- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008


The FBI quietly established last summer a task force involving U.S. intelligence and other agencies to identify and respond to cyberthreats against the United States.

Called the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, the group has “several dozen” personnel working together at an undisclosed location in the Washington area, said Shawn Henry, the FBI’s deputy assistant director of its cyberdivision.

In an interview with United Press International, Mr. Henry was tight-lipped about the task force’s composition, saying only that it involved “several intelligence, law-enforcement and other agencies from across the U.S. government.”

Documents released earlier this month by the Homeland Security Department said the task force was being expanded “to include representation from the U.S. Secret Service and several other federal agencies.”

During congressional testimony last year, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the task force was a partnership with other agencies to deal with cyberthreats from foreign intelligence.

The FBI’s justification for next year’s budget, in which it has requested an additional 70 agents and more than 100 support personnel for its cyberdivision, says the task force “seeks to address cyber-intrusions presenting a national security threat.”

The idea, Mr. Henry said, is for the partner agencies to “share information and make sure we’re not overlapping in our response.”

“If you serve a physical search warrant, and other agencies are involved, you can see them at the door,” he said, adding that in virtual investigations it was more difficult to know who else might be on the trail.

“We’re sharing investigative and threat information,” he said, “looking at the attacks [each agency is] seeing and the methodologies being used.”

From the FBI’s point of view, Mr. Henry added, the task force “allows us to get visibility for our field offices across the country” into how threats are developing and what investigations are going on.

The task force looks at “all cyberthreats,” he said, but is focused on “organizations that are targeting U.S. infrastructure.”

He declined to comment further, but in recent congressional testimony, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell named Russia and China as among the most important cyber-adversaries for the United States.

Mr. Henry said it is important to be “adversary neutral” in combating cyberthreats.

“A network can be attacked by a terrorist group, a foreign power, or a hacker kid from Oklahoma City … Networks need to be protected from all threats because once [sensitive] data has been stolen, it can be transferred anywhere,” he said.

In recent testimony, Mr. McConnell said the U.S. government is “not prepared to deal with” the cyberthreats it faces. And Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a bloggers roundtable last month that cybersecurity is “the one area in which I feel we’ve been behind where I would like to be.”

Asked whether the U.S. government is getting a handle on the problem, Mr. Henry said, “Our response has to constantly change and grow because the threat is constantly changing and growing.”

He said that one of the most-worrying aspects of cyberthreats is the extent to which “the offense outstrips the defense.”

“The pace of technological change … the increasing connectivity [of networks] creates more opportunity for exploitation” of vulnerabilities, he said.

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