Thursday, March 12, 2015

CIA Plays Catch-up to Fight Cyberterrorism

By Jim McFarlin

Cyberterrorism is the number one threat facing the U.S.

The Director of National Intelligence ranked cyberterrorism as the top threat to our country – even more so than threats such as Islamic terrorist groups – in the just-released analysis, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community.”

In a 2014 report, the General Accounting Office found that the FAA as having “...security weaknesses which threaten the agency’s ability to ensure the safe and uninterrupted operation of the national airspace.”

The recent cyberattacks against Sony Pictures Entertainment have raised the stakes even higher, creating what cybersecurity professionals have deemed “the dawn of a new age” for cyberattacks. Now, cyberterrorism not only aims for destruction, but to influence behavior.

Where does the nation’s preeminent intelligence agency fit amidst such an array of new cyberthreats facing the United States?

Oddly, out of step.

The CIA operates from an organizational structure that dates back to its founding 67 years ago. Finding the organization unable to focus on so-called “over the horizon threats” that reflect the dangers of current world conflicts, CIA Director John Brennan is reorganizing around 10 new “mission centers,” each focused on specific threats.

As a key part of this reorganization, Mr. Brennan is adding a new directorate that groups responsibility for all of the CIA’s digital operations – from cyberespionage to data warehousing and analysis – under a single command.

Citing the need for the reorganization, Mr. Brennan stated, “I’ve never seen a time when we have been confronted with such an array of challenging, complex and serious threats to our national security.”

Given the seemingly countless number of cyber threats the U.S. has been facing, the recent focus on cyberterrorism and cyber warfare seems more than a bit late.

The breadth and scope of the new organization is such that entrenched interests will make a rapid transition all but impossible. The change may not truly take place for a number of years, when older employees are replaced by younger recruits who only know the new structure.

Moreover, major risks may exist during the transition as the friction from the changes disrupts current operations and causes portions of the organization to lose focus.

Either way, there will be a long story associated with this important but overdue updating of the agency’s capabilities.

(Binary Computer Code Image by sakhorn38/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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