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 ...

Michael Morell, the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, agreed to The Cipher Brief’s request to do an unusual interview. We asked Michael to play the role of a senior Chinese intelligence analyst responsible for making assessments about the U.S. and U.S. policy. We asked ...

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 ...

The dueling Republican and Democratic talking points on Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election were on full display during the recent testimony of former CIA Director John Brennan to the House Intelligence Committee. Democratic members and surrogates concentrated their attention on potential abuse of power and obstruction of justice, ...

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is in Washington today meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.  Romania, a member of NATO, is a key strategic partner of the U.S., hosting a U.S. missile defense site.  But the eastern European nation also sits in a precarious location along the Black Sea, where the ...

June 4 marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the greatest naval battle in American history and the turning point of World War II in the Pacific. At Midway, a larger Japanese fleet was surprised and defeated by smaller, less combat-experienced U.S. naval forces. Victory was enabled by ...

Allegations that involve Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner persist, following U.S. media reports over the weekend. According to the Washington Post and New York Times, Kushner and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak discussed setting up  backchannel communications between Washington and Moscow, during the transition period in December.. The ...

Few were paying attention, but the CIA did something groundbreaking in 2015. For the first time since before man walked on the moon, the Agency created a new directorate. The idea was to move officers into the age of cyber, to arm them with the kinds of digital skills they ...

President Donald Trump is defending his "absolute right" to share information for "humanitarian reasons" with Russia following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak last week. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Trump said he had shared "facts pertaining to ...

The National Security Agency (NSA) announced on Friday a change in its intelligence collection under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA). The move comes under the backdrop of the looming deadline of December 31, 2017 when the authorities granted by 702 will expire if not reauthorized ...

Intelligence cooperation within Europe can get messy. There are national intelligence units, European Union (EU) intel structures, and ones within NATO. How all of these different institutions coordinate and share information is vital to securing the continent and has been of heightened focus with the wave of terror attacks in ...

There has been talk for decades of creating an overarching intelligence structure that works to keep the continent secure, but it has taken on new urgency with the recent increase in terror attacks in Europe.   However, doing so is easier said than done. In fact, there are legal impediments to ...

A spike in terrorist attacks in Europe over the past couple of years has reignited the debate over how to improve European intelligence collection and sharing. The ISIS-claimed terror shooting in Paris last week, which left one police officer dead and at least two others wounded, is just the latest ...

How far-fetched are James Bond’s gadgets or shows like Mission Impossible, where under-cover agents switch into different disguises? Not as far-fetched as you think. The CIA’s Office of Technical Service (OTS) is in charge of creating all those gadgets and disguises. Jonna Mendez, who spent 27 years at the CIA, ...

President Donald Trump and his White House team are using some of the same “active measures” to manipulate the American people today that Russian President Vladimir Putin employed trying to influence last year’s presidential election.   “Active measures” was a Soviet Cold War term that referred to Russian security services’ tactics ...

The diversity and scope of national security challenges facing the U.S. continues to grow, asking ever more of an Intelligence Community (IC) that must stretch its resources to meet these demands. The move toward greater integration since the advent of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has been critical to ...

The process of “unmasking,” or revealing the true identities of U.S. persons who unexpectedly figure into conversations picked up by National Security Agency (NSA) foreign intelligence collection efforts, has been the subject of much discussion this week in the continuing controversy over Russian interference in last year’s elections. The issue ...

We are living in a more complex world, with more state and non-state actors demanding more of our attention.  When we actively contributed to the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the success of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, and the eventual demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 ...

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes on Wednesday said he had seen intelligence reports showing that communications of President Donald Trump’s transition team had been picked up during foreign surveillance operations. Nunes, who had been a member of Trump’s transition team, told reporters it was “incidental collection” of the communications ...

You may not realize it, but every day you interact with geospatial intelligence (GEOINT).  Whether it’s the think tank that’s monitoring the Syrian refugee migrations, the academic institutions that are tracking Arctic ice extents, or the small satellite revolution, today’s innovative technology and crowded skies present a unique moment for ...

A recent narrative has taken hold among journalists and pundits that a “deep state” is behind the recent flood of leaks embarrassing the Trump Administration.  It is a notion that the Administration and its supporters have firmly embraced.  The claim is that Obama holdovers in the Intelligence Community (IC) are ...

The CIA’s Dar Adal was eventually revealed as the mastermind of a plot against the incoming President, but in this episode, the villain emerges as the very personification of evil. We shouldn’t be surprised. Dar’s warped conspiracy has involved a terrorist attack on U.S. soil to undermine an incoming president ...

At the outset of a new administration, it is prudent for incoming officials to bring CIA expertise in and look back at covert action, exploring what’s worked, what’s fallen short, and why. Presidents since George Washington have come to understand that strategic opportunity sometimes lies in the shadows. Since the ...

Should government officials be licensed or pass a test before they can receive intelligence? The debate about whether to believe intelligence reporting on Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) highlights a chronic problem.  Steps were taken to improve collection, analysis, and reporting in response to the wildly wrong ...

The last couple of weeks have seen almost daily terrorist attacks across Pakistan from a variety of bad actors:  February 13:  A suicide bombing during a protest rally in Lahore. February 14:  Two police officers were killed trying to defuse a terrorist bomb near a bus stop in Quetta.  February ...

President Donald Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on Tuesday that the U.S. needs to look at Russian actions “with eyes wide open and a healthy degree of skepticism” as he vowed that, if confirmed, he has “no intention” of holding back any information from the ...