The US National Counterintelligence and Security Center has warned in its latest report “public disclosure organizations” and hackers are dire spy threats on the level of Islamic State terrorists, Al-Qaeda, and Iran.
“Ideologically motivated entities such as hacktivists, leaktivists, and public disclosure organizations” pose “significant threats” to the US at the same level as non-state terrorist organizations like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s biannual National Counterintelligence Strategy report, released on Monday.
The report carefully avoids mentioning WikiLeaks by name, but pointed references to the “unauthorized disclosures of US cyber tools” — i.e. the Vault 7 leaks that revealed the CIA is able to disguise its own cyber-intrusions as “foreign hacks” — suggest the platform launched by hacker-turned-publisher Julian Assange (now incarcerated in the UK) has gotten deep under the intelligence community’s skin.
The NCSC doesn’t neglect the favored bogeymen of the moment, Russia and China, declaring in the report that both countries are using “all instruments of national power to target the United States.” Cuba, Iran, and North Korea apparently spare some of those instruments in their targeting, as they are merely deemed “significant threats” on the same level as terrorists, hacktivists, and “transnational criminal organizations.” The agency also warns that “foreign nationals with no formal ties to foreign intelligence services” may “steal sensitive data and intellectual property,” though why this is a priority for a national intelligence agency and not the affected organization is not explained.
Blaming the “ever-changing technology landscape” for creating enemies capable of “eroding the United States’ economic, military and technological advantage around the globe,” the report suggests “emerging technologies” like AI, encryption, and the Internet of Things will benefit US adversaries more than the US. That is, of course, unless the private sector and “an informed public” join hands with regional, local, and federal government to act as a monolithic intel-gathering machine.
While the report is a few years late — a 2002 law mandates the NCSC produce a report at least once every three years, and the last one was published in 2015 — the agency’s priorities haven’t changed in any revolutionary sense, nor is any mention made of the reasons for the delay. “Critical infrastructure” and “key supply chains” are to be protected at all costs, while “democratic institutions and processes” are to be defended against “foreign influence” in order to “preserve our culture of openness.”
However, the section on “defending American democracy against foreign influence” recommends the US “deepen existing and develop new foreign partnerships,” apparently confident that allies who’ve been caught meddling extensively in other countries’ elections won’t turn their skills against Uncle Sam. Perhaps more importantly, a spy agency calling to “preserve our culture of openness,” while denouncing “public disclosure organizations” as a threat to the American Way of Life on par with ISIS is further evidence Washington doesn’t need foreign help sowing distrust in its institutions.