WEST WINDSOR: CIA director discusses role of government, law enforcement in today’s ‘digital domain’


CIA director John Brennan was one of the speakers at the 10-year anniversary conference of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
CIA director John Brennan on Friday said at a law enforcement conference in West Windsor that protecting the public in the digital age presents legal questions at a time when international terrorism is a threat.
From a banquet room in the Hyatt Regency, Mr. Brennan referred to the “digital domain,” the place where most interactions, from shopping to learning, are taking place. “And our lives are going to depend upon its safety and security,” he said to a crowd of more than 500 at the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness 10-year anniversary conference.
Mr. Brennan said there is a “healthy debate” about what law enforcement should be allowed to do to get information from a mobile device, a reference to the controversy between Apple and the federal government. Authorities want the company to unlock the iPhone of one of the people involved in the Dec.2 massacre that left 14 dead in San Bernardino, California. He did not mention Apple by name but spoke more generally about the issue.
He called the national debate important because “that digital domain in the 21st century is something that our legal framework and structures and systems that were developed in the last couple centuries did not take into account.”
“What is the appropriate role of government in that digital domain?” he said. “What is the appropriate role of law enforcement? How should we make sure that the government – the national, federal, state, local – fulfill their responsibility to keep their citizens safe and secure in that digital domain?”
To show how much has changed from a technology standpoint, Mr. Brennan said that when he began his first stint at the CIA starting in 1980, he did not have a computer at his desk but an electric typewriter. Since then, he said the rapid advancements in technology are giving groups trying to hurt the country “new ways” to inflict harm.
He said terrorists take advantage of the digital domain “to propagate their narrative, as a way to direct, guide and train, as a way to gain financial support.”
“This digital environment,” he continued, “is one that we, certainly within the United States, need to understand as best we can and, then, also make sure that we’re able to take full advantage of the great opportunities that are there but be very mindful about the risks associated, the challenges associated with the growth of the digital domain.”
Mr. Brennan said instability around the world is “begetting” international terrorism. He pointed to how the terrorist group ISIS or ISIL has spread through Iraq, Syria, Lybia and other parts of the world with “destabilizing effects” to undermine their security and institutions. That, in turn, has raised concerns for other nations that seek to do business there.
“And so, therefore, a country like China, which has its rapacious appetite to fuel its economic engine and that economic engine is fueled by its foreign investments and engagements, it really does see a threat from ISIL because of what it’s doing in destabilizing these countries,” he said.
“So if there’s anything that is a positive element of what we’re dealing with right now in terms of counter-terrorism cooperation,” he continued, “I find much greater interest on the part of many other countries to become engaged on this, to try to push back against this organization because of what it’s doing to their own interests.”
This was a homecoming of sorts for the CIA leader, who is from Hudson County and still has family in New Jersey. He worked at the CIA until 2005, left for the private sector and returned to the federal government in 2009 in the Obama administration.
“In my thirty five years plus of national security experience,” he said, “I have never seen a time when the volume and complexity of the national security challenges we face have been greater.”