In a rare interview, Director of the CIA John Brennan spoke with 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley about the cyber threat ISIS (ISIL) poses to the U.S. Though the two discussed waterboarding, pre-9/11 plans to launch a covert on attack Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and ISIS’s chemical ammunition, Brennan admitted that the internet is the focus of his greatest fears.
He’s not convinced ISIL will have a successful attack in America but does expect the terrorist group to “try” to put one in place or evoke someone to act. If ISIS does attack, Brennan says the U.S. will be more “forceful,” and until then they’re being “surgical,” as so not to stir up more trouble.
Scott Pelley’s voiceover notes that, “Paris was a failure in intelligence.”
“There is a lot that ISIL probably has underway that we obviously don’t have full insight into,” Brennan explains. “The individuals involved have been able to take advantage of the newly available means of communication that are walled off from law enforcement officials.”
“You’re talking about encrypted internet communication?” Pelley asks.
Brennan says yes, noting, “We need to have the technical capabilities … to take steps to stop them.”
A cyber war is his greatest concern. The CIA set up a directorate to address this threat. “If they want to take down our infrastructure, if they want to create havoc in transportation systems, if they want to do great damage to our financial networks, there are safeguards we put in place,” Brennan says. Capability and ill intent are different things though — he says that those who have one don’t have the other.
“But that cyber environment is one that really what keeps me up at night,” the director admits.
His personal emails were hacked recently, which shows how vulnerable individual accounts are. He points out that when you go on social media, you make yourself vulnerable to “exploitation.” “Is privacy dead?” Pelley asks, bringing up the work of hacktivists. “No, it should never be,” Brennan responds.
Pelley also asks who has the authority to OK drones strikes. Brennan says he won’t respond to this question.