New federal strategy prioritizes defending US against foreign threats to elections, critical systems

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The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) on Monday unveiled the new National Counterintelligence Strategy, which emphasizes the need to defend against foreign operations aimed at democratic systems and at taking down critical infrastructure.  

The strategy, which was signed and approved by President Trump in January, zeros in on digital threats to the country, focusing far more on these types of threats than the previous strategy released in 2016. 

The new strategy identifies five areas of focus for the nation to defend against, including protecting critical infrastructure systems from attacks by foreign actors, defending against the theft of American intellectual property and protecting against influence campaigns designed to undermine American democratic institutions such as elections.

The NCSC also underlined the growing number of foreign threat actors that pose national security risks to the U.S., writing in the strategy that while Russia and China “have a broad range of sophisticated intelligence capabilities,” countries such as Iran, North Korea and Cuba also pose threats.

The agency noted that Russia remains a threat to the “security of our elections,” while China is more focused on “stealing our technology and intellectual property in an effort to erode United States economic and military superiority.”

“Foreign intelligence entities are targeting most U.S. government departments and agencies — even those without a national security mission — as well as national laboratories, the financial sector, the U.S. industrial base and other private sector and academic entities,” the NCSC wrote. “Some adversaries are conducting intelligence operations to exploit, disrupt, and damage U.S. and allied critical infrastructure and military capabilities during a crisis.” 

NCSC Director William Evanina said in a statement that the strategy “represents a paradigm shift in addressing foreign intelligence threats as a nation.”

Evanina noted that “while past counterintelligence strategies categorized the threat by our top foreign nation-state adversaries, this one focuses on five key areas where foreign intelligence entities are hitting us hardest and where we need to devote greater attention” and emphasized the need for a “whole-of-society approach” to countering these threats.

The NCSC pledged to take steps to defend against threats the agency had identified to the nation, including through strengthening partnerships with social media companies on foreign influence issues, and through advancing the integration of cybersecurity into counterintelligence efforts. 

The previous strategy was released under former President Obama in November, 2015. The NCSC is required by a 2002 law to produce a new strategy at least every three years. 

The NCSC falls under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and focuses on specific threat issues such as insider and personnel threats as well as supply chain security. 

The National Counterintelligence Strategy was released on Monday ahead of the anticipated annual Worldwide Threats Assessment that is compiled by the DNI, a document that typically goes in-depth on the threats facing the country. Dates for the DNI to appear before the House and Senate Intelligence committees have not yet been set, though this typically occurs in the first months of the year.

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