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DNI Clapper: Stop Combating ‘Vending Machines, Hearing Aids’

Posted by Colin Clark on

James Clapper, Director of National Inte

GEOINT: If you’re not an American citizen and you walk the halls of CIA headquarters and other U.S. intelligence agencies, lights flash alerting workers that a foreign national is walking by so that any secrets on their screens or desks can be protected from prying eyes.

The main reason for this is that much intelligence is classified NOFORN: No foreign national may see it. James Clapper, the long-serving Director of National Intelligence (DNI), today predicted the end of what many have long believed is an enormous barrier to more effective coalition warfare and combatting terrorism.

“When it comes to our Commonwealth nations, it’s my belief we are just going to give up on the whole NOFORN thing and extend dual citizenship and privileges, responsibilities to our Five Eyes partners, wherever we find ourselves in each other’s intelligence footprints,” Clapper told the audience of intelligence experts and industry officials. This would essentially take us back the standard set during World War II when the US and Britain shared virtually all intelligence with each other, including on nuclear matters.

The core of allied intelligence sharing is the so-called Five Eyes: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and U.S. The UKUSA Agreement is the foundation of that sharing. It was declassified only in 2010.

The entire focus on keeping allies away from US intelligence ignores the brutal truth that the greatest damage to U.S. intelligence has been wrought by Americans with high clearances — not by foreigners. And that is something Clapper knows all too well. There’s also been unprecedented integration of US, UK and Australian forces over the last decade, with several foreign commanders placed in command positions, including an Australian, Maj. Gen. Rick Burr, who was deputy commander of US Army Pacific.

Clapper also highlighted some of the challenges faced by the Intelligence Community as it addresses threats that aren’t always that threatening.

He cited a routine sweep of a new facility. Security “discovered several wireless signals broadcasting out into the world.” Immediate assumption: We may have bugs planted by foreign intelligence services. But, no. “The signals were not from foreign intelligence bugs planted in the facility. it was vending machines sending signals they needed to get refilled,” Clapper said.

Clapper, a robust 75, noted his hearing aid requires a security exemption because it has Bluetooth capabilities. And these sorts of things are going to become much more common at the vaunted Internet of Things grows from 10.3 billion end points to 29.5 billion by 2020.

“We need to move beyond defending ourselves against vending machines and hearing aids,” Clapper said drily. But his point is well taken. The Intelligence Community, both in screening individuals for clearances and for screening facilities against security threats, spends enormous amounts of time and money trying to limit threats to the enterprise.

As part of his efforts to rejig the system, Clapper instituted something called “continuous monitoring” to watch the actual behavior of people with top clearances. But it’s just getting started. By the end of next year Clapper said the IC will be monitoring 5 percent of five clearance tiers. Getting rid of all those NOFORN clearances will help, as have his efforts to limit military users who request higher clearances they may not need. That cut 600,000 requests, he said, that would have otherwise eaten up resources.

Since this is his last presentation at Geoint, Clapper was asked about his legacy and for advice to his successor.

Clapper’s biggest legacy: “I lasted a long time.” He served his country for 55 years.

Advice to successor: “Sit back for a little while and see how things operate” before messing around with the IC.

On the job: “It’s tiring, tiresome and not exactly stress-free.”

What do you think?