• The six directors of the individual U.S. intelligence agencies outline vital issues at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit.
     The six directors of the individual U.S. intelligence agencies outline vital issues at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit.

Diverse Threats Challenge U.S. Intelligence Community

November 1, 2015
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Both the players and the field have changed, and they continue to evolve.


A family of threats ranging from nation-states to individuals acting on behalf of a terrorist group challenges the U.S. intelligence community as it tries to prevent kinetic and digital attacks on the homeland. Traditional arenas such as terrestrial battlespaces have been joined by cyberspace as both targets and media for adversaries bent on damaging or destroying allied military forces or civilian infrastructures.

The nature of these threats and steps that must be taken to stop them were among the issues discussed at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit held September 9-10 in Washington, D.C. Presenters included the director of national intelligence; the U.S. intelligence agency directors; the heads of individual military service intelligence; and other government and industry intelligence community leaders.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence (DNI), addressed some of the more pressing challenges facing the U.S. intelligence community. Many come from Russian activities, which Clapper describes as “a throwback to the Cold War.” He added that the Russians are quite serious about their stake in the Arctic. The U.S. intelligence community is at a disadvantage here. “We do not have nearly the resources we did in the Cold War to allocate to Russia,” Clapper warned.

In addition, Edward Snowden has dealt a devastating blow to U.S. intelligence, the DNI declared. “Snowden has done untold damage to our foreign collection capabilities,” he said. “Terrorists have gone to school on his revelations.”

Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security secretary and co-founder of The Chertoff Group, stated that al-Qaida is imitating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by suggesting targets for its own lone wolves. John Mulligan, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, added, “We’ve seen a real change in the landscape with the rise of ISIL.” The current generation of terrorists is very technologically astute, and the center is working “in a much more compressed environment.”

CIA Director John Brennan stated that the intelligence community cannot focus on just one type of terrorist threat or organization. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to combating terrorism, as any terrorist group could be moving down the timeline toward execution. Adm. Mike Rogers, USN, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, went further by saying that no group or nation-state could be identified as the greatest threat to the United States. Conditions change daily, he said.

On the domestic front, FBI Director James Comey decried a recent change in the national mood. The American people should be skeptical of government, he said, but that skepticism has become cynicism. Although Brennan admitted that the CIA definitely has made mistakes, he charged that many criticisms actually are skewed misrepresentations.

Each agency is taking a different approach to cyber challenges. Comey said the FBI has to find people with the right values and teach them cyber skills. Adm. Rogers said terrorists’ ability to reach out to a much broader group of people, largely through cyber, is a big issue. The admiral also said no one is satisfied with U.S. cybersecurity—except for nations that are consistently stealing information.

Sean Kanuck, national intelligence officer for cyber, Office of the DNI, said ubiquitous intrusions already are having a negative cumulative effect on U.S. national security and economic competitiveness. “Just because the lights haven’t gone out for a week doesn’t mean the problem isn’t already upon us,” he said.

Melissa Hathaway, president of Hathaway Global Strategies, noted that global connectivity was established without consideration given to security and resilience. She foresees the Internet destabilizing over the next few years, as both government and business activities there are eroding trust. Democracies and dictatorships alike are creating victims of their own citizens, she stated.

Hathaway argued that government has given industry minimum security standards that it is not meeting itself, citing the recent Office of Personnel Management data theft. “It’s time we held government accountable,” she declared.

Hathaway said there are only three truly critical infrastructure elements—telecommunications, power and financial. Sabotaging these could be disastrous. But Kanuck pointed out that these three infrastructure elements are held by the private sector and, according to the international rules of warfare, are legitimate military targets.

For more extensive online coverage of the conference, visit http://url.afcea.org/intelsummitcoverage15

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