Head of US counterterrorism centre to step down

Nicholas Rasmussen, who headed the intelligence organisation for three years, will leave in December.

Nicholas Rasmussen testifies at "threats to the homeland" hearing in Washington
Rasmussen has served through the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations in various senior roles related to the country's 'counterterrorism' efforts [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Nicholas Rasmussen, the head of the US National Counterterrorism Center, has announced that he is leaving his post at the end of the year.

Rasmussen is stepping down after serving for more than three years as the leader of one of the country’s newest intelligence organisations, founded after the attacks on September 11, 2001.

In a statement, Dan Coats, the director of US national intelligence, described Rasmussen as “deeply committed to the counterterrorism mission”, noting that he “has skillfully guided the nation through an evolving and complex terrorism threat environment”.

Rasmussen has served through the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations in various senior roles related to the country’s counterterrorism efforts.

He was special assistant to the president from 2007-2012, and senior director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council.

Although he served in various intelligence rolls, Rasmussen had no intelligence field experience. Instead he came from the analysis side of intelligence, working his way up through several presidential appointments.

He also gained extensive experience in Middle East affairs while working at the National Security Council at the White House, especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He served as special assistant to Dennis Ross, who was Special Middle East coordinator during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

It is not clear if Rasmussen departure from the NCTC, which will take place next December, is related to ongoing secretive plans being drawn up by the White House to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict – as reported by the regional press in the Middle East – has anything to do with it.

Coordination hub

The National Counterterrorism Center, NCTC, serves as a coordination hub of all terrorism-related intelligence foreign and domestic and is tasked with connecting and distributing intelligence and analysis across the federal and state agencies.

It produces intelligence and threat analysis, maintains database of known and suspected terrorists in the US and around the world, shares information, and conducts strategic operational planning across the intelligence community of the US government.

The NCTC, not be confused with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, CTC, which was founded in 1986, is part of office of the Director of National Intelligence and was formed as part of the intelligence reforms recommended by the 9/11 Commission in 2004.

In 2009, the US government created a separate cyber Command USCYBERCOMM as part of the defence department to deal with cyber threats and to mount offensive capabilities as well.

The US government maintains 16 separate intelligence civilian and military intelligence agencies that are either standalone agencies, like the CIA , or part of the state, defense or justice departments.

This varied constellation of agencies include inter alia CIA, Defense Intelligence or DIA, Naval intelligence agency, Coast Guard intelligence and Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which is part of department of homeland security.

Evolving nature

Rasmussen believes that traditional groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have very limited cyberterrorism capabilities compaed to the capabilities of state adversaries like Russia or China.

Commenting on the evolving nature of “terrorism”, including the threat of cyber attacks, Rasmussen said in a recent interview with The Cipher Brief that “the discipline of counterterrorism is literally evolving and changing under our feet every day”.

Until President Donald Trump nominates a successor, the National Counterterrorism Center’s deputy director, Russ Travers, will begin serving as acting director in late December.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter @ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera