the episode’s impact outside the U.S. is often overlooked. Yet across Europe, “intelligence reform” is occurring, although the scope of those reforms is rather uneven. American observers should nonetheless monitor these debates more carefully, since tinkering with the global signals collection architecture could have real consequences for the U.S and its allies.
Take the debate currently underway in the United Kingdom. Snowden’s leaks implicated Britain’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, pretty much immediately after a Guardian story focused on its access to material collected via the then-classified PRISM program. Other revelations quickly followed, such as GCHQ’s ability to attach intercept probes to fiber-optic cables carrying internet and phone traffic; its development of specific internet buffers, enabling it to store this data (Operation Tempora); and its ability to intercept and store webcam images (Operation Optic Nerve).
Yet compared to the uproar in America, the British public’s reaction to all this was somewhat muted. In the UK, there truly is a historical and cultural attachment toward gentleman spies, which may go a long way in explaining this more relaxed attitude toward GCHQ’s activities.
Still, these stories – and the fact Washington was also exploring ways to reform the system – meant by the spring of 2014, London was also taking tentative steps towards intelligence reform.
The legislation which immediately came under examination was the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000, the legal framework that underpins the government’s interception of communications. RIPA has long been regarded as overly complex, confusing, and dense. Particularly disliked by privacy advocates was Section 8(4), which was used to justify Operation Tempora.
Here’s what caught our eye in the world of intelligence this week:
The Pentagon is considering retroactively demoting retired Gen. David Petraeus after he admitted to giving classified information to his mistress. The Army has recommended that Petraeus’ rank not be reduced, however, the final decision will rest with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. According to defense officials, Carter “is considering going a different direction” because he wants to be consistent in his treatment of senior officers and send a message that even men of Petraeus’s rank are not immune to punishment.
Petraeus is currently a four-star general, if demoted he will fall to the last rank in which he “satisfactorily” served, patient most likely a lieutenant general. The demotion would cost Petraeus hundreds of thousands of dollars in pension and damage his once-pristine reputation.
CIA released a statement calling the recently released film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi “a distortion of the events and people who served in Benghazi that night.” One of the most controversial scenes in the movie occurs when Bob, drugstore the CIA station chief at the agency compound in Benghazi, orders the team of contractors to “stand down.” However, the CIA has stood by Bob’s statement that he never issued a stand down order or anything that could be “interpreted as equivalent” to a stand down order.
In interview with The Washington Post, Bob, who only goes by his first name due to him still being active, said so much of the information has been wrong and he decided to address the controversy because he thought he would regret it if he didn’t. In support of Bob and his account a CIA spokesperson said: “No one will mistake this movie for a documentary.”
Vice President Joe Biden the other day opened up to CNN’s Gloria Borger and recounted an anecdote about a severe financial hardship situation in his family. This vignette underscores that even the most important people in this nation can have significant vulnerabilities that intelligence services could and would try to exploit.
Biden’s son, Beau, suffered a stroke a few years ago, and then fell mortally ill with a fast-moving brain cancer. He died in May 2014. Beyond the emotional turmoil the Vice President must have felt, his son’s illness placed part of his family—Biden’s daughter-in-law and grandchildren—in a financially perilous situation. As he noted:
Biden said he told the President he was worried about caring for Beau’s family without his son’s salary.
“I said, ‘But I worked it out.'” Biden recalled telling Obama. “I said, ‘But — Jill and I will sell the house and be in good shape.'” Obama, Biden remembered, pushed back vehemently on the thought of Biden and his wife selling their home in Wilmington, Delaware.
“He got up and he said, ‘Don’t sell that house. Promise me you won’t sell the house,'” Biden continued, speculating Obama would be “mad” he was retelling the story.
“He said, ‘I’ll give you the money. Whatever you need, I’ll give you the money. Don’t, Joe — promise me. Promise me.’ I said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to have to anyway.’ He said, ‘promise me,'” Biden recalled.
That’s right: the 73-year old Biden and his wife Jill seriously contemplated selling their primary residence in Delaware to keep his family financially afloat. It’s shocking the second-in-command in America thought about doing this, and that the President himself was willing to offer his personal financial support, to let him keep his own house. Continue Reading
On Wednesday, North Korea announced it successfully conducted atest — its first nuclear test since 2013. Shortly thereafter, seismologists detected an — man-made, according to South Korean meteorologists — near the Punggye-ri nuclear site. But U.S. officials were not convinced Pyongyang actually carried out a “successful” hydrogen bomb test.
Lack of hard evidence proving North Korea’s nuclear activities notwithstanding, unhealthy the international community still gave the test the attention Pyongyang desired. The UN Security Council held an emergency session that morning upon the requests of the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. The Security Council also vowed to pursue sanctions to punish Pyongyang. Both South Korean and Japanese leaders condemned the test and vowed to take in response to North Korea’s challenge to nonproliferation and regional security.
All of this is fine if we’re content with our shopworn approach with North Korea: after a lull in provocations, Pyongyang turns to saber-rattling (i.e. a missile salvo, a nuclear test, or a military skirmish with Seoul). The international community subsequently makes condemnatory comments and vows to punish North Korean behavior. We pass a security council resolution and slap on a few sanctions. The U.S. beseeches China to punish North Korea, but Beijing won’t risk Pyongyang’s collapse on its border. Then we repeat the cycle several months later.
In the greater picture, the success or failure of Pyongyang’s hydrogen bomb test is less relevant. So is the international community’s mechanic response to the DPRK’s provocations.
Rather, the U.S. and South Korea should instead focus on re-assessing their intelligence collection strategies and policy toward the Hermit Kingdom. It was indeed disturbing that no country’s intelligence service was able to detect or had much forewarning of an impending North Korean nuclear test. Still, this should not be gratuitously attributed as an unchangeable feature in dealing with an opaque country.