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U.S. Spy Agencies Haven’t Kept Pace With Threats, Senate Report Says

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WASHINGTON—U.S. spy agencies are poorly equipped to combat an expanding array of adversaries trying to steal vital secrets from institutions and businesses across American society, according to a Senate report released on Tuesday.

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The bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee says that U.S. counterintelligence efforts haven’t kept pace with espionage, hacking and disinformation threats from major powers such as China, transnational criminal organizations and ideologically motivated groups.

These varied groups target not just U.S. national security agencies, but also other government departments, the private sector and academia in search of secret or sensitive data. 

The report, which is partially redacted, focuses on the little-known National Counterintelligence and Security Center, whose mission is to lead counterintelligence—the protecting of U.S. secrets from foreign adversaries—across the U.S. government.

The center doesn’t have sufficient funding or authority, nor a clear mission, the Senate report says.

The “threat landscape facing the country today is wide-ranging and sophisticated,” it says. The center “lacks a clear mission as well as sufficient and well-defined authorities and resources to effectively confront this landscape.”

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The center doesn’t have the power to mandate counterintelligence practices across spy agencies—much less private-sector firms facing hacking or other threats—and derives its budget from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, of which it is a part.

Neither Congress nor the ODNI have requested increases in the center’s budget, the report states.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the center, said, “NCSC appreciates the Committee identifying multiple recommendations to improve NSCS’s ability to lead the counterintelligence mission, and NCSC will remain engaged with the Committee as appropriate.”

The 153-page report cites numerous instances in which foreign adversaries have gone beyond traditional spy-on-spy activity to affect U.S. national security. They include Iranian cyber actors interfering in the 2020 elections; China spreading Covid-19 misinformation; and the SolarWinds hack, which the U.S. blamed on Russia and compromised not just U.S. agencies but also critical infrastructure and private-sector companies.

“The impact of all these challenges is clear: Foreign adversaries compromise U.S. assets across the globe, acquire billions of dollars a year in U.S. research and technology, jeopardize the competitiveness of U.S. companies and the economic dominance of the United States, steal sensitive [personal information] on U.S. [government] employees and U.S. citizens, and interfere in domestic affairs,” it says.

The report recommends that Congress and the executive branch clarify the counterintelligence center’s roles and determine whether it should remain within ODNI or be turned into an independent agency.

Write to Warren P. Strobel at Warren.Strobel@wsj.com

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