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

Obama authorizes CIA to conduct ‘non-lethal covert action’ in Syria

İncirlik Air Base, TurkeyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
United States President Barack Obama has officially authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to assist anti-government rebels in Syria, according to a new report by the Reuters news agency. That the US Intelligence Community is operating on the side of the Syrian rebels has been known for quite some time. British media reported in as early as June of this year that American and other Western spy agencies were sharing intelligence with the Syrian Free Army. Later in the same month, The New York Times revealed that “a growing team” of CIA operatives was participating in a multinational effort to smuggle Turkish- and Saudi-supplied weapons into Syria for use by anti-government militias. And in July we explained that, according to American media reports, the CIA’s chronic shortage of reliable agents inside Syria had led the Agency to lend its weight to several existing operations led by Turkish, Jordanian, Israeli, and other intelligence organizations in Syria. Now a new report by Reuters claims that the CIA’s activities in support of the Syrian Free Army are part of an executive order handed to the Agency by the US President earlier this year. The order, formalized through what is commonly known as a ‘Presidential Finding’, effectively authorized the CIA —America’s only government agency allowed to engage in covert action— to prioritize and concentrate its resources on the ongoing Syrian uprising. Several other US government agencies are openly backing the Syrian rebels, mostly through financial support in the form of “humanitarian assistance”. But Obama’s Presidential Finding is the first indication that the US government is engaged in covert action in Syria. The Reuters report confirms earlier indications that the ‘nerve center’ of the CIA’s operations in and around Syria is located in the southern Turkish city of Adana, home of the US-run İncirlik NATO Air Base. Read more of this post