Counterintelligence Briefings at the White House

Cybersecurity

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

If you have a security clearance, you are receiving counterintelligence briefings. It would appear that a remedial session may be needed for the White House staff and certain advisors if the reporting out of Politico is to be believed.

In late September 2017, they ran a piece which highlights that at least five within the White House were using personal email for public business. They followed this piece with another describing the mid-January 2017 counterintelligence briefings provided to the President, his staff and advisors.

Now we all know that briefings which occur when entering on duty need remedial and repetitive input if the content is to be etched and carved into one’s mind. If you are to believe the unnamed source, the National Security Agency (NSA) did just that – they put their counterintelligence briefing into the stream of information coming out of the fire hose for their audience.

What is missing in this discussion about devices, emails and data storage is the mention of the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). It’s as if they are flying under the radar of the discussion, yet they are the organization charged with securing the communications of the White House. Indeed, the WHCA, which falls under the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), has a “training academy” for its personnel.

Personnel, including the President’s family members, are not being told they can’t have personal email accounts. Indeed they all do, just as all of us who are reading these words also have such an account. What is being said, with appropriate emphasis – do not use your personal email for official business. Official business being classified or unclassified.

The rationale is quite easy to comprehend.

  • Data retention requirements of the White House personnel correspondence
  • Security of underlying infrastructure for both secure and non-secure correspondence
  • Defense and countermeasure capability specifically organized to protect the secure and non-secure communications infrastructure.

None of which are adhered to when a personal email domain, or device is used for official business.

You don’t need to speculate whether an adversary’s espionage machinations are directed at presidential adviser’s including son-in-law Jared Kushner – they are. Politico, quoted a “former intelligence officer” (this writer is one of those too), who has “moved heaven and earth to get into the unclassified accounts of legitimate intelligence targets around the world. Just because he (Kushner) thinks it’s unclassified doesn’t mean it does not contain information of great value to us.”

If you are an advisor or family member of the President of the United States your life and those who are in your life are of interest to every foreign intelligence service in the world with an adversarial bent toward the United States.

Within the WHCA orientation brochure it is made clear that the various communications officers are charged with providing “instantaneous secure and non-secure voice communications to the President of the United States.” They also provide communications support to the White House staff, U.S. Secret Service and White House Military Office (WHMO). The support to the president, vice president and their spouses and staff, the brochure continues, includes VHF network installation, video conferencing, and telephone lines.

The WHCA detail includes technical security and countermeasures personnel (TSCM), as well as counterintelligence specialists. These personnel, as well as those available to the National Security Advisor and his staff are well positioned to provide ongoing and continuous counterintelligence briefings to those supporting the president.  Let’s support them in doing so.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).

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