The Questions the NCSC Doesn’t Want to Answer

A few days ago the WaPo published a story on the OPM hack, focusing (as some earlier commentary already has) on the possibility China will alter intelligence records as part of a way to infiltrate agents or increase distrust.

It’s notable because it relies on the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina. The article first presents his comments about that nightmare scenario — altered records.

“The breach itself is issue A,” said William “Bill” Evanina, director of the federal National Counterintelligence and Security Center. But what the thieves do with the information is another question.

“Certainly we are concerned about the destruction of data versus the theft of data,” he said. “It’s a different type of bad situation.” Destroyed or altered records would make a security clearance hard to keep or get.

And only then relays Evanina’s concerns about the more general counterintelligence concerns raised by the heist, that China will use the data to target people for recruitment. Evanina explains he’s more worried about those without extensive operational security training than those overseas who have that experience.

While dangers from the breach for intelligence community workers posted abroad have “the highest risk equation,” Evanina said “they also have the best training to prevent nefarious activity against them. It’s the individuals who don’t have that solid background and training that we’re most concerned with, initially, to provide them with awareness training of what can happen from a foreign intelligence service to them and what to look out for.”

Using stolen personal information to compromise intelligence community members is always a worry.

“That’s a concern we take seriously,” he said.

Curiously, given his concern about those individuals without a solid CI background, Evanina provides no hint of an answer to the questions posed to him in a Ron Wyden letter last week.

  1. Did the NCSC identify OPM’s security clearance database as a counterintelligence vulnerability prior to these security incidents?
  2. Did the NCSC provide OPM with any recommendations to secure this information?
  3. At least one official has said that the background investigation information compromised in the second OPM hack included information on individuals as far back as 1985. Has the NCSC evaluated whether the retention requirements for background investigation information should be reduced to mitigate the vulnerability of maintaining personal information for a significant period of time? If not, please explain why existing retention periods are necessary?

Evanina has asserted he’s particularly worried about the kind of people who would have clearance but not be in one of the better protected (CIA) databases. But was he particularly worried about those people — and therefore OPM’s databases — before the hack?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. galljdaj says:

    My my its like someone in Our Govt is working themselves back around to rule of Law, and, Transparency as the means Honest People use to be Safe!

    All Our Spying IS BEING TURNED BACK ON US and the prodigies don’t like it!

  2. orionATL says:

    but then there is secretary clinton who was irresponsible enough to have her own private server, can you believe, rather than trusting her correspondence to the state’s .gov network.

    look over there. what she might have let happen. really serious classified information may have been sent over her unprotected network. the secretary’s assistants may have sent labeled classified information over that private network which for certain was less secure than our government network. the chinese or the russians could even have tapped into those files.

  3. wallace says:

    quote”The Questions the NCSC Doesn’t Want to Answer”unquote

    Reminds me of The Questions the DNS Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the FBI Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the CIA Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the DOJ Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the IRS Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the EPA Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the DEA Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the OMB Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the ATF Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    Reminds me of The Questions the EXECUTIVE Doesn’t Want to Answer.
    etc…

  4. jerryy says:

    Using stolen personal information to compromise intelligence community members is always a worry.

    So why did he fail to mention any concerns about the discovery that quite a few folks in various branches of the government are/were Ashley Madison clients?

  5. wallace says:

    quote”So why did he fail to mention any concerns about the discovery that quite a few folks in various branches of the government are/were Ashley Madison clients?”unquote

    Because he knows ISIS is the domain owner of Ashley Madison?
    :)

  6. Bay State Librul says:

    Off point but isn’t time for Trash Talk?

    The biggest legal/sports story (7 months) on Brady and no discussion from BMAZ, or did I miss something?

    I am truly obsessed, and am wearing my Free Brady T as we speak.

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