Chairman of the House Intelligence Community and acting director of the CIA spoke about challenges faced by the intelligence community


On Feb. 25 Mason’s Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security hosted Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for a discussion on the state of the Intelligence Community. The event was moderated by Mike Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA.

 The conversation was centered on an array of issues including the IC under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the threat of China and domestic terrorism.

 Schiff began by saying that the IC sustained “multi-faceted damage” under the Trump administration, particularly with respect to their independence and reputation.

 He stressed that Trump-appointed officials had politicized intelligence, placing the IC workforce in a difficult position. “I think they cultivated an environment at some of the agencies where the workforce had real concerns about whether an objective analysis would be welcome at the highest levels or whether it would be career-ending,” Schiff said.

 Schiff also emphasized the heightened distrust of the IC on the part of our international partners, who “had profound concerns of whether the information they shared [would] be protected, whether the information they shared would be politicized.”

 The conversation also covered the public’s mistrust of the IC resulting from the “deep state” theory, which Schiff maintained is a deeply damaging myth propagated by Trump. “I’m not sure there’s a shortcut to that problem as long as Donald Trump is still on the political scene,” Schiff said.

In Schiff’s view, the IC has not sufficiently addressed the rise of China, which he said poses an extraordinary threat in every domain — on the seas, on land, in space and in the cyber realm. He also expressed concern over “the extraordinary and tragic success of Chinese espionage, in terms of stealing data from U.S. agencies and private sector entities.”

 He said that the once-prevalent view of China as only being good at stealing intellectual property and copying U.S. innovations was a misconception, and explained that “China is a real innovator in every field of domain.”

 Schiff noted that China is increasingly focused in an outward direction and willing to challenge the U.S. “There’s no other country that poses such an across-the-board challenge as China,” he said.

 The conversation also covered the IC’s role in global health, which Schiff viewed as being significant in terms of the early detection of pandemics going forward. He said that the IC needs to make better use of open-source information and that early detection is especially crucial when foreign governments are not being transparent.

 With respect to domestic terrorism, Schiff noted that the Constitution imposes challenges for the IC. He said that the IC has to figure out the problem of the more limited government response required under the Fourth Amendment for domestic matters as opposed to international.

 Schiff also said that the IC needs to improve in how they share information with law enforcement. He said that the intelligence gathered needs to be shared in a timely way and in a form where it will be paid attention to. “On the basis of the public testimony thus far, we can see there are real issues and discrepancies about what was the state of the intelligence,” Schiff said in reference to the events at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

 The final portion of the discussion focused on the IC and technology. Schiff noted that the U.S. still maintains a technological edge over other nations, but “the delta is narrowing.” He said that as a nation we have to make a renewed interest in research and development to maintain an advantage.

Schiff also noted the problem of competing with Chinese state-backed monopolies and suggested that the U.S. may need to explore whether we need “a different kind of public-private partnership to compete in certain critical technologies.”

“We really are in a new battle of ideas, not communism vs. capitalism as much as it is authoritarianism vs. democracy,” Schiff said.