Who's the spy boss?
CIA Director Nominee John Brennan and DNI James Clapper
January 14th, 2013
12:01 AM ET

Who's the spy boss?

By Pam Benson

Creating the office of the director of national intelligence in 2005 was meant to improve the management of the nation’s intelligence gathering in the wake of 9/11, but it has often led to turf wars between national intelligence directors and directors of the CIA.

Now President Barack Obama’s nomination of his trusted counterterrorism aide, John Brennan, as CIA director may leave the impression the CIA director is the top spy, even though the director of national intelligence technically would be his boss.

The problem, past directors in both posts and other experts say, is that the DNI’s role is ambiguous.

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Senators press CIA for information on 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Osama bin Laden
January 3rd, 2013
09:30 PM ET

Senators press CIA for information on 'Zero Dark Thirty'

By Pam Benson

The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to know exactly what the CIA told the makers of a controversial movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden that might have contributed to the film's suggestion that the harsh interrogation of a suspected terrorist helped find the al Qaeda leader.

A bipartisan group of senior senators said in a statement Thursday that they had written two letters to CIA Acting Director Michael Morell asking for all information and documents the agency provided to the makers of "Zero Dark Thirty." They also want Morell to provide proof for comments he made saying that harsh interrogations played a role in finding bin Laden.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain said they are concerned that the CIA may have provided information that might have misled the movie's director Kathryn Bigelow and its writer Mark Boal. Morell and other CIA officers met with the filmmakers shortly after the May 2011 raid.

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'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight
Osama bin Laden
December 13th, 2012
01:53 PM ET

'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight

By Pam Benson

A suspected terrorist is held down by his CIA captives at a black site, one of the secret overseas prisons run by the CIA. Cloth covers his entire face as a bucket of water is poured over it.

It's the harrowing first scene from "Zero Dark Thirty," the soon-to-be-released movie about how the CIA found Osama bin Laden. The scene depicts waterboarding, the controversial harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning, and it suggests that waterboarding and other coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to bin Laden.

While only a limited number of people have seen the movie so far at prerelease screenings, its first 45 minutes have reignited the debate over whether the U.S. government engaged in torture.

The scenes are bound to have a bigger effect on moviegoers than the less dramatic sleuthing depicted in the film, said Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst.

"These visceral scenes are, of course, far more dramatic than the scene where a CIA analyst says she has dug up some information in an old file that will prove to be a key to finding bin Laden," he wrote in an op-ed in CNN.com's Opinion section this week.

It's not just in a movie. By coincidence, the debate is also front and center as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to vote Thursday on whether to approve a report its nearly four-year investigation of the CIA's interrogation and detention program. Committee staff looked at more than 6 million pages of mostly CIA documents in compiling the 6,000-page report.
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Looming cyber attack threatens major banks
Some online victims of Project Blitzkrieg From McAfee Labs
December 13th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Looming cyber attack threatens major banks

By Pam Benson

Some of the nation's biggest banks are at risk of a massive cyber attack next year that could potentially siphon funds from unsuspecting customers, according to a leading digital security firm.

The fraud campaign, known as Project Blitzkrieg, is a credible threat, the Internet security firm McAfee Labs concluded in a new report.

The malware has been lying dormant in U.S. financial systems and is scheduled to go active by the spring of 2013, McAfee researchers concluded.

The project "appears to be moving forward as planned," the report states.

People familiar with the study said some 30 financial institutions are targets of the campaign.

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U.S. spies describe their vision of sci-fi world of the near future
Robot designed to do recovery work at the damaged Fukusima Nuclear Plant in Japan
December 11th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

U.S. spies describe their vision of sci-fi world of the near future

By Pam Benson

Unmanned vehicles, robotic aides to the elderly and surgical enhancements to make you stronger, smarter, or even give you night vision - it's all part of the world the U.S. intelligence community says could exist just 20 years from now.

In its "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds" report released Monday, the National Intelligence Council indicated future advancements in technology have the potential to boost economic productivity and reduce scarcity in food, water and energy worldwide.

In a briefing for reporters, Christopher Kojm, the chairman of the council added, "they will continue to extend the average age and life spans of populations around the world."

The report is the fifth in a series that looks 15-20 years ahead at the critical trends and the potential game changers.

It's intended to provide policymakers a way to think about the future of the world. Kojm said the council made a "special effort" to assess one of the game changers: the impact of new technologies in shaping global economic, social and military developments.

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U.S. losing its sway as the sole superpower
(Photo Credit:Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages) President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao standing with leaders of the G20 on June 18, 2012.
December 10th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

U.S. losing its sway as the sole superpower

By Matt Smith

The United States is likely to remain the leading world power in 2030 but won't hold the kind of sway it did in the past century, according to a new study by the U.S. intelligence community.

Washington will most likely hold its status as "first among equals" two decades from now, buoyed not only by military strength but by economic and diplomatic power. That's one of the conclusions of "Alternative Worlds," released Monday by the National Intelligence Council.

Rising powers such as China may be "ambivalent and even resentful" of American leadership, but they're more interested in holding positions of influence in organizations such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund than assuming that role, the report found.

"Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of other countries, the 'unipolar moment' is over, and "Pax Americana" - the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945 - is fast winding down," the report states.
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Continued clean-up seen at Iranian military site tied to nuclear program
DigitalGlobe satellite images from September 19 (L) and November 7 (R) of Parchin Military Complex in Iran
November 29th, 2012
04:47 PM ET

Continued clean-up seen at Iranian military site tied to nuclear program

By Pam Benson

Recent satellite photos show continued activity at a controversial Iranian military site that international weapons inspectors have repeatedly been denied access to, according to a Washington-based think tank.

The Institute for Science and International Study obtained imagery from DigitalGlobe taken on November 7 that the institute says shows changes in the roofs on two key buildings at the Parchin Military Complex. ISIS also pointed out there is a new addition on the building suspected of containing a high-explosives chamber and piles of dirt not seen in an image taken on September 19.

ISIS said the imagery indicates additional changes will be made to the site, making it more difficult for the international inspectors.

"The considerable amount of new materials, equipment, and rows of earth piles suggest that further construction will be taking place, thus increasing the level of alteration and further degrading the chance of obtaining reliable environmental samples if and when (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors gain access to the site," ISIS stated.

Since January, the IAEA has been seeking access to the site, where it suspects Iran may have conducted high-explosives tests related to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran denies that Parchin has any role in its nuclear program.

The latest IAEA report on Iran released earlier this month said the "extensive activities" at the Parchin site are certain to have "seriously undermined" the agency's verification process.

Those activities include "significant ground scraping and landscaping" with new dirt roads.

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Filed under: IAEA • IAEA • Iran • Nuclear • United Nations • weapons
Obama administration officials to brief intelligence committees on Benghazi
Extensive damage at U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya following September 11th attack
November 8th, 2012
05:53 PM ET

Obama administration officials to brief intelligence committees on Benghazi

By Pam Benson

Senior intelligence, State Department and FBI officials can expect to be grilled next week as congressional hearings resume on the terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that killed four Americans.

Lawmakers want answers to many outstanding questions surrounding the September 11 armed assault on the diplomatic facility and a CIA annex in Benghazi.

Specifically, they want to know who was responsible, whether it was planned, the intelligence reporting on the threat to Libya prior the attack, and whether security was adequate.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will conduct a closed-door hearing on November 15. Scheduled witnesses include Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director David Petraeus, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen.

Clapper, Petraeus and Olsen will also testify behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee on the same day.

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Intelligence budget continues to drop
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before Congress
October 30th, 2012
02:26 PM ET

Intelligence budget continues to drop

By Pam Benson

Spending by the intelligence community dropped for the second year in a row following the dramatic increases in the  years after the 2001 terrorist attacks and it's a trend that will continue.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement on Tuesday revealing the budget for national intelligence programs in fiscal year 2012 was $53.9 billion, a 1 percent decrease from the previous year. 

And according to the Defense Department, the amount spent for military intelligence dropped by 10 percent to $21.5 billion.

The overall spending of $75.4 billion in 2012 represents a 4% cut in intelligence spending.

The fiscal year ended on September 30.

Overall intelligence spending peaked in fiscal year 2010 when the United States spent a total of $80.1 billion.

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October 24th, 2012
08:21 PM ET

US intel believes some Benghazi attackers tied to al Qaeda in Iraq

By Suzanne Kelly, Pam Benson and Elise Labott

U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN.

That would represent the second al Qaeda affiliate associated with the deadly September 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Previously, intelligence officials said there were signs of connections to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African wing of the terror group.

The revelation that members of al Qaeda in Iraq are suspected of involvement in the Libya attack comes at a time when there is a growing number of fighters from that group also taking part in the Syrian civil war.

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