National Security Landscape Discussed by Top Intelligence Lawyers at ABA Event
By Alexandra Buller
American Bar Association News Service
“I don’t believe there’s ever been a time where there were more distinct national security issues confronting this country,” said Stephen Preston, general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency, during a panel discussion with other top national security lawyers at the “21st Annual Review of the Field of National Security Law,” yesterday in Washington, D.C.
With few stones left unturned, Preston—along with fellow general counsel from the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence—discussed the current national security landscape including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recent conflict in Libya, drone usage and the “new phase” in national security after Osama bin Laden’s death. Panelists also warned of other national security and intelligence concerns including cybersecurity threats, WikiLeaks, homegrown extremism and social media.
“WikiLeaks reminded everyone [that] sharing intelligence between agencies must be done responsibly,” said Robert Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He said that a principle of DNI is to encourage greater sharing of intelligence.
Litt also explored social media such as Twitter and Facebook, posing questions about the extent to which they can be exploited by the intelligence community and other legal implications of the new communication channel.
Threats persist and evolve in ways that national security and intelligence experts can’t anticipate in this post-bin Laden period, said Jeh Johnson, general counsel of the Department of Defense. He said that the response to these threats can’t be limited to one department and needs to be a government-wide approach. “We need to have all of the legally available tools in our arsenal to deal with the counterterrorism threat,” he said.
Echoing Johnson, Lisa Monaco, assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice, said, “We need to focus on maintaining flexibility and ensuring we have all the tools at our disposal, such as preserving the criminal justice system, for countering counterterrorism threats.”
Monaco and other general counsel also warned that the threat landscape drives the legal and operational issues each agency confronts and that cybersecurity is a high priority. Explaining that threats to our cybersecurity could be in the form of terrorism, warfare, critical structure attacks, espionage and intellectual property theft, Ivan Fong—general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security—said that the “stakes are high” beyond homeland and national security issues, threatening even for our economic stability.
“This is an area that everyone agrees needs additional focus and coordination among the departments,” Fong said. “I’m happy to say that it’s happening—in the last couple of years there has been a shared interest and commitment to combating cyber crime.”
“21st Annual Review of the Field of National Security Law” was sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security.
News coverage of the Conference
- “Top DOJ National Security Lawyer Questions Military Detention Provision,” - Blog of Legal Times
- “Americans not immune if they act against U.S: CIA,” - Reuters
- “Senate backs military custody for terror suspects,” - Reuters
- “Obama lawyers: Citizens targeted if at war with US,” – Associated Press
- “White House Lawyers Answer Questions on Targeted Killings of U.S. Citizens,” - Huffington Post
- “Mark Martins Remarks at ABA,” - Lawfare Blog
- “State Department’s Top Lawyer Addresses Obama-Clinton Foreign Policy,” Blog of the Legal Times