At social event, DNI Clapper acknowledges "the elephant in the room"
June 8th, 2013
11:42 PM ET

At social event, DNI Clapper acknowledges "the elephant in the room"

By Pam Benson

It would probably be an understatement to say this was one of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s worst weeks on the job.

Leaked details of two top secret surveillance programs had the intelligence community and the Obama Administration scrambling to respond to what appears to be a massive effort to collect phone records of Americans and the e-mails and other communications of foreigners by the National Security Agency.

At a dinner Friday night honoring former CIA Director Michael Hayden, the DNI acknowledged his tough few days with a quip: “So many emails to read, so little time.”

But Clapper had serious comments about what he called “the elephant in the room.”

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Filed under: Intelligence • NSA • PRISM
May 22nd, 2013
07:02 PM ET

Satellite agency analyzes twister destruction for first responders

By Pam Benson

The people who usually analyze imagery from U.S. spy satellites are helping emergency workers respond to the devastation from this week's deadly twister in Oklahoma.

Shortly after the tornado struck, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to provide expertise to assess video, pictures and satellite imagery of the destruction.

And for the first time, NGA analysts are using an unclassified website to share that information with first responders.

Their assessments aim to help rescue workers conduct search and rescue operations and begin recovery efforts.

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Filed under: Intelligence • NGA • Tornado
Controversial officer passed over for CIA spy chief post
May 7th, 2013
05:55 PM ET

Controversial officer passed over for CIA spy chief post

By Pam Benson

The undercover officer temporarily running the CIA's spy division who had ties to the agency's controversial interrogation program will not get the job permanently.

CIA Director John Brennan said on Tuesday the first female to lead the National Clandestine Service will be replaced by a man, a nearly 30-year veteran who served covertly overseas, including a stint as station chief in Pakistan.

The identities of these undercover officials were not made public.

Whether the acting director would get to keep the job was in question due to opposition from a number of senior lawmakers concerned about her ties to the CIA's controversial interrogation and detention program.

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Filed under: Brennan • Central Intelligence Agency • CIA • Congress • Intelligence • Security Brief • Terrorism
U.S. intel agencies reviewing all data on Boston bombing suspects
April 19th, 2013
10:45 AM ET

U.S. intel agencies reviewing all data on Boston bombing suspects

By Barbara Starr and Pam Benson

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are again reviewing all intelligence on the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing for clues about their motivations and connections to possible terrorist groups, U.S. officials told CNN.

In the hours since the identities of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerian Tsarnaev were confirmed by the FBI, “there is a very methodical and in-depth analysis under way on these suspects and the connections they may have had to any overseas group,” a senior U.S. official said. Until Thursday, the Obama administration had not come up with any specific intelligence - including intercepts or online messages - indicating a threat to the Boston Marathon, according to officials that CNN had spoken with previously. But now, with the identification of the suspects, social media messages they have posted, and other information coming to light, “we can focus more specifically on their potential connections overseas,” the senior official said.

The officials said that agencies are going back through all relevant data - things such as intelligence reports, intercepts, jihadist websites, passport records — that they have collected to see if there is any information about the suspects and if there are potential links to international or domestic terrorist groups.

However, the senior official also strongly emphasized that the intelligence community simply has no answers at this point as to whether there is an international connection or whether the suspects were "inspired" or "influenced" by overseas groups. He also reiterated it is entirely possible this was purely an act of domestic terrorism with no foreign nexus.

US intel works on new North Korea nuke assessment
April 18th, 2013
09:44 PM ET

US intel works on new North Korea nuke assessment

By Pam Benson

The intelligence community is working on a new assessment of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile program, according to the nation's top intelligence official.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced the broad effort during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday.

He sought to set the record straight following controversy over a Pentagon intelligence assessment of Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities that surfaced unexpectedly last week amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

In that case, an unclassified part of an otherwise secret analysis concluded with moderate confidence that North Korea could now deliver a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile.
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Filed under: Benghazi • North Korea • Syria
White House threatens cybersecurity veto
April 16th, 2013
06:10 PM ET

White House threatens cybersecurity veto

By Pam Benson

The White House is threatening to veto a House cybersecurity bill unless changes are made to further safeguard privacy and civil liberties, and limit private-sector liability protections.

Last week, the House Intelligence Committee approved and sent to the full House proposed legislation that would enhance data sharing between the government and private industry to help protect computer networks from cyber attacks.

The committee amended the bill after consulting with the White House during its drafting, but the Obama administration is still not satisfied with some of its provisions.

"The administration still seeks additional improvements and if the bill, as currently crafted, were presented to the president, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto" it, the White House budget office said in a statement on Tuesday.

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Filed under: Security Brief
New cybersecurity bill clears House committee
April 10th, 2013
08:34 PM ET

New cybersecurity bill clears House committee

By Pam Benson

The House Intelligence Committee has overwhelmingly passed a new cybersecurity bill that would enhance data sharing between the government and private industry to protect computer networks and intellectual property from cyber attacks.

By a vote of 18-2, the panel on Wednesday approved the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).

The measure sets up a voluntary system for companies to share threat information on their networks with the government in exchange for some liability protections.

The bill also allows the government to share intelligence and other cyber threat information with industry.

A similar bill died in the Senate last year after a number of Republicans argued that proposed cybersecurity standards allowed for too much government regulation.

The White House had threatened to veto that bill over privacy concerns.
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Filed under: Cybersecurity • Pentagon
Senate committee delays vote on CIA nomination
February 14th, 2013
02:12 PM ET

Senate committee delays vote on CIA nomination

By Pam Benson

A Senate committee vote on whether to confirm John Brennan as CIA director has been put off until lawmakers return from their recess at month's end.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein planned a vote for Thursday, but rules giving members more time to review transcripts of Brennan's testimony from last week's confirmation hearing will push back consideration.

There are also some other issues to resolve.

"Members on both sides of the aisle have asked that certain information be provided to the committee," Feinstein said in a statement.
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Five things we learned from John Brennan's confirmation hearing
John Brennan at Senate confirmation hearing to be CIA Director
February 7th, 2013
11:06 PM ET

Five things we learned from John Brennan's confirmation hearing

By Pam Benson

John Brennan came well-prepared Thursday and held his own during questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing to become the 21st director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was in stark contrast to what was considered by many as an ill-prepared, lethargic performance by defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearing last week.

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee mostly grilled Brennan about his knowledge of the CIA's controversial interrogation and detention program and the lethal targeting of suspected terrorists. Republicans tended to focus on leaks of secret information about counterterrorism activities.

While on one hand Brennan was forceful with his answers, on the other he seemed very careful with his choice of words.

Here are five things we learned from the hearing:

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Filed under: Brennan • CIA • Security Brief
John Brennan likely to face Democrats' scrutiny at hearing
President Barack Obama nominates chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to be CIA director on January 7.
February 6th, 2013
09:42 PM ET

John Brennan likely to face Democrats' scrutiny at hearing

By Barbara Starr and Pam Benson

As President Barack Obama's pick for CIA director heads to Capitol Hill Thursday for his confirmation hearing, some in the president's own party are threatening to hold up John Brennan's nomination.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told reporters he would "pull out all the stops" to get answers about the legality of targeting Americans involved with al Qaeda overseas. Wyden was not satisfied with a confidential Justice Department memo that was sent to key congressional committees last year but only became public on Tuesday.

The 16-page white paper indicated the U.S. government could use lethal force against an American citizen overseas if the person is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates and an attack is imminent. But it was a policy paper rather than the official legal document, which the American Civil Liberties Union says is 50 pages long.
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