Al-Qaida fears in Afghanistan, but China shines spotlight on IC leaders – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense


WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 14: Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) listens to a question during a congressional hearing on May 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

WASHINGTON: Leaders from across the intelligence community today discussed the priorities and challenges of their agencies, ranging from Russia to counterterrorism, cybersecurity and foreign influence operations.

And although they revealed a troubling assessment that al-Qaida could reconstitute itself in Afghanistan in less than two years, intelligence leaders nonetheless said China was the priority, as director of national intelligence Avril Haines. put it on monday, as well as the best ways to counter America’s biggest rival, from the shadows of espionage to cyberspace.

“It’s a global competition,” CIA Deputy Director David Cohen said today at the 2021 Intelligence and National Security Summit. “One of the things we’re going to do is take a playbook from the agency’s past and deploy assets globally to address China. To do this we need more people, and we need people [with language skills and specialized training]. “

And it won’t be easy, Cohen said, citing the ubiquitous surveillance environment inside mainland China, the challenge of recruiting secret agents when almost everyone today has a “digital history” and to control the potential double agents that “China points us towards us”.

When asked about pervasive surveillance, Cohen said, “It’s not just a Chinese problem. We encounter this in environments all over the world today ”and expressed our confidence in the agency’s ability to secure what Defense Intelligence Agency chief Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier called assets of “Deep penetration” inside China.

Cohen said his agency was dealing with digital stories and strict screening of potential duplicates using technology and human investigation, but he did not elaborate on details.

Cohen spoke alongside Berrier and other intelligence heavyweights at a panel for the summit, hosted by the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association (AFCEA) and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) .

General Paul Nakasone, head of the US Cyber ​​Command and the National Security Agency, said his agency focuses on the information environment, noting that online environments are now operated by states- nations and non-state actors who attempt to use information to describe events. in a way to create “schisms in our society”.

“What has changed with influence is that there are more actors. It used to be just Russia, but it’s not anymore. We see the Chinese in this area, ”Nakasone said, adding that it would be difficult to deter as influence trading is“ cheap, easy and efficient ”.

His remarks came just a week after U.S. cybersecurity researchers detailed an alleged global campaign of Chinese influence operating in plain sight online that sought, and reportedly failed, to spark COVID-19 protests in the United States. United. Nakasone said today that on the influence front, “The cast of characters is still under development,” and the NSA is watching closely.

Meanwhile, Major General Charles Cleveland, a senior official with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said he wanted his agency to examine China with the same urgency as the United States for the fight against terrorism after September 11th.

Afghanistan: military intelligence assesses a year or two for al-Qaeda to recover

Yet Nakasone admitted that even though the IC had “shifted the focus” to close competitors like China and Russia, he and his colleagues have not “released our eyes. [counterterrorism]. “At the forefront of this discussion: Afghanistan.

Berrier said the DIA’s current assessment is “conservatively, it will take one to two years” for al-Qaida to re-establish its operations in the Southwest Asian nation. But he said, “We’re not going to wait. We will be looking at all kinds of ways to get back to Afghanistan.

Cohen said the CIA “is already starting to see some indications of a potential al-Qaida movement into Afghanistan”, and it is a priority for the agency to “keep a close watch.”

After Haines’ admission on Monday that intelligence gathering will be more difficult in Afghanistan in the future, Cohen acknowledged the “current capabilities of the CIA in Afghanistan. [are] not this [they were] Six months ago.”

“That being said, the problem we face is not new to the community,” he said. “We have experience gathering intelligence in non-permissive areas and without a presence on the ground. We will use these techniques in Afghanistan as we work on the horizon.

When asked to clarify how the agency would do it, Cohen said, “We will try to do everything,” without providing further details.

FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate addressed another concern related to Afghanistan: the control of those entering the United States. He said the office is working with partners to screen people, noting “We use a very thorough screening of people entering the United States. If someone were to come and go here, then we open an investigation to determine if they cause a threat and how to neutralize that threat.

FBI: Domestic terror is the same priority as international terror

Abbate moved on to another area of ​​concern, emanating not from Southwest Asia but from America’s backyard.

Abbate said there is a “wide range of ideological motivations” that motivate domestic terrorists. He said the FBI had no “specific and credible information on the violence that could take place” during a political rally planned in the capital on September 18 in support of the January 6 protesters currently being held.

Abbate said counterterrorism is the “FBI’s number one priority”.

“It’s at the top of our threat rankings. We put international and national terrorism at the forefront, ”he said.

In cyberspace, Russia refuses to take action against ransomware

Cyber, however, also remains a top priority for the office, Abbate said.

Following a series of devastating ransomware attacks, Abbate said that, based on what the FBI saw, “there is no evidence to suggest that Russia is cracking down on ransomware operators. [inside Russia]. We didn’t see any action. I would say nothing has changed.

Dodging a controversial debate, Abbate also said it was “not for the FBI” to determine policy regarding ransomware payments.

Nakasone said cybersecurity is, of course, a priority for the NSA. “Cyber ​​security is national security,” he said, noting that “cybersecurity leads to a new competitive environment” where “adversaries operate below the threshold of armed conflict,” a concept often referred to as a gray area.

“[NSA is] truly a data agency, especially for our cryptographic code-breaking abilities, which he said uses “powerful computers.”

When it comes to countering adversaries, perhaps like Russia or China, in cyberspace, Nakasone said it was the president who called. “We will come up with a number of different options,” he said, declining to elaborate.

The broad discussion touched on a number of other areas including space security, innovation, emerging technologies and agency recruiting efforts, but one of the most interesting exchanges came when asked Cohen to provide an update on the CIA investigation – dubbed “Havana Syndrome”.

“We’ve come close,” he said, but “not enough to pass the kind of judgment people want. We’ll get there. I can’t tell you if it will be tomorrow, next week, or six months from now. But every piece of information we collect about it helps paint the picture. “

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