CIA Director John Brennan Outlines Major Overhaul
CIA Reorganizes to Speed Analysis, Focus More on Cyber-Espionage.
WASHINGTON – The Central Intelligence Agency is launching one of the biggest reorganizations in its history, aimed in part at sharpening its focus on cyber operations and incorporating digital innovations into intelligence gathering, CIA director John Brennan said. In a reorganization of the nation’s premier spy agency, the CIA is creating a special division to conduct digital espionage, the latest government agency to respond to the growing use of cyber hacks and attacks around the globe. In a presentation to reporters this week, Brennan said he also is creating new units within the CIA, called “mission centers,” intended to concentrate the agency’s focus on specific challenges or geographic areas, such as weapons proliferation or Africa. He said the move comes after nine outside experts spent three months analyzing the agency’s management structure, including what deputy CIA director David Cohen called ‘pain points,’ organizational areas where the CIA’s bureaucracy does not work efficiently. On the cyber front, the CIA chief said he is establishing a new “Directorate of Digital Innovation” to lead the agency’s efforts to track and take advantage of advances in cyber technology.
The reorganization will shift the agency’s focus toward “mission centers” devoted to issues such as global terrorism and away from a structure that has long grouped field officers and analysts by their focus on the Near East, Western Europe, East Asia and other areas. U.S. officials said that Brennan decided the agency had to increase the resources and emphasis it devoted to cyberspace because advanced communications technology is rapidly becoming pervasive.
He lamented that there is often no single person he can hold accountable for the spying mission in any given part of the world. “There are a lot of areas that I would like to have better insight to, better information about, better access to,” Brennan said. “Safe havens, denied areas. The shift comes after U.S. intelligence was caught off guard by a series of high-profile digital attacks last year, including an assault on computer systems at Sony Pictures linked to North Korea, and an Iranian-launched cyber assault on Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world’s largest casino company.
Whether because we don’t even have a diplomatic presence in a country, or because there are parts of countries that have been overrun and taken over by terrorist groups and others.” The changes come against a backdrop of widespread concern that the CIA’s focus on hunting and killing terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks has led to an erosion of the espionage and analytic capabilities the agency built during the Cold War. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, warned Congress last month that cyber attacks pose a greater long-term threat to national security than terrorism. Two – the Directorate of Science and Technology, which among other activities invents spy gadgets, and the Directorate of Support, which handles administrative and logistical tasks – will retain their names. The CIA, along with other U.S. intelligence agencies, wrongly assessed the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002 and failed to anticipate the rapid collapse of Middle East governments during the Arab Spring in 2011, among other shortcomings.
The Pentagon, FBI and Department of Homeland Security have stepped up cyber security operations, and the White House last month announced a new agency to help analyze and share digital threat information between government and business. The agency’s greatest public success of recent years — the 10-year effort to locate and kill Osama bin Laden in 2011 — may have taken longer than it should have, according to evidence made public in the recent Senate report on CIA interrogations. The National Clandestine Service, home of front-line agency undercover “case officers,” who recruit spies and conduct covert actions, will be renamed Directorate of Operations, which is what it had been called for most of the agency’s history.
It will have the same level of authority as the four long-standing directorates responsible for clandestine operations, analysis, spy gadgetry and logistics. The 10 new “mission centers” will bring together CIA officers with expertise from across the agency’s range of disciplines to concentrate on specific intelligence target areas or subject matter, Brennan said. The new cyber push threatens to put the CIA in direct competition with the mammoth National Security Agency, which specializes in breaking codes, vacuuming up conversations and communications, and analyzing huge troves of digital transmissions. But officials said the CIA will focus less on collecting so-called signals intelligence and more on how to use digital tools to convince adversaries to spill their secrets, and to help protect American operatives. Under the new plan, each center would be run by an assistant director who would be responsible for the entire intelligence mission within that jurisdiction, including covert operations, spying, analysis, liaison with foreign partners and logistics.
Rival spy agencies use those digital fingerprints to help track CIA operatives, and the agency wants to find techniques to help officers working undercover hide their tracks online. The agency also will create 10 regional and issue-focused “mission centers” that will attempt to break down the traditional walls between the directorates, especially the operators who steal secrets and recruit agents, and the analysts who pore over data and brief policy makers and the president. “There was, I think, great esprit de corps in those directorates, but also at times, those directorates were a bit siloed, and were stovepiped,” meaning they didn’t share critical intelligence, Brennan said. The head of the CIA’s operation arm retired abruptly in January after voicing concerns about the plan, say two former CIA officials who know him but spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss internal agency matters. The 9/11 Commission recommended numerous reforms after that intelligence failure, partly aimed at ending the stovepipes, but Brennan’s comments suggest the problem persists.
Field operatives sometimes mocked analysts for sitting at a desk, and analysts worried that knowing too much about espionage could bias their interpretation of information. Instead of each directorate running its own schools, training programs will be brought together under a chancellor at a facility Brennan called “CIA University.”
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