• James Clapper, director of national intelligence, leads off a day of discussion at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit.
     James Clapper, director of national intelligence, leads off a day of discussion at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit.

Conflicting Demands Vex U.S. Intelligence Community

September 9, 2015
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Greater transparency must be weighed against evolving mission demands.

Intelligence and National Security Summit 2015

The SIGNAL Magazine Online Show Daily

Day 1

Quote of the Day:

“I look forward to the day when we talk about winning in the information space.”—Brig. Gen. Michael Groen, USMC, director of intelligence, U.S. Marine Corps


The U.S. intelligence community is striving to increase public trust concurrent with improving national security domestically and overseas. While those two tasks might seem complementary, achieving them may require contradictory activities. Looming over these challenges is the greater need for effective cyber operations, both offensive and defensive.

Many points emerging from these issues dominated discussions at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit being held in Washington, D.C., September 9-10, 2015.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence (DNI), said the intelligence community “must show it is worthy of America’s trust.” The U.S. public expects it, he stated, and his office continues to work to increase transparency throughout the community.

Not that this approach is without risk, he added. “Our adversaries also have learned a lot from our transparency, but it’s worth the cost,” the DNI emphasized. This transparency will help with overseas missions such as humanitarian support, which increasingly involves intelligence assets, he added. The DNI described the current refugee crisis in Europe as “a disaster of Biblical proportions.”

Clapper 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.

The revelations by Edward Snowden have dealt a devastating blow to U.S. intelligence, the DNI declared. “Snowden has done untold damage to our foreign collection capabilities. Terrorists have gone to school on his revelations.” Clapper noted the single most important collection capability in Afghanistan was shut down the day after it was revealed, thus putting U.S. forces there at increased risk of harm.

The recently signed Iran nuclear deal should not be a problem for U.S. intelligence, especially if it works with foreign allies, he warranted. He expressed confidence that intelligence can verify the deal, adding “We’re fielding some independent capabilities that I cannot go into” to cover “the nuclear industrial enterprise of Iran.”

Clapper analogized the community’s challenges by comparing its work to the comic book hero Spider Man. Among these analogies was the example of Peter Parker. Before Spider Man, comic books portrayed the conflict between a super hero and a super villain. With Spidey, people saw the human side of Peter Parker. Sometimes, Peter Parker could not keep a promise to a friend. This often exemplifies the challenges of intelligence work.

“There is a human aspect to intelligence work that gets lost in public discussion,” Clapper noted. “We’re not comic book characters. We’re Americans working to protect their nation.”

The face of defense intelligence was on display in a panel featuring representatives of the four services and the Coast Guard. Most shared similar challenges, although each acknowledged different priorities.

Rear Adm. Steven J. Andersen, USCG, assistant commandant for Coast Guard intelligence, declared, “I want to stay three steps ahead of our adversaries—and our customers.” He added that he wants to apply “as much virtual force as possible.”

Brig. Gen. Michael Groen, USMC, director of intelligence, U.S. Marine Corps, focused on the information arena. “We have to think through how the information age will change the way we fight,” he said, adding, “The definition of combined arms will include the information space.”

And intelligence will play a big role in prevailing in cyberspace. “Intelligence underpins all our operations in the information sphere,” Gen. Groen declared.

“I look forward to the day when we talk about winning in the information space.”

U.S. Army intelligence wants to be complementary with the other services, said Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, USA, deputy chief of staff for intelligence. She added that the Army recognizes the need for balance in intelligence investment, particularly with so many different elements of intelligence affecting Army operations.

Maj. Gen. Linda Urrutia-Varhall, USAF, assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), asked industry for help in dealing with its massive amounts of ISR data. She also cited the need to re-teach personnel about both targeting and analysis to reflect the changing nature of warfare. And, she said open-source information “is how we play the game now.”

The U.S. Navy is following the lead of the other services in intelligence areas in which they are expert, explained B. Lynn Wright, deputy director of Naval Intelligence. But, like the Air Force, it will depend a great deal on industry. “The Navy is looking to offload a lot of our requirements onto commercial imagery,” she stated.

A panel of current and former cyber intelligence experts considered the pros and cons of hunting, detecting and responding to cyber marauders. They offered that offensive operations by commercial organizations are more likely in the years to come, but many pitfalls exist should industry confront cyber muggers.

One issue is that companies must ensure they break no laws in pursuit of cyber adversaries. Alex Kott, chief of the network science division, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, suggested that plenty of gray areas exist when it comes to laws limiting offensive cyber operations. Given the international nature of the cyber threat, there are other countries where laws are different, and companies might be able to pursue activities there.

Sherri Ramsay, senior adviser with CyberPoint International, said, “The first thing to do is know the lay of the land; understand our networks. That gives home field advantage.

“We need defenders who are proactive,” she continued. “They have to think like an intruder and act like an intruder. There has to be a defender who asks questions.”

Pat Reidy, chief information security officer for Computer Sciences Corporation, said there is precedence for commercial cyber hunting. He offered that the private sector should take more off the plate of government—up to a point.

But Rick Howard, chief security officer for Palo Alto Networks, declared that the commercial sector absolutely should not be in the attack vector. “Adversaries will come roaring back” at those who pursue them aggressively, he warned. Ramsay echoed his remarks by saying that companies are very ill-equipped to take the blowback. She also warned of collateral damage, adding, “I wouldn’t want a U.S. company to take down a hospital just because it thought an attack came from there.”

Another problem would be hunting software that turns against its user. “If we develop more and more sophisticated hunting software, it will be self learning, self adapting, self evolving,” Kott pointed out. “How do we know we can trust them? How will we know these intelligent agents are not subverted by adversaries or have learned on their own something that is dangerous? This is not science fiction; it is reality,” he warned.


On Day 2 of the Intelligence and National Security Summit 2015: Three panel tracks along with plenary sessions featuring U.S. congressmen; homeland security intelligence leaders; and the heads of the CIA, the FBI and the NGA.

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