OPINION: The eyes of an intelligence officer are trained to look for what a person’s behavior uncovers about his or her motivations and aspirations, which can then help predict future behavior. Watching the president’s recent actions regarding North Korea—his desperation to meet in person with Kim Jong Un, his fulsome ...

Shortly after he was sworn in as Director CIA in January of 2017, now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made some bold moves that put renewed focus on the North Korea threat. First, he oversaw the establishment of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, meant to better bring together the resources available ...

Each week, we hope to give our readers tidbits of gossip from the world of national security and intelligence.  The Dead Drop is a source of fun or intriguing news you can’t get anywhere else. PARDON ME? Here at The Dead Drop we are old enough to remember when Fox News ...

Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell is debuting season two of his popular podcast ‘Intelligence Matters’ in partnership with CBS News this week.  The Cipher Brief was proud to be a partner for the launch of the podcast last season and Cipher Brief CEO & Publisher Suzanne Kelly took some ...

Russian influence operations were thrust into the public limelight in the West in 2017 with the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community that Russia did in fact, interfere with U.S. Elections. The resulting attention did not deter the Kremlin; on the contrary – it takes pride in it. From the ...

We talk a lot these days about smart power and hard power and soft power even the sharp power of manipulating information. In the end, power and influence have always been exercised in multiple dimensions – military, economic, political, ideological. Some states are strong in all dimensions, like the United ...

One day last May, employees of Britain’s health service logged on to their computers to find a startling discovery: their data had been encrypted, rendering it inaccessible until and unless they paid a ransom to have their data unscrambled and their access to it, returned. They were the first known ...

The U.S., EU and other Western allies announced Monday that they would expel a total of more than 100 Russian diplomats they claim are spies, in retaliation for the nerve agent attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain. The U.S., UK and many other ...

Presidents and generals depend upon timely intelligence to shape their decisions in a world of ambiguity, hostile actors and disinformation. The savviest leaders in the private sector do the same. Governments have broad intelligence authorities and powerful tools unavailable to the private sector, but they do not have a monopoly ...

Bottom Line: A spy’s tradecraft must constantly evolve because of the rapid changes of the digital age – especially the tools and skills required to maintain a legend, or cover identity. Virtual recordkeeping, modern surveillance technology and the vast amounts of a person’s background accessible on open-source platforms such as ...

Notwithstanding the comity on display at the recent Senate intelligence committee Annual Threat Hearing, reports that Republican Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Nunes ordered a physical wall be built in the shared office space between Republican and Democratic Professional Staff Members are distressing but not ...

Bottom Line: While President Donald Trump’s tweets at times unnerve America’s closest allies, especially those that attack U.S. intelligence and law enforcement, the “Five Eyes” network of the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand continues to share intelligence almost as one nation. The intelligence relationship arguably provides stability and ...

Technological advancements in the past 30 years have in many ways democratized access to information and disrupted countless industries – from journalism to national security. Increasingly, intelligence-rich assessments are being made by non-intelligence professionals. Consider the 20-year-old Australian student who revealed the pattern of life on U.S. military bases, simply ...

Wartime has been a force multiplier for espionage ever since the Revolutionary War, when General George Washington was the founding father of the art of intelligence. In World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) advanced the practice, albeit tragically, with its Cassia Ring espionage network. These particular “glorious ...

The U.S. arguably is facing more complex and serious threats to our national security than at any time in our history. Intelligence is critical to understanding these threats and presenting policymakers with options for dealing with challenges: Iran; nuclear proliferation; cyber security; Russia; China; North Korea; transnational terrorism; and climate ...

The U.S. intelligence community has long considered its mission as the gatherer of secrets. But sometimes insights are hiding in plain sight among tweets, blog posts, online videos, newspaper articles, academic journals and public records. Leveraging such open source information can greatly enhance our understanding of the world and critical ...

For this year’s Thanksgiving Day column, The Cipher Brief revisits a unique column by Michael Morell, the former acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He agreed to The Cipher Brief’s request to play the role of a senior Chinese intelligence analyst responsible for making assessments about ...

There has been growing discussion about the importance of open source information – both in terms of the power and potential of creating and disseminating news and narratives worldwide, whether genuine or fake, and for the pressing need to evolve the open source intelligence (OSINT) discipline. “Devaluing OSINT has become a ...

The Cipher Brief Cyber Advisory Board’s Bob Gourley commented on the Trump administration’s new process for disclosing software vulnerabilities it has detected – the first time a U.S. administration has revealed its internal rules, aka the Vulnerability Equities Process. This is a significant improvement and clarification of the existing process ...

In the internet age, the digital breadcrumbs humans leave in their wake can be harnessed – the geotag on a tweeted photo, or the time stamps on a YouTube video upload. This open source, publicly available material, once scorned by the secret-stealers of the intelligence community, is rising in value ...

The National Security Act of 1947 established the Central Intelligence Agency and the position of Director of Central Intelligence. In addition to setting the Director’s salary ($14,000 per annum) and giving him/her the power to fire CIA employees, the Act specified the various duties of the new CIA relating to ...

It was 1999, and the Russian Prosecutor General, Yury Skuratov, who was investigating former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s administration for corruption, found himself in the bull’s eye of a blackmail operation designed to smear his reputation and force him to resign. The operation used blackmail – known as kompromat, or ...

While Russia has become increasingly aggressive on the international stage, it has done so tactically, commonly engaging in plausibly deniable clandestine operations such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea. To keep policymakers in the West guessing at what Russia’s true intentions are, Moscow has employed an adapted version of the ...

“Hey Thorne. Don’t get caught, my wife likes it here.”  That was the Deputy Chief of Station’s regular advice to all case officers prior to their agent meetings. The message was clear: identify threats to the operation, mitigate those risks, and fully understand the consequences for failure - arrest, detention, ...

In mid-March, The Cipher Brief spoke with former CIA Acting and Deputy Director Michael Morell about the issue of “unmasking” – the common practice of executive branch officials requesting/receiving the identities of U.S. persons that were incidentally collected in the Intelligence Community’s pursuit of foreign intelligence.  At that time, House Intelligence ...

Former National Security Agency Deputy Director Rick Ledgett weighed in on the veracity of the Intelligence Community’s assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as his experience in the aftermath of NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s reveals during a wide-ranging conversation at The Cipher Brief’s Georgetown Salon Series ...

Geospatial intelligence, or the collection and analysis of the physical features of the Earth, has long been an integral aspect of both strategic national security efforts as well as tactical combat. The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has been at the forefront of confronting national security challenges, from terror groups ...

On May 2, 2011 the agonizing, decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden finally ended. The raid by U.S. Navy seals on the walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was the culmination of years of intelligence gathering. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the CIA stepped up efforts begun years earlier to ...

An old boss of mine at the CIA used to talk to young officers who were deploying to Afghanistan or Pakistan, and in his preamble to discussing the myriad of challenges and interests in the region, he would remark that if the officer were a thoroughbred, an assignment to the ...

Amid continuing tension with North Korea- underscored by the firing on August 29 of a ballistic missile that flew over Japan before plunging into the Pacific Ocean- public understanding and discussion of this complex and increasingly dangerous situation is hampered by a one-dimensional narrative that has shaped much of the ...

Talk of espionage today has focused on Russian spies and the hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But recent reports of painful and unexplained hearing loss by U.S. diplomats in Cuba have raised questions about both the spy craft that may have caused it as well as the possible ...

President Donald Trump is not the first American public figure to go to war with the press, nor is he the most extreme in his views.  Even without benefit of Twitter, the antipathy of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman for the Civil War-era Fourth Estate manifested itself in a memorably ...

  Son Sen was the Khmer Rouge’s Heinrich Himmler, in charge of carrying out Cambodia’s own holocaust that killed up to two million in the 1970s. As U.S. representative at UN-led negotiations, I observed Son Sen closely over a year’s time across a negotiating table during deliberations of the Supreme ...

A lot of people ask me if the spy game is as exciting as it is in the movies. While it is far tamer and less sexy than most of the fictional portrayals, it is nonetheless an engaging and fulfilling career.  A life in the clandestine service involves living overseas, learning foreign ...

Robert Hanssen. Aldrich Ames. Those are just two of the faces peering out from a mock-up “Wall of Shame” of double agents and leakers that leads down a hallway to the United States government's senior counterintelligence official’s office. The pictures in the nondescript office building just outside Washington, D.C. serve ...

President Trump’s second, private meeting with Russian President Putin at the recent G20 meeting has been the subject of considerable scrutiny. While perhaps politically unwise or even possibly nefarious, an accidental outcome of the meeting may be to make it harder for the Russians to retaliate for the December 2016 ...

Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, told the Aspen Security Forum today that he believes the U.S. national security community lacks the capability to prevent a “cyber-9/11”—meaning a collapse of critical infrastructure caused by malware unleashed by a state or transnational organized crime group. “Imagine a shutdown of the electric ...

While the origins of the phrase may be traced back to Turkey, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) today represents the defining example of a “deep state.” Historically responsible for coups, assassinations, domestic political manipulation, covert action, media suppression, torture, and “disappearances” across the country – particularly in Pakistan’s insurgency prone ...

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is one of most powerful intelligence agencies in the world, as it works to further Pakistani interests in South Asia. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with William Milam, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, to discuss ISI’s role within Pakistan’s political and military structure as ...

Pakistan’s intelligence organization, known as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has ensnared the U.S. in a double game for years. Operating in the shadows of the Pakistani “deep state” – a term used to reference the country’s political system, which is dictated by unelected military and security officials – the ISI has ...

Tradecraft. A term popularized in the novels of John le Carré, but practiced by spies throughout history. Tradecraft includes a number of methodologies, ranging from chalk-marked dead drops, and honey traps, to wiretapping, losing a tail, and safe houses. Spies have to master their craft if they are to be ...

Intelligence officers must often use a false identity – a legend or cover. How has social media and digital technology changed how they create and preserve these cover identities, and what have counterintelligence units traditionally looked for when trying to identify foreign spies? The Cipher Brief’s Levi Maxey spoke with ...

Intelligence officers’ tradecraft is highly guarded for good reason. One of its most important aspects is establishing a cover identity so foreign governments and hostile groups are not aware who is spying on them. The Cipher Brief’s Levi Maxey spoke with Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA station chief, about what ...

Reports late last week revealed that the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya also included a Russian-American lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin, a former member of the Soviet military who may have ties to Russian counterintelligence. The Cipher Brief asked Steve Hall, a former member of the ...

Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American Lobbyist – among others - begs the question, was this a Russian intelligence operation? If so, is this typical Russian tradecraft, or something out of the ordinary? And what should we expect in the coming years? The ...

“Mr. Sessions, are you familiar with what spies call tradecraft?” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June. “A little bit,” replied Sessions. “Do you like spy fiction: John le Carre, Daniel Silva, Jason Matthews?” Cotton continued, finally asking, “have you ever, in any of these fantastical ...

In his readout of the two hour and 15 minute meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump repeatedly brought up Russian meddling in the U.S. election during the meeting. In his words, the two leaders had “a very ...

After weeks of anticipation, U.S. President Donald Trump finally met face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. The relationship between the two leaders has been characterized by lofty praise and suggestions of cooperation on the fight against ISIS. The relationship between ...

Russians are fond of their aphorism, v chuzhoi monastir so svoim ustavom, ne khodyat – “No-one goes to another monastery with their own charter," the Russian equivalent to “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Soviet leaders and their Russian successors have sought to exploit Russians' appreciation for their special historical ...

Current and former Intelligence Community heads say intelligence briefings must shift under President Donald Trump to acknowledge his tendency to be what National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Susan Gordon described as a “fire and forget” type of leader. During a discussion at The Cipher Brief’s Annual Threat Conference in Sea ...