In major victory over Pentagon, CIA is authorized to expand offensive cyber operations

Trump CIA - JFThe United States Central Intelligence Agency was secretly authorized by the White House in 2018 to drastically expand its offensive cyber operation program —a development that some experts describe as a significant development for the secretive spy agency. However, the move has reportedly not pleased the Department of Defense, which sees itself as the primary conduit of American offensive operations in cyberspace.

The two-year-old authorization was disclosed by Yahoo News, which cited “former US officials with direct knowledge of the matter” in its report. The website said the authorization came in the form of a presidential finding. A presidential finding, also known as a Memorandum of Notification, refers to a directive, which is authored by the president of the US and is given to the intelligence committees of Congress. Its purpose is to explain the reasoning behind a covert operation that is to be carried out abroad. Following that disclosure by the president, government funds can be appropriated for use in that operation or series of operations.

According to Yahoo News, the 2018 presidential finding provides the CIA with “more freedom in both the kinds of operations it conducts and who it targets”, when it comes to covert action carried out online. The goal of the White House was to enable the CIA to unleash a series of offensive measures against “a handful of adversarial countries”, which include North Korea, Iran, China and Russia, according to the report. Such offensive operations differ substantially from those typically carried out by CIA personnel on cyberspace, which focus on clandestine information collection. In contrast, offensive operations aim to disrupt, sabotage or even destroy targeted systems.

In addition to enhancing the scope of the CIA’s cyber operations, the presidential directive is also believed to make it easier for the agency to target non-state actors and agencies, including financial intuitions, charities, news media, or businesses. Such targets may be attacked when they are found to be operating on behalf of adversarial intelligence agencies. Moreover, it makes it easier for the spy agency to leak secret information about targeted adversaries to media organizations, a tactic that Russian spy services are believed to have utilized in the past.

The Yahoo News report notes that the presidential directive is seen as a major victory for the CIA in its long bureaucratic battle with the Department of Defense. The latter has traditionally been entrusted by the US government with carrying out offensive cyber operations. There are also questions about potential operational overlap between the CIA and the Pentagon, as the two actors may at times be attacking the same targets. This brings up the issue of inter-agency coordination between two bodies, which has not always been smooth in the past.

Yahoo News said it submitted “an extensive list of questions” to the CIA, but the agency declined to comment. The National Security Council, which oversaw the drafting of the alleged presidential finding, did not respond to questions stemming from the news report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 July 2020 | Permalink

One Response to In major victory over Pentagon, CIA is authorized to expand offensive cyber operations

  1. Pete says:

    Yes, DoD’s Cyber Command, that cooperates with the NSA, would likely expect offensive cyber mission tasking.

    It is interesting that Mike Pompeo (one of the few appointees not yet sacked) must be a favourite of Trump’s. Significantly Pompeo was CIA Director from January 23, 2017 to April 26, 2018.

    I wonder if Pompeo used his time in CIA (or as Secretary of State 2018 onwards) to persuade Trump to divert the offensive cyber mission tasking the CIA’s way?

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