CIA Head John Brennan Says CIA Failed To Prevent Terrorist Attacks Because Of Encrypted Communications

from the now-he's-just-fucking-with-everyone dept

CIA boss John Brennan -- perhaps still rattled from being put on the spot by Sen. Ron Wyden at a recent hearing -- is now just saying whatever the hell he wants with little regard for facts.

As has been noted here in several posts, the terrorist attacks in Paris had nothing to do with encryption (or the Snowden leaks), although many government officials (and the French government itself) were quick to demonize both.

The facts:
  • The Paris attackers communicated mostly through unencrypted SMS.
  • That the attacks were carried out successfully appeared to be the result of an intelligence failure, rather than the terrorists "going dark."
  • Evidence shows terrorists' communications methods have gone largely unaltered despite the Snowden leaks, meaning intelligence agencies still have the access to communications they've had for years.

Never mind all that, says John Brennan. It may have been an intelligence failure -- but only because encryption got in the way.

Speaking on the channel’s 60 Minutes program, which was broadcast on Sunday, Brennan said that the agency and its allies were aware of covert ISIS activity in the lead up to the attacks in the French capital, however attempts to stop it was foiled by “sophisticated” use of encrypted Internet communication.

[...]

“We knew the system was blinking red,” Brennan said “We knew just in the days before that ISIL was trying to carry out something. But the individuals involved have been able to take advantage of the newly available means of communication that are walled off from law enforcement officials.”
Brennan's narrative runs contrary to the known facts about the Paris attacks. While it may be true some of the planning occurred using "sophisticated encrypted communications," the evidence collected shows the attacks were put into motion using unencrypted text messages, and the phones themselves were tracked by law enforcement. On top of that, the alleged mastermind behind the attacks -- Abdelhamid Abaaoud -- routinely used no encryption whatsoever, which led to an earlier attack of his being thwarted in Belgium.

Brennan has not been too vocal on the encryption issue to date, most likely due to the fact that his agency is supposedly limited to "looking outward" -- foreign intelligence only. As such, its concerns about US citizens using encrypted means of communications should be minimal.

But he was also one of the first to use the Paris attacks as an opportunity to attack actions taken by tech companies to "undercut" intelligence capabilities, as well as claim Snowden's leaks were resulting in terrorists routing around surveillance efforts.

As for Brennan's "sorry not sorry" admission of failure, he's covered his agency's posterior by claiming it was a result of communications being out of reach, rather than anything his agency failed to do. But he does promise his agency will "work harder" in the future. Depending on how much you believe Brennan's narrative, that's either a tacit admission his agency didn't work hard enough last time or that the future will be much brighter because everyone's now giving 110% to the War on Terror. Let's hope it's the latter, as Brennan apparently believes an attack on the US by ISIS is inevitable.
The CIA chief also said ISIS is attempting to orchestrate an attack and “find its mark” on the U.S.

“I’m expecting them to try to put in place the operatives, the material or whatever else that they need to do or to incite people to carry out these attacks, clearly,” he said. “So I believe that their attempts are inevitable. I don’t think their successes necessarily are.”
If Brennan is sincere in this belief, it's likely we'll soon see him joining Comey in calling for domestic backdoors in encryption.


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  1. identicon
    C, 16 Feb 2016 @ 9:12am

    So should we ban encryption for communication only?

    When people talk about encryption they paint with a wide brush, as if all kinds of encryption fall under the same jurisdiction.

    I set up credit card processing for a living. Credit card transaction data is encrypted. Should we instead be sending this data over the internet in plain text instead?

    Encryption is the foundation of security on the internet. Any attempt to undermine encryption is absolute horse shit.

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