CIA Director John Brennan said the agency must keep pace with evolving technological threats. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The CIA must adjust itself for a future that includes pursuing evolving terrorist networks across multiple continents amid sweeping technological changes, the agency’s director said Wednesday.
John Brennan, speaking at the agency’s first-ever public conference at Georgetown University, said that despite vast technical achievements that have aided intelligence gathering over the years, nothing replaces the insight of well-connected, human sources.
“We must focus our efforts on uncovering secrets that only human sources can acquire; those that are typically locked inside the inner circle of an adversary,” he said. “These are the hardest of hard targets, but they are ones that CIA is especially well-equipped to pursue.”
The agency is still providing information and analysis through human intelligence that social media, news organizations and foreign intelligence services cannot, Brennan said.
“Given the number of threats and foreign policy challenges facing our country, and how difficult they are to track, I would argue that the CIA has never been more important to the strength and security of our republic,” he said.
The CIA must also figure out how to “take advantage of the opportunities” in cyberspace and remaining relevant in the “digital information age,” Brennan said.
“For the intelligence community, the cyber world is a double-edged sword,” he said. “Digital footprints may enable us to track down a suspected terrorist, but they may leave our officers vulnerable as well.”
Information readily available on the Internet gives terrorists the ability to study bomb-making, case targets remotely and coordinate among associates spread out over vast distances. This, and cyberattack threats, pose problems for the intelligence community, expanding the number of threats the government most monitor, specifically in the digital realm, Brennan said.
“If we are to understand the world we cover and to provide policymakers with the intelligence that they expect, if not demand, we must immerse ourselves in that frontier and adjust our tradecraft accordingly,” Brennan said. ■