Reforming the Intelligence Machine in an Era of Asymmetric Warfare

John O. Brennan

There’s no doubt that we are now well into a time when wars are won and lost on intelligence efforts. In an era of budgetary constraints, low appetite for overt foreign intervention, and highly asymmetric insurgency — the likes of which we’re currently seeing in Syria and Iraq — trading a clunky mass army for increased intelligence efforts and surgical strikes makes sense.

The two battlefronts are enemy subversion and information collection. If the West is going to win, a few basic realities require acknowledgment and reform.

Hacktivism: It used to be that an enemy leader had to stand at a pulpit surrounded by an army to project an image of power. Nowadays, leaders can just direct some hackers to hit a major commercial website. These actors aren’t looking to run up your charge card. They just want to make a big stink out of letting you know that they could. That’s intelligence work unto itself — undermining or subverting confidence by sowing the seeds of insecurity.

ABC News recently reported the existence of Russian “Trojan Horse” malware sleeping inside software that runs critical American infrastructure. The fact that it has already been confirmed by the Department of Homeland Security represents a point for the other side. In competitive sports, this is called “psyching out” the opponent: destabilizing their mind-set so that they’re weakened..

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