Brennan says new CIA cyber branch part of digital evolution

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CIA Director John Brennan defended Friday his decision to build a more robust cyber capability within his agency, saying it is part of a necessary evolution in the CIA’s analytical and operational know-how, not an attempt to elbow in on other intelligence agencies’ turf.

As part of the wide restructuring of the agency that Brennan announced earlier this month, the CIA will create a Directorate for Digital Innovation. It will name a new senior official to lead it. The directorate will be responsible for all things cyber within the agency, from gathering intelligence through network exploitation to defending the agency’s own systems from foreign threats.

Some experts have questioned the decision for potentially replicating the functions of the National Security Agency. But Brennan said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that the new center is an effort to integrate cyber into the CIA’s existing responsibilities, not to branch out into new ones.

“Media attention has focused on our efforts to embrace and leverage the digital revolution by, among other things, creating our first new directorate in 50 years. This step does not, as some have suggested, signify a marked change in CIA’s core mission,” Brennan said. “Rather, it is an organizational response to the simple reality that in today’s interconnected world we must place our activities and operations in the digital domain at the very center of all of our longstanding mission endeavors.”

In the wake of a study he ordered last September to examine the CIA’s structure and resource allocation, Brennan said he concluded that his agency needed to infuse cyber knowledge and techniques throughout its traditional mission sets if it wanted to succeed at any of them. He said that since the global environment the CIA is supposed to comprehensively understand has fully moved into the information age, his agency’s spycraft needed to evolve accordingly.

“Threats in the cyber realm are an urgent national security priority, as America has no equivalent to the two wide oceans that have helped safeguard our country’s physical, maritime and aviation domains for centuries,” he said. “CIA is working with our partners across the federal government to strengthen cyber defenses, to share expertise and to collaborate with the private sector to mitigate these threats. Together we have advanced our understanding of the threats in the cyber realm. But just as we have improved our knowledge as well as our capabilities, so too have our adversaries. They are skilled, agile and determined, and matching them will require focus and imagination, not just from government but from private industry as well….We need to continue to evolve ourselves so that we’re better prepared to deal with the challenges that are ahead of us and not just be dealing with the challenges of the 20th century.”

Cyber is one of 10 new centers

The new digital directorate is part of a much larger shakeup of the agency. The plan creates 10 separate centers, modeled loosely on the CIA’s existing counterterrorism center. The reorganization is intended to divide the agency according to subject matter more so than neatly drawn geographic areas and to eliminate what Brennan saw as unnecessary walls between the CIA’s clandestine operations and analysis arms.

Brennan’s vision for the agency means an increased emphasis on analysis. Under the reorganization, the former Directorate of Intelligence is being renamed the Directorate of Analysis.

“Analysis for CIA has taken on many more dimensions than it did when I first joined the agency in 1980,” he said “At that time, CIA’s analytic work was really exclusively limited to the finished, all-source analytic products that we give to the president and others. Now, analysis drives so much of our activity, whether we’re talking about collection, different types of operational activities or covert action. We need to take full advantage of the intelligence that we get through various means including the increasingly rich, open-source environment in social media, so that we’re better able to inform our activities as well as better inform our policymakers.”

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