CIA conducted aggressive covert cyber operations against Iran, China, as Trump gave it more power

The Central Intelligence Agency, using new powers, carried out aggressive covert cyber operations against countries including Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, a new report says. The operations came after President Trump gave the CIA “sweeping authorization” in 2018 by signing a “presidential finding,” according to Yahoo News, citing U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter. With a presidential finding, the president authorizes covert action necessary to support “identifiable foreign policy objectives” that are deemed “important to the national security of the United States,” according to a U.S. government document. The authorization undoes “many restrictions that had been in place under prior administrations,” and gives the CIA more leeway in authorizing its own covert cyber operations, the Yahoo News report said. Countries mentioned as possible targets include Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. “The White House wanted a vehicle to strike back. And this was the way to do it,” the report added, quoting a former U.S. government official. The new powers gave the CIA more latitude to “damage adversaries’ critical infrastructure, such as petrochemical plants, and to engage in the kind of hack-and-dump operations that Russian hackers and WikiLeaks popularized,” the report explained. The hack-and-dump tactic involves leaking stolen documents or data to journalists or posting it on the Internet. Initially, the Obama administration considered retaliating against Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by using hack-and-dump but, in the end, the CIA was told to “stand down,” the report stated. John Bolton’s appointment as the National Security Adviser in the Trump administration changed that, Yahoo News reported, citing a passage in Bolton’s memoir, “The Room Where It Happened.” In September 2018, the White House announced a new national cybersecurity strategy to bolster the government’s defenses against foreign adversaries. While cyber-defense was central to the strategy, Bolton also called for a better offense. “We’re going to do a lot of things offensively and I think our adversaries need to know that,” John Bolton told reporters at the time, according to Cyberscoop. “We will identify, counter, disrupt, degrade, and deter behavior in cyberspace that is destabilizing and contrary to national interests, while preserving the United States’ overmatch in and through cyberspace,” Bolton added. Another change that came with the presidential finding was the lowering of the bar for “evidentiary requirements,” thereby expanding the CIA’s ability to conduct covert cyber operations against “media organizations, charities, religious institutions or businesses believed to be working on behalf of adversaries’ foreign intelligence services,” the report added.

This is encouraging.  With China, North Korea, and Iran acting the way they’ve been, we need to step up our offensive game.  Giving the CIA and other members of the Intelligence Community (IC) (i.e. NSA, NGA, DIA, etc,) expanded powers to go after our adversaries like this is a good thing.  After all, they’ve been doing it to us for years, even decades, and we’ve been sitting on our hands and taking it like suckers.  Kudos to President Trump and his administration for not taking it anymore and being proactive in this area.  Excellent!!     🙂

Senate confirms John Ratcliffe as the next Director of National Intelligence

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, as the next director of national intelligence. His confirmation — which was approved by a 49-44 vote largely along party lines — came roughly two weeks after his nomination hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. During the hearing, Mr. Ratcliffe vowed to keep political considerations out of his work, amid reports of tension between the White House and intelligence analysts over China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Trump tapped Mr. Ratcliffe to head the intelligence community at the end of February, days after he fired the former acting DNI chief Joseph Maguire. In the following weeks, Mr. Trump removed a small handful of top intelligence officials, including Michael Atkinson, former inspector general for the intelligence community. During Mr. Ratcliffe’s nomination hearing, he said that, if confirmed, an immediate priority will be to probe the origins of the new coronavirus, as Mr. Trump and top aides escalate a war of words with China over the handling of the outbreak. A U.S. intelligence consensus has reportedly concluded the virus most likely originated naturally, but Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo say they have seen evidence that a Chinese lab in Wuhan could have played a role in releasing the new virus. In general terms, Mr. Ratcliffe said China was the country’s “greatest threat actor right now.” His confirmation was welcomed by Republicans in the Senate, namely by Sen. Marco Rubio, who was recently picked to be the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I look forward to working with Director Ratcliffe as he oversees the efforts of our nation’s 17 intelligence agencies,” the Florida Republican said in a statement following the vote. “In a time when the threats to our nation are many and varied, it is critical to have a Senate-confirmed DNI ensuring the wide array of intelligence agencies are sharing information across lines, coordinating capabilities, and working in the furtherance of our nation’s security using 21st century, cutting-edge capabilities,” Mr. Rubio said, adding that he is “confident” Mr. Ratcliffe will fulfill these responsibilities.

Agreed.  We congratulate Congressman John Ratcliffe (R-TX) on his confirmation by the Senate, and wish him well in his new assignment as the DNI.

CENTCOM analysts reportedly claim to have lost jobs over Syria warnings

Two intelligence analysts at U.S. Central Command claim to have been forced out of their jobs for producing skeptical reports about U.S.-backed rebels in Syria, The Daily Beast reported Sunday. The report claimed that one of the two analysts alleging the reprisals is CENTCOM’s top analyst in charge of Syria. He and his colleague doubted the rebels’ abilities and commitment to U.S. interests in Syria. For expressing those doubts, the report claims, they have been sidelined from their positions and well not be working at CENTCOM. It was not immediately clear whether the two analysts had formally left their jobs. The latest accusations of interference with battlefield analysis at CENTCOM centers on the $500M program by the Obama administration to train and arm so-called “moderate” members of Syria’s rebel armies. Despite an initial goal to train roughly 5,400 fighters to take on ISIS in the program’s first year, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin admitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee this past September that only “four or five” of the U.S.-trained fighters remained on the battlefield. That admission resulted in criticism from commitee members, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who called the program an “abject failure.” In September of last year, it was reported that more than 50 analysts at CENTCOM had backed a complaint to the Pentagon that their reports on ISIS and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in Syria had been inappropriately altered by senior officials. The complaint alleged that the reports had been changed to make the terror groups appear weaker than they actually were. The complaint about the altered ISIS intelligence reports is being investigated by the Pentagon’s inspector general. In November, Fox News reported that CENTCOM analysts were pressured to ease off negative assessments about the threat from ISIS. On at least two occasions, emails were sent to the analysts saying they needed to “cut it out” and “toe the line.”

This story is of particular interest to yours truly, as I was a senior intel analyst for CENTCOM several years ago.  Thankfully, I left right about the time Obama became President, and wasn’t subjected to this sorta thing. But, I AM aware of others who have experienced this sorta crap.  IF this indeed happened, then hopefully the IG (inspector general) will uncover it and present its findings to Congress, and to the American public.  The job of intelligence professionals is to get accurate information to decision makers, regardless of whether they like it or not.  And, if that intelligence is altered to support some arbitrary preconceived agenda, then it’s not intelligence.  It’s propaganda.

Dozens of intelligence analysts reportedly claim assessments of ISIS were altered

Dozens of intelligence analysts working at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) have complained that their reports on ISIS and the Nusra Front in Syria were inappropriately altered by senior officials, according to a published report. The Daily Beast reported late Wednesday that more than 50 analysts had supported a complaint to the Pentagon that the reports had been changed to make the terror groups seem weaker than the analysts believe they really are. Fox News confirmed last month that the Defense Department’s inspector general was investigating the initial complaint, which the New York Times reported was made by a civilian employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The assessments in question are prepared for several U.S. policymakers, including President Obama. The Daily Beast report, which cited 11 individuals, claimed that the complaint being investigated by the Defense Department was made in July. However, several analysts reportedly complained as early as this past October that their reports were being altered to suit a political narrative that ISIS was being weakened by U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria. “The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” the report quotes one defense official as saying. According to the report, some analysts allege that reports deemed overly negative in their assessment of the Syria campaign were either blocked from reaching policymakers or sent back down the chain of command. Others claim that key elements of intelligence reports were removed, fundamentally altering their conclusions. Another claim is that senior leaders at CENTCOM created a work environment where giving a candid opinion on the progress of the anti-ISIS campaign was discouraged, with one analyst describing the tenor as “Stalinist.” The report alleges that when the analysts’ complaints were initially aired, some of those who complained were urged to retire, and did so. Facing either resistance or indifference, other analysts self-censored their reports, the Daily Beast claims. The defense official quoted by the Daily Beast said that some who spoke up did so out of guilt that they did not express doubts about former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s alleged chemical weapons program in the run-up to the Iraq. War. “They were frustrated because they didn’t do the right thing then,” the official said. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been advised of the complaint that prompted the inspector general’s investigation, which is required if Pentagon officials find the claims credible. Government rules state that intelligence assessments “must not be distorted” by agendas or policy views, but do allow for legitimate differences of opinion. Central Command spokesman Col. Patrick S. Ryder said in a statement Wednesday that they welcome the IG’s “independent oversight.” “While we cannot comment on ongoing investigations, we can speak to the process and about the valued contributions of the Intelligence Community (IC),” he said, adding that intelligence community members typically are able to comment on draft security assessments. “However,” he said, “it is ultimately up to the primary agency or organization whether or not they incorporate any recommended changes or additions. Further, the multi-source nature of our assessment process purposely guards against any single report or opinion unduly influencing leaders and decision-makers.” Earlier this summer, on the eve of the anniversary of the launching of airstrikes against Iraq, the Associated Press reported that U.S intelligence had concluded that the airstrikes had helped stall ISIS after sweeping gains in the summer of 2014. However, the report also said the terror group remained a well-funded army that could easily replenish its numbers as quickly as fighters were eliminated.

Very interesting.. Boy have things changed since I was a senior intel analyst at CENTCOM J2 (CENTCOM’s “Intelligence Directorate”) both here in the states, and in Afghanistan. Sounds like there are several yes-men in senior O-6 (i.e. Colonel) and above positions of power at CENTCOM. As you might imagine, we’ll keep an eye on this one..

James Clapper: Islamic State could infiltrate U.S., West through migrants fleeing from Syria

America’s top spy said Wednesday that U.S. intelligence officials have a “huge concern” about Islamic State’s ability to infiltrate waves of Syrian war refugees flowing into Europe and potentially the United States as pressure mounts on Western nations to take in a growing number of people fleeing the conflict in the heart of the Middle East. “As they descend on Europe, one of the obvious issues that we worry about, and in turn as we bring refugees into this country, is exactly what’s their background?” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said. “We don’t obviously put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees.” “That is a huge concern of ours,” Mr. Clapper said during a rare and unusually informal public appearance at an annual U.S. intelligence community conference that kicked off Wednesday morning in Washington. While he added that U.S. authorities, who have so far allowed in fewer than 2,000 of Syria’s some 4 million refugees, have a “pretty aggressive” system for screening the backgrounds of those seeking entry into the United States, Mr. Clapper said he’s not so confident about the capabilities of some European nations. He made the remarks during a wide ranging question-and-answer session that former ambassador and U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte moderated at Wednesday’s conference sponsored by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance and the Armed Forces Electronics Communication Association. Mr. Clapper said he stands behind the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran despite biting criticism from Republicans that it lacks safeguards for verifying that Iranian officials won’t cheat and develop nuclear weapons right under the noses of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the U.N. nuclear watchdog tasked with implementing the accord. Mr. Clapper said he is “pretty confident” that U.S. intelligence officials will be able to verify “from our own sources” the accuracy of future IAEA assessment’s of whether or not Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear accord. “We are fielding some independent capabilities that will enable us, I think, to have good insight into [Iran’s] nuclear industrial enterprise,” he said. Mr. Clapper said he could not publicly comment on what such independent capabilities entail. At the same time, he expressed confidence that the nuclear accord has put in place a protocol by which the IAEA will have “very intrusive, unprecedented access and ability to absolve and monitor what the Iranians are doing.” Overall, he added, he supports the nuclear deal reached this summer, because, “if given a choice between a state sponsor of terrorism with nuclear capability or a state sponsor of terrorism without, I’d probably pick the latter.”

I’m not a big fan of Lt Gen James Clapper, personally. His lying under oath during the whole NSA hearings before Congress, and the fact that he’s clearly an Obama lap dog with his support for the dreadful nuke deal with Iran when he knows better, makes him lose ALL credibility with yours truly. He has an integrity/character deficiency. That said.. The retired 3 star Air Force General (Lieutenant General) IS corect with his assessment about the refugees coming out of Syria, and the potential threats they could cause America and her national security interests. It may seem cruel or heartless.. But, it is in our national security interests to NOT allow them to come to America. America is NOT some big refugee center for the planet’s problems. While it is certainly heartbreaking to see what ISIS/ISIL is doing to the people (especially Christians) of Iraq and Syra (and elsewhere in the Middle East), it is NOT sufficient reason to bring those displaced by that conflict here to America. The far better solution is for us to actually defeat ISIS there in Iraq and Syria and help these people take their country back.

Opinion: CIA interrogations report: Feinstein offers aid and comfort to enemy, stabs heroes, allies in the back

Tuesday’s willful, unnecessary and gratuitously destructive release of the one-sided “torture report” at the insistence of outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. (backed by the White House) amounts to nothing less than providing aid and comfort to the enemy in wartime.

An EXCELLENT op/ed by retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. LTC Peters is exactly right, and echoes much of what we addressed yesterday (see below).

Senate Dems Politicize Intelligence Oversight – Their report on enhanced interrogation will damage U.S. credibility with allies

Aided by numerous leaks by Democratic members and staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, mainstream media are planning a nostalgic trip back to the Bush-bashing days of the 2000s with today’s release of declassified parts of a Senate report on the Bush-era enhanced-interrogation program, a CIA counterterrorism initiative that its critics claim included torture.

This is the most shameless, disingenuous, irresponsible, and damaging grandstanding by that self-righteous, sanctimonious, liberal, Democrat, fascist, blow-hard, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), I have seen yet.  How’s that for a mouthful of adjectives.  Trust me, I cut a few out.  Yeah, she is an anti-gun Nazi and we all know that.  But, once upon a time, she actually had SOME credibility in the intelligence community, for a Democrat, that is.  However…THIS shatters ALL of that.  Her creds are no more.  Dianne, along with Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), who lost his re-election bid and will be unseated next month (thank God), and the other liberal Dems on this committee (along with their ideologically-driven staffers), put this whole phony charade together just to embarrass certain folks in the intelligence community, and take some political swipe at former Pres. George W. Bush, and his administration.  But, it was totally disingenuous.  After all, they were ALL briefed on the interrogation programs, and knew all along what was going on.  So, why wait a decade to come out with this report?  Politics.  That’s all this was; pure politics.  Here is the consequence..  Not only will this set back our relationships with certain key allies in the war on Islamic terror…and make us look bad.  BUT, it’ll put the lives of many in the intelligence community at grave risk.  Having spent some time in that world, I wouldn’t be surprised if this has, or will, cost us many American lives.  And, btw.   Shame on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for supporting this partisan bs!!  I’ve never been a big fan of his.  But, he should know better..  After all, he was a former Naval officer, and a POW himself.  I saw him on the Senate floor today supporting this crap, and was totally blown away.  I guess he’s been in D.C. for too long, and made friends with the likes of former Sen. Ted Kennedy, and now Dianne Feinstein.  Its time for him to retire..  It’ll take years, if not decades, for the intelligence community (which works tirelessly 24/7 to protect us) to recover from the damage that this partisan show has caused.

Report: Obama Has Missed over Half His Second-Term Daily Intel Briefings

A new Government Accountability Institute (GAI) report reveals that President Barack Obama has attended only 42.1% of his daily intelligence briefings (known officially as the Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB) in the 2,079 days of his presidency through September 29, 2014.

This tracks with what we’ve been reporting here at The Daily Buzz..