Could ICITE have stopped Snowden?

DNI James Clapper argues that a new IT initiative might have prevented the leaks of classified information that exposed details about NSA operations.

James Clapper

DNI James Clapper argues that a new IT initiative might have prevented the leaks of classified information that exposed details about NSA operations. (File photo)

A new IT strategy being implemented by the intelligence community might have sniffed out National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden as he was downloading classified material from agency systems to leak to reporters, says the nation's top intelligence officer.

The original motivation for the new Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE), designed to unify systems across 17 intelligence agencies, was cost savings, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a speech at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance IC Summit event Sept. 12.

"What we're spending on IT in the intelligence community is amazing," Clapper said. The cloud-based ICITE approach saves money while encouraging integration among component agencies and improving security. "The Snowden issue emphasizes the importance of doing it," he said.

"The bumper-sticker mantra is 'tag the data, tag the people'," Clapper said. The approach allows intelligence agencies to "label the data and assure yourself of the bona fides of the people with whom you're going to share," he said. Without offering details, Clapper suggested that implementation is not an entirely painless process. "We're well past the euphoria of what a great idea this is, and we're into the passive aggressive resistance phase."

Clapper pointedly stated that he did not consider Snowden a whistleblower, but he offered a silver lining to the cloud that's hanging over the intelligence community. "As loathe as I am to give any credit for what's happened here, which is egregious, I think it's clear that some of the conversations that this has generated, some of the debate, probably needed to happen. Perhaps it's unfortunate it didn't happen some time ago," he said.

Because of Snowden, the intelligence community is bringing more "emphasis and energy" to insider threat detection, Clapper said. One of the pieces of this is clearance reform, both in improving the process and making sure that the government follows up on the five-year reinvestigations into cleared personnel. He intimated that plans were in the works to automate the process of maintaining security clearances. "We've got to change the system, fix it, take advantage of technology so we are enabled to evaluate people continuously, not just periodically," he said.

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