Return to

Feb. 12, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Cyberthreat center coming
The White House national security adviser for counterterrorism announced this week that the Obama administration is setting up a cyberintelligence center aimed at providing better information and coordinated responses after cyberattacks that she said are growing more diverse and dangerous.

However, Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, failed to mention in a speech Tuesday that the United States already has a premier cyberthreat intelligence center: The National Security Agency, the supersecret electronic spying and code-breaking service that for years has been conducting cyberspying and cyberattacks.

Ms. Monaco told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the cyberintelligence center will be under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, an intelligence “czar” bureaucracy created after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Critics say intelligence professionals widely view the office as duplicative and stifling for the country’s overall intelligence mission involving 16 agencies and departments.

The Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center will be an analysis group made up of officials from all agencies, including the NSA, the FBI and others.

Ms. Monaco said “no single government entity is responsible for producing coordinated cyberthreat assessments, ensuring that information is shared rapidly among existing cybercenters and other elements within our government, and supporting the work of operators and policymakers with timely intelligence about the latest cyberthreats and threat actors.”

“The CTIIC is intended to fill these gaps,” she said.

The center is expected to be set up in the near future, but no date has been given.

The NSA, known for tightly controlling its electronic spying takes, for several decades has been in charge of gathering and analyzing intelligence on cyberthreats. The agency has scored impressive successes over the years in the cyberspying realm as well as in conducting clandestine cyberoperations in support of U.S. national policy. The Stuxnet virus used to disrupt Iran’s illegal uranium centrifuge program was among them.

Under the Obama administration, the NSA has been forced to play a reduced role in cyberintelligence and cyberwarfare, given President Obama’s bias against giving military and defense agencies dominant roles in U.S. security.

Instead, the administration appointed the less-capable Department of Homeland Security to take a leading role in cyberdefense. The new DNI cyberintelligence center also is expected to be less capable than the NSA’s cyberwizards.

The NSA’s prowess in the cyber realm is unsurpassed in the world, as revealed in recently disclosed NSA documents stolen by former contractor Edward Snowden.

One NSA document published by Germany’s Der Spiegel last month revealed that the NSA is so good at cyberspying that it is able to break into foreign intelligence services’ communications links and steal their data collected from spies and electronic eavesdropping — without, at least until recently, the targets even knowing about it.

The activity was dubbed in the top-secret document on “fourth-party” cyber counterintelligence — spying on the spies — as “I drink your milkshake,” taken from a notable final scene in the 2007 film “There Will Be Blood” about oil drilling competition.

Ms. Monaco compared the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center to the National Counterterrorism Center, another DNI center that duplicates much of the work by other intelligence counterterrorism centers.

The cyber spy center will provide “all source analysis to policymakers and operators, and [support] the work of existing federal cybercenters, network defenders [and] law enforcement communities,” she said, adding that it will not perform functions assigned to other intelligence centers.

The center will analyze information gathered by other agencies. “It’s intended to enable them to do their jobs more effectively, and as a result make the federal government more effective as a whole in responding to cyberthreats,” Ms. Monaco said, adding that the administration’s budget includes a $14 billion request to protect critical infrastructure, government networks and other systems.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats, said he was surprised that Congress was not consulted on the new center.

“If we are going to successfully address [the cybersecurity challenge], Congress and the administration must work together,” he said. “That is why we were surprised to learn from media reports about the proposed cyber integration center.”

On cyberthreats, Ms. Monaco stated: “Cyberthreats to our national security and economic security are increasing in their frequency, in their scale, their sophistication and the severity of their impact. The range of cyberthreat actors, methods of attack, targeted systems and victims are expanding at an unprecedented clip.”

Ms. Monaco said the major threats were coming from Russia and China, described as “highly sophisticated” strikes, along with less technically proficient but potentially destructive cyberattacks from Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Obama, in a recent telephone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping, raised the problem of Chinese cyber attacks and urged “swift work to narrow our differences on cyber issues,” according to a White House statement.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus this week issued letters of censure to three admirals, including the commander of U.S. Navy forces in Japan, as part of the bribery scandal involving Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

Mr. Mabus, in a statement issued Tuesday night, said he acted following a referral from the Justice Department for administrative action against the three officers after an investigation into kickback and improper receipt of gifts.

Four people have pleaded guilty to federal charges related to arranging kickbacks and for bribery in the case, including a retired Navy lieutenant commander and executive with Glenn Defense Marine, a Navy petty officer, a senior agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a second Glenn Defense Marine Asia executive.

The letters of censure will effectively end the careers of the three one-star admirals.

The censure letters, citing “leadership failure” in “accepting gifts from a prohibited source” in 2006 and 2007, were issued to Rear Adm. Terry Kraft, then-commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan; Rear Adm. Michael Miller, then-commander of Carrier Strike Group 7 on the Ronald Reagan; and Rear Adm. David Pimpo, then-supply officer of the Ronald Reagan.

Adm. Kraft is currently commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan, and Adm. Miller is a special assistant to the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. Adm. Pimpo is commander of the Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support.

All three have submitted requests to retire. The Navy will decide whether they retire at their current rank or are demoted.

“Censure was both necessary and appropriate,” Mr. Mabus said.

Two of the admirals improperly endorsed a commercial business and one solicited gifts and services from a prohibited source.

In addition to the ethics code and regulations violations, the Navy review found that the three officers involved an inappropriate relationship with Glenn Defense Marine’s chief executive, Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as “Fat Leonard.”

Under fire from Congress for seemingly unrestricted exchanges with the Chinese military, the Pentagon this week announced that it will not send an aircraft carrier to visit China this year as part of its centerpiece program aimed at building trust with the People’s Liberation Army.

The cancellation followed China’s failure to come to an agreement designed to avoid dangerous aerial intercepts of U.S. surveillance aircraft by Chinese jets. In August, a Chinese J-11 came within 50 feet of a U.S. Navy P-8 anti-submarine aircraft over the South China Sea, nearly colliding with the jet.

The Pentagon protested what it called the “dangerous” encounter.

Chinese officials, during a meeting in Beijing with White HouseNational Security Adviser Susan E. Rice last year, demanded that the United States halt all surveillance flights.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

  • Return to