Intelligence Oversight

Lisa Monaco Speech at University of Texas

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, April 8, 2016, 8:06 AM

Bobby Chesney and Steve Slick have posted video of the remarkable conference last week at University of Texas at which Lisa Monaco spoke. Here is the text of her remarks:

Remarks by Lisa O. Monaco at the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas-Austin

Remarks by Lisa O. Monaco

“Intelligence and National Security in American Society”

As Prepared

The University of Texas-Austin

March 30, 2016

Thank you, Steve.  It’s great to be here with many old friends and colleagues. I’m pleased to be here with so many current and former leaders in the intelligence community.  I want to recognize Chairman McCaul, who has been a leader on homeland security issues that run the gamut from cybersecurity to countering violent extremism.  I also want to thank Bill McRaven and the University of Texas for the opportunity to visit the great city of Austin.  In just the three years since its founding, the Intelligence Studies Project—under Steve’s guidance—has already done a great service by exploring issues critical to our security and, indeed, our democracy.

The leadership here at UT—exemplified by Bill and Steve—is a great reminder of the value of public service.  And I want to take a moment to make a plug for public service and to encourage the students in the audience to consider a career in government.  We need your help to solve the many challenges we face.  The greatest reward of public service is being part of something larger than yourself. 

One thing I’ve learned in my time in public service is that the national security challenges only seem to be getting more complex—and, of course, we can never take our security for granted.  The world received a painful reminder of that last week, when terrorists viciously attacked Brussels.  As the President said, we stand in solidarity with the people of Belgium and will do whatever is necessary to support them as they bring those responsible to justice.  In the minutes after the first blast in Brussels—just as in the minutes after the attacks in Paris, in San Bernardino, and the horrific Easter bombing in Lahore—we immediately ask what we know, what links we can make, how we can stop the next attack.  We turn to the tireless and courageous men and women of the Intelligence Community—and to our partners—to answer those questions.  Of course, it is still early in the investigation.  But what we do know is that there are clear links between the terrorists in Brussels and those in Paris, that they were supported and enabled by networks that overlap—networks that require intelligence to uncover.

The horror in Brussels reinforces the importance of accelerating and expanding intelligence sharing with and among European partners; they face an unprecedented threat from almost 40,000 foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria and Iraq from more than 120 countries, including at least 6,900 fighters who traveled from the West, roughly 250 of those from the United States.  In the wake of Paris, and now Brussels, we are doing all we can to help transmit the lessons we learned after 9/11.  We are encouraging our partners to strengthen their ability to disrupt plots by continuing to break down barriers, to increase cooperation and intelligence-sharing among agencies—and to do so consistent with the rule of law. 

Which brings me to today’s subject.  Seven years ago, President Obama captured the guiding principle that has shaped our own approach to these challenges.  He said, “We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system.” 

Since then, we’ve witnessed rapid technological change.  In 2009, smartphones were a relatively new phenomenon.  Twitter users sent 2.5 million tweets a day.  Today, it’s over 500 million.  Snapchat and Telegram?  They didn’t exist.  In short, the digital ecosystem is very different now than it was then.  This presents both opportunities and challenges for our intelligence mission.  Front and center among those is ISIL’s use of one of the greatest innovations this country has given the world—the Internet—to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize individuals to violence.

In the United States, this digital transformation has reenergized the age-old challenge of balancing our security with the privacy and civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution.  It has raised profound questions about the relationship between citizens and technology, and the social contract between citizens and government.  At the center of all these discussions is the role—I would argue an indispensable role—of our intelligence activities and the professionals who perform them—in safeguarding our national security.

So today, I want to talk about how intelligence helps to keep us safe, the challenges our Intelligence Community faces, and how we continue to strengthen our national security by enhancing transparency and oversight and adhering to the values we cherish as Americans.

Since the dawn of our republic, intelligence has played a vital role in our security.  George Washington had agents send “secret correspondence” to track the movement of British forces.  During the Civil War, Union spies in hot-air balloons surveyed enemy encampments.  Fundamentally, the purpose of our intelligence activities—whether collecting secrets, analyzing disparate pieces of data, or carrying out clandestine activities—has been to provide the United States with unique insights to avert disaster and war.  Simply put, intelligence allows us to take actions that save lives.  To the dedicated men and women of the Intelligence Community, I want to say thank you.  Working in the shadows—across Administrations—without praise or recognition, their professionalism, dedication, and patriotism has enabled us to enjoy relative security since 9/11.  And their efforts have helped thwart attacks around the globe.

But it hasn’t always been easy.  It’s important not to forget the remarkable transformation our national security organizations have undergone over the past nearly 15 years.  New legal, structural, and cultural reforms were implemented to break down barriers that had grown up among law enforcement, the intelligence, military, and homeland security professionals.  Changes made across Administrations have had sweeping impact far beyond counterterrorism—from cyber to counterintelligence.  I’ve seen these changes firsthand—at the FBI, the Department of Justice, and now at the White House.  At each step along the way, I’ve seen how careful our national security professionals have been to develop the tools and capabilities needed to keep us safe while valuing appropriate oversight and a durable system of checks and balances.

Those changes included developing new capabilities, new oversight, and above all integrating information across our government.  At the FBI, thanks to the work of Bob Mueller and many others, the Bureau was transformed from a solely law enforcement organization focused on investigating crimes after the facts to an intelligence-led, threat-driven, national security organization focused on disrupting and preventing attacks.  At the Department of Justice—thanks to leaders like Ken Wainstein, who’s here today—in 2006, the newly-created National Security Division brought together intelligence and law enforcement tools to confront new threats.  Under Ken’s leadership, NSD took on an important oversight role as well.  And today, we are applying the lessons learned in the counterterrorism fight to cyber threats.  We see this in the establishment of the CTIIC—the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center—which brings the Intelligence Community together to connect the dots and create a common picture of cyber threats.

At the CIA, Director Brennan is integrating the Agency’s expertise on the most pressing challenges we face.  The Mission Centers he has established bring to bear the agency’s full range of personnel and capabilities—operational, analytic, support, technical, and digital—to confront these issues.  Here, too, the lessons from our counterterrorism experience are being applied.

Of course, the success of these changes would not have been possible without the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  And I want to commend our longest-serving DNI—Jim Clapper—for his outstanding leadership, integrity, and vision in making the Intelligence Community more integrated and collaborative than ever before—encouraging information sharing, transparency, and innovation.  Thanks to the courage and dedication of intelligence professionals across two Administrations—we have succeeded in averting further large-scale catastrophic attacks on our homeland.

As the structure of the Intelligence Community has evolved, so, too, has the role of intelligence.  Each morning, the President’s national security team reviews the latest intelligence and assessments, synthesized from all forms of intelligence—from human assets on the ground to signals in the sky, to the proliferation of open-source information on social media.  The topics reflect the dizzying array of threats—terrorism, cyber attacks, ISIL, Iran, North Korea, Russia, pandemic threats, and economic instability. 

Needless to say, none of us on the President’s national security team could do our jobs without the insights and judgment of the IC.  That’s because the IC tells it like it is—unbiased, independent, and free of politics.  As a policymaker, I can’t overstate the importance of this kind of unvarnished, rigorous, and thoughtful analysis.  The President demands exactly that.  Whether it’s warning of an attack, assessing an adversary’s plans and intentions, or identifying strategic vulnerabilities, that objectivity has made the IC indispensable across administrations.       

It’s also why intelligence is a key element of national power.  It’s an asset policymakers harness to advance our interests.  In recent years, intelligence has exposed Russia’s role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and provided insight into Syria’s horrific use of chemical weapons.  During the Ebola crisis, satellite imagery helped doctors and aid workers in West Africa track and contain the spread of the deadly virus.  So, the role of intelligence has never been more important than it is today.

Unfortunately, the sensational nature of a series of unauthorized disclosures in 2013 sparked controversy for the Intelligence Community at home and abroad.  Now, let me be clear: there is an essential role for a responsible media to investigate, question and report on government activities, including intelligence activities.  While sparking some important debate, many of the disclosures lacked appropriate context and facts.  In many respects, they fueled misguided criticisms, damaging relations with our closest partners.  Precisely because we face threats from terrorists, proliferators, and cyber actors that aren’t going away, it’s important that for the Intelligence Community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain the confidence of the American people.  So, we’ve taken several steps to maintain trust and confidence with the American people and partners around the world.

To be clear, as the President has said in addressing some of the more overstated claims, “the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people.”  They were not listening to every phone call.  They were not collecting every e-mail.  And when mistakes were made, corrective actions were taken.  Often lost in the discussion is that the oversight of surveillance activities—by all three branches of our government—is unique and valuable to our democracy.  Recognizing this fact, this Administration, long before the first of these disclosures came to light, welcomed vigorous oversight of our intelligence activities.  It is also the case that these disclosures revealed methods to our adversaries, including terrorists bent on attacking us, that led them to change tactics and could impact our operations for years to come. 

But, ultimately, perhaps the greatest damage was the mistrust created between the American people and their government, and between the United States and our closest partners and allies.

In response—and because we believed it was the right thing to do—over the last two years we worked with Congress, privacy advocates, industry, foreign partners and the Intelligence Community to increase—where appropriate—transparency about certain activities and to reform others.  But don’t take my word for it.  Last month, the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board noted that, “Important measures have been taken to enhance the protection of American’s privacy and civil liberties and to strengthen the transparency of the government’s surveillance efforts, without jeopardizing our counterterrorism efforts.”  I want to extend my gratitude to David Medine for his leadership as Chair of the Board, as well as to Rachel Brand and Beth Collins for their work. 

By laying out in black and white the principles that have—and will continue to—guide how we gather signals intelligence, government can be held accountable.  These principles make clear, for instance, that far from being a lawless enterprise, our SIGINT collection activities must adhere to the Constitution and other relevant laws and policy guidance, they incorporate privacy and civil liberty considerations into their planning, and they must be as tailored as possible.  The principles make clear that we collect intelligence only when there is a valid intelligence or counterintelligence purpose for doing so—not to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or suppress dissent, or disadvantage anyone based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

So what specific steps have we taken consistent with these principles?  First, thanks to the leadership of many on Capitol Hill—including Chairman McCaul—last June Congress passed, and the President signed, the USA FREEDOM Act.  Among other things, the FREEDOM Act ended the NSA’s collection of bulk telephone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, while ensuring that the government has access to the information it needs to protect national security.  It also allows the FISA court to hear independent views on new or significant legal questions, and mandated additional public reporting regarding government surveillance.  This was in keeping with the unique and important role Congress plays in overseeing our intelligence activities—a role the executive branch welcomes, because it strengthens public support to know that their elected representatives have considered the implications of these activities. 

Second, the President issued a new policy directive—PPD-28—to govern our signals intelligence activities at home and abroad.  This directive strengthened executive branch oversight of intelligence activities in a number of significant ways.  It set forth limits on the use of SIGINT collection in bulk while preserving its use to combat counterterrorism, proliferation and other threats.  It required senior government leaders to carefully and rigorously weigh the value of the information collected relative to the diplomatic, security, and economic risks of conducting these activities if they are exposed.  PPD-28 also took the unprecedented step of extending certain privacy protections enjoyed by Americans to all individuals—regardless of nationality.  I’d note that a number of countries—including several who criticized our intelligence practices—have not done the same.

Finally, we increased transparency so the world can see how we’re working to follow through on our commitments to balance liberty and security.  Every year, the DNI now publishes an “IC-on-the-Record” report, tracking progress on these reforms.  This includes posting annual statistics on the use of certain national security authorities and declassified FISC opinions. 

Too often, the perception is that those of us in national security do not value transparency.  In my experience, some of the strongest advocates inside the government for transparency and accountability have been the leaders of the Intelligence Community.  We see this in the CIA’s historic declassification of 2,500 PDB articles from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations here in Austin last fall, with additional releases planned this year.  We see it in the DNI’s first-ever publication of the “Principles of Intelligence Transparency Plan.”  And we see it in the recent commitment to release an assessment of combatant and non-combatant casualties resulting from strikes taken outside areas of active hostilities since 2009.  

This is not about transparency for the sake of transparency.  Transparency and oversight allow the public to have a more informed understanding of intelligence activities, which is crucial to maintaining the legitimacy of these programs and the public’s support for them.  At the same time, greater transparency poses challenges for the Intelligence Community and must be balanced with the need to protect sources and methods.  So we must ask ourselves:  How can we be more open about our counterterrorism operations without giving ISIL insight into our tradecraft and procedures?  How can we share more details about intelligence activities without jeopardizing vital capabilities and without breaking commitments with foreign partners and losing their trust? 

There are no easy solutions.  We ask a great deal of those in the Intelligence Community who keep us safe and keep our prosperity secure.  They have to be right one hundred percent of the time.  Their skills, and ours as a nation, are exceptional.  Even the skeptics would agree that the threats we face are real and intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them.  But our intelligence cannot function without secrecy, so making sure we ask ourselves the tough questions and ensure rigorous oversight is the way we educate ourselves, broaden our thinking, discuss and debate and often disagree. Ultimately, I think this is what the UT seal describes as the “guardian genius of our democracy,” and the way to achieve the liberty we value and the security we require. Thank you.