President-elect Donald Trump is compiling his national security and law enforcement teams and, so far, has tapped three conservative Trump loyalists – retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Representative Mike Pompeo, and Senator Jeff Sessions. Here is The Cipher Brief’s take on the potential national security leadership: National Security Advisor: LTG ...

By some analyses, the U.S. Army has fared the worst in terms of diminished readiness. Fifteen years of operations in the Middle East and budget sequestration have limited opportunities and resources for training and modernization. The Cipher Brief spoke with retired Army Lieutenant General Guy Swan about the state of ...

In a September 7th speech, then-candidate Donald Trump described his vision for the future of the American military. “As soon as I take office, I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our military. This will increase certainty in the ...

The use of drone strikes to eliminate terrorists around the globe has become a defining pillar of the United States’ post-9/11 counterterrorism strategy. And although the subject of targeted killing remains controversial from both a legal and human rights standpoint, the deployment of drones in counterterrorism operations abroad has undoubtedly ...

In October 2016, New York magazine published an exit interview with President Barack Obama who “chose five moments that, he believes, will have outsized historical impact.”  One of those five “moments” was a drone strike carried out on September 30, 2011, which killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda terrorist who ...

“Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?” That was the question posed by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to his staff in 2003. If answering this question has proven difficult ...

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump refers to himself as “a big fan of Israel.”  He supports moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would undoubtedly upset the Arabs.   But he also has said he would be “sort of a neutral guy” in any peace talks between ...

The votes have been cast, the decision made, and now comes the really tough part: governing.   During a presidential campaign, issues are portrayed mostly in black and white terms. But when it comes time to actually take hold of the reins of power, the candidate’s stated positions run smack into ...

Border security has been one of the most heavily debated topics in the U.S. presidential race, with most of the discussion focusing on illegal immigration. But that train of thought is not necessarily productive, explained Mike Fisher, former Chief of the United States Border Patrol, at The Cipher Brief’s monthly ...

When the new president walks into the Oval Office on January 20th, the American leader will most likely find a note from Barack Obama, a time honored tradition by departing presidents. Although the notes are not often made public, the ones we know about contain words of encouragement and reflections ...

As the Nation staggers to Tuesday's electoral finish line, the Cipher Brief asked if I would comment on what a Trump foreign and security policy might look like. Donald Trump isn't one to make detailed speeches or to offer commentary at think tanks or to post policy prescriptions.  And he ...

If Hillary Clinton wins tonight, it will likely be a relief to the Washington foreign policy establishment, our Allies, and probably even our adversaries.  If anything is valued in international affairs, it is predictability and stability.  Even those revolutionary states that are looking to overturn the status quo are probably ...

All things considered, there was ample discussion of critical national security issues during the third and final 90-minute debate of this heated and often nasty U.S. presidential campaign. Whereas Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton provided some specifics on a number of these issues, Republican nominee Donald Trump mostly criticized past and ...

Collaborating with the private sector remains “a work in progress” for the U.S. government and intelligence community, but prioritizing that effort is crucial to protecting national security, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Thursday. Reaching out to the private sector is a “daunting task,” the U.S.’s top spy said, ...

The newly released FBI interview reports show that it was a Bureau official who initially suggested he would look into changing the classification of a State Department email that was part of the Hillary Clinton email probe, if Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy would allow an increase of FBI agents in Iraq. ...

It was a U.S. presidential debate unlike we have ever experienced.  Personal attacks and accusations expressed by Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton dominated over discussion of substantive issues. It seemed as though more time was spent in the gutter than the trenches. The Cipher Brief went ...

The filing of a criminal complaint by the U.S. government against a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor has once again raised the harrowing possibility that for the second time in three years, an insider has allegedly stolen highly classified and damaging secret information. The FBI secretly arrested Harold T. Martin, ...

In a Presidential race dominated by immigration, trade, and an almost unprecedented level of political mudslinging, one could be forgiven for missing moderator Lester Holt’s question on nuclear “No First Use” (NFU) policy in the first Presidential debate of 2016. However, the issue of NFU has quietly become a hotly ...

Since June 2016, there has been a spirited debate in Washington regarding the U.S. adoption of a No-First-Use (NFU) policy. A NFU policy would be a U.S. declaration that it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons; their use would be limited to a possible U.S. response to ...

Geopolitical tensions have risen in Europe since the Russia-Ukraine crisis in 2014; in South Asia with the flare-up in Kashmir; and in East Asia with the growing assertiveness of China in its maritime territorial disputes and the continuing series of nuclear tests by North Korea. As a consequence, nuclear risks ...

It was a raucous Vice Presidential debate Tuesday night, with both candidates repeatedly talking over each other, and each disparaging the positions of the other’s running mate. Unlike last week’s Presidential debate, where the focus was more on domestic issues and character, approximately half of the VP debate surprisingly centered ...

How the Terrorist Watchlist Works In the wake of recent domestic terrorist incidents, the spotlight has once again fallen on the terrorist watchlist. What is it, how does the system actually work — and could the watchlist have been a means to prevent the attacks? The gunman in the Orlando ...

The issue of national security is one of many to divide the two Presidential candidates in this, the most contentious of election campaigns. During Monday night’s first debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, those divisions were readily apparent.  The last 30 minutes provided some animated ...

House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) on Tuesday will unveil his new counterterrorism strategy, a proposal meant to suggest ways to overhaul how the United States can confront the the threat of homegrown terrorism. A draft of the proposal, “A National Strategy to Win the War Against Islamist ...

Fifteen years ago, 19 hijackers and four planes shattered American illusions of security. An outside attack seemed remote to most Americans, and there appeared to be no immediate threat to their daily lives.  September 11th quickly dispelled that sense of safety, and as the dust settled and the death toll ...

As we mark another 9/11 anniversary, the Cipher Brief asked me to assess the impact of the past 15 years on the American intelligence community. Let me begin by making one thing clear.  The American intelligence community is actually pretty good at what it does.  In fact, if we were ...

In the aftermath of 9/11, the American intelligence community (IC) went through one of the most transformative periods in its history. From the creation of the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence (ODNI) to the creation of new agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. national ...

The crisis after 9/11 forced every branch of the military to reevaluate its mission set, its structure, and its identity. Fifteen years later, the process is ongoing. Last week, a congressional report highlighted the debate over whether it should be enlarged or reduced from its current 475,000 soldiers. In that ...

Following the tragic attack on 9-11, U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the CIA, supported by airpower, conducted a punitive expedition that resulted in the Taliban and al Qaeda being routed from Afghanistan.   In 2003, working with the Kurds, U.S. SOF conducted operations in northern Iraq, accomplishing the mission intended ...

In the 15 years following 9/11, the U.S. Army pivoted away from its traditional role and took on the challenge presented by new missions and enemies. The Cipher Brief spoke with Lt. General Guy Swan about the gains and sacrifices that have forged the Army of the present and the ...

NBC’s Wednesday night “Commander-in-Chief Forum” gave some insights into how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might handle the job, but I first want to deal with the danger it illustrated for the Intelligence Community when it comes to providing classified intelligence briefings to political candidates running for president in a ...

The Russians hack the United States’ systems “all the time,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a conference of intelligence professionals on Wednesday. He also tackled concerns about the upcoming presidential transition and major threats facing the United States such as terrorism, climate change, and widespread global instability. During ...

I was recently asked what I would tell a Presidential nominee or a President-elect to most worry about in today's world. It was kind of a "what keeps you awake at night" question. While forming an answer, my mind (probably reflecting the operational environment of my last CIA post) gravitated ...

On Wednesday, Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump, received his first classified intelligence briefing at an FBI field office in New York City. The briefing, which was given by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), comes on the heels of controversial remarks made by Trump in an interview ...

Calls for more funding to fight the Zika virus have intensified in the last week as concerns over the implications of a potential crisis in the United States mount among health security experts. With no sign of members of Congress returning from recess to tackle the issue, the Obama administration ...

Mexico has made historic progress in the two and a half short years since it amended its constitution to allow private investment in its energy sector. During the worst oil price crash in decades, Mexico has managed to hold three bid rounds, welcome 16 new private oil companies into its ...

Fifty former top national security officials who served in Republican administrations have signed a blistering letter denouncing GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump, warning he ““would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” The signatories stated they would not vote for Trump, referring ...

The Democratic National Convention wrapped up on Thursday with nominee Hillary Clinton looking to establish herself as the “steady” hand on national security issues, compared to her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump. Clinton sought to prop up her national security credentials with speeches by high profile supporters such as former Defense ...

So, why America’s apparent turn toward nationalism, nativism, and even isolationism? How could the nation most responsible for leading this great and grand strategy to move mankind out of insularity to such unprecedented prosperity now wish to effectively take a wrecking ball to the whole lot? Former U.S. Treasury Secretary, ...

One year ago, on July 10, 2015, Katherine Archuleta resigned her position as Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in the face of intense criticism following the announcement that OPM had been the victim of the worst breach of a government network in U.S. history. The actual breach ...

It has been a little over a year since the Office of Personnel Management announced that it had been breached. Since that time, the federal government has taken an array of steps to improve its cybersecurity posture and avoid another major breach. The Cipher Brief spoke to John Davis, Vice ...

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was the victim of a cyber-attack in 2014.  Hackers (the Chinese are suspected) gained access to OPM’s local-area network on or about May 7, 2014 by stealing credentials and then planting malware and creating a backdoor for exfiltration.  Actual exfiltration of data on background ...

In the years since 9/11, the FBI has refocused its efforts beyond law enforcement to include, and even prioritize, intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations.  As the United States’ official domestic security agency, the FBI’s responsibilities have become quite expansive. “Today’s FBI is a threat-focused, intelligence-driven organization,” stated FBI Director James ...

After the San Bernardino terrorist attack there were the usual cries “to do something” to better protect the nation. We will surely again hear similar concerns in the face of the brutal massacre in Orlando.  To this point, however, not much, if anything, has happened.  However, another domestic terrorist attack—especially ...

When the Cipher Brief asked me to write an article assessing how well the FBI has done since 9/11 in protecting our country from terrorism threats and whether there was a need for a separate domestic intelligence agency, I agreed without hesitation.  On 9/11, I had been in the FBI ...

The first thing to state is that we are still not clear about Omar Mateen’s background. The FBI are still investigating possible motives – and it is an investigation that may take some time. People in Britain are shocked by the killings, which were almost as many as the game ...

In the days since the Orlando attack that marked the worst mass shooting in modern American history, gun control advocates in both Congress and the national security realm have tried to gather momentum for legislative action. Following a nearly 15-hour filibuster by Democrats on gun control legislation, the Senate is ...

The choice of soft targets in recent terrorist attacks in Orlando, Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino has raised questions about the safety and security of private businesses. What do the managers of typical soft targets — public gathering places such as nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, offices, or public transportation that are ...

The Cipher Brief: Nothing is definitive yet, but Omar Mateen appears to be a case of a lone wolf - possibly inspired by ISIS, but so far with no direct connections - with an apparent hatred for gay people.   However, he was on the FBI’s radar.  Twice he was investigated, ...

As the investigation into the Orlando attack unfolds, authorities on Monday said it appears the shooting was not part of a plot directed from outside the United States and that the gunman was likely a homegrown extremist. FBI Director James Comey and President Barack Obama both said on Monday that ...