Foreign Policy Blogs

US Intel Officials: Comey Was ‘One Of The Most Loved Leaders’

Two senior US intelligence officials reacted with dismay after learning moments before taking the stage at a speaking event in New York that the director of the FBI, James Comey, had been fired.

“James Comey has been officially fired,” said Charles McGonigal, special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division at its New York field office. He spoke alongside William Evanina, director of the Counterintelligence and Security Center at an event organized by the Foreign Policy Association.

“I think we both felt that Director Comey was probably one of the most loved leaders that we’ve had in a number of years commanding a leadership role in the FBI,” McGonigal said. “I think many of us who were nominated for leadership positions by him will forever hold him in esteem as we progress through our FBI careers.”

President Donald Trump made the decision Tuesday to terminate Comey, who assumed the role as the US’s top law enforcement official in 2013. The White House’s account of Trump’s reasoning for the move has varied, but it immediately caused alarm that the president was attempting to curb a FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election and whether his campaign colluded with that effort.

The event was billed to cover foreign influence operations and counterintelligence, and Comey’s dismissal added gravity to the topics the intelligence officials covered.

The two sought to set the record straight about the extent of Russia’s election operation.

“No voting machine was hacked during the election. That is a fact,” McGonigal said.

“The precincts were not connected,” Evanina added. “At the end of the day and looking toward the next presidential election, this will end up helping us because of a lack of connectivity.”

McGonigal, who leads 150 counterintelligence agents in New York, told anecdotes about his career investigating traditional and economic espionage and technology proliferation cases. He said that of the 14 million visitors that come through John F. Kennedy Airport every year, he is certain that “non-traditional collectors,” individuals obtaining information for a foreign government, are among them.

“The FBI is aware that there are non-traditional collectors coming into the country for the sole purpose of collecting information,” he said. “ We are very mindful of that. We do our best to screen that, keeping in mid the rights and privacy of individuals traveling in the United States.”

On the other hand, Evanina said at NCSC his “optic is to drive strategic policy guidance for counterintelligence security across the US government.” He said that every year his organization creates a strategy signed by the president that is sent to the wider intelligence community including the FBI, CIA and NSA.

When inspecting a suspicious email, he said, take extra time to determine a link is legitimate by hovering the mouse over it and analyze what it is linked to. Over half of American adults have been victimized by theft of personal identifiable information, according to Evanina. More than 90 percent of those thefts occurred from spear phishing, or sending emails linked to malware.

When traveling overseas and a link is clicked on a foreign government’s internet or cell network, malware can be installed that allows that government to “own your phone forever,” Evanina said.

“When you turn your phone on, your phone is now the property of wherever you landed,” he added. “Not just your phone. Your emails, your texts, your database, your contacts is owned by them.”

He ultimately suggested buying a simple, cheap phone when going abroad and saving key contact numbers for the trip.

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Author

Jordan Stutts
Jordan Stutts

Jordan Stutts is a finance reporter for business journal PEI Media covering global infrastructure transactions, private investments in energy and transportation funding. He previously worked as an associate producer for FPA’s Great Decisions television series and covered local news in Charlotte, NC. You can follow him on Twitter @jwstuttered or check out his portfolio at www.jordanstutts.com

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