Intelligence Isn’t Just for Government Anymore

Intelligence Isn’t Just for Government Anymore

Spy Agencies Need to Reach Voters and Tech Leaders Now, Too

Foreign election interference must be bad if spy agencies are making public service announcements. Two weeks ago, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray held a press conference warning that Russia and Iran have been acquiring voter registration data and waging influence operations to sow division and tilt the election. And earlier in October, counterintelligence chief William Evanina and General Paul Nakasone—who heads both the Pentagon’s cyberwarriors and the supersnoopers of the National Security Agency—participated in a video alert designed to reassure Americans that the threats are real but they are on the job.

What these officials said is important. But the fact that they said it is pathbreaking.

Intelligence agencies have never operated so publicly before, and doing so doesn’t come naturally. The 17 spy agencies of the U.S. intelligence community are hardwired for a secret world, in which Washington officials with security clearances transmit information in locked bags and read it in guarded rooms. Secrecy is in their DNA. The National Security Agency was once so hidden that for years nobody would acknowledge its existence—insiders joked that NSA stood for “no such agency.” The Central Intelligence Agency has “neither confirmed nor denied” public reports of its activities since an agency lawyer first came up with that phrase in the 1970s.