Office of Private Sector
Enhancing Engagement Efforts to Stay Ahead of the Threat
Brad Brekke, former FBI agent and former chief security officer for an American retailer, serves as the director of the Bureau’s Office of Private Sector.
In 1996, the FBI established a private/public partnership program in Cleveland as a way to share information with local information technology experts and others in support of our cyber investigations.
That program, called InfraGard, was a unique effort that was quite ahead of its time—back then, the Bureau did very little with the private sector in terms of engagement. According to Brad Brekke, the head of today’s FBI Office of Private Sector (OPS), “We rarely talked to the private sector back in the late 1980s or early 1990s unless we were doing an interview, serving a search warrant, or making an arrest.”
However, over the past 20 years—and especially since the events of 9/11—the Bureau has made great strides in engaging with businesses, sharing information not just on cyber issues but on counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and more traditional criminal matters as well.
But while the number of contacts and information-sharing opportunities between the Bureau and American businesses has grown, the way the process evolved wasn’t exactly perfect.
Explained Brekke, “Interactions were siloed—members of a field office counterintelligence squad might have had a particular point of contact at a company within their territory, while a criminal investigator might have had a different point of contact at the same company, and someone else at the company might have gotten a phone call from an InfraGard representative or from our Cyber or Counterterrorism Division at Headquarters.” He added, “It’s just not good business having multiple entities reaching out to the same company.”
Brekke also said that much of the FBI’s engagement with private industry has traditionally involved Bureau investigators and company employees whose job duties were related to particular cases or particular threats, as well as company representatives—usually security people—that we convey information to through programs like InfraGard. “We haven’t worked much with upper-echelon executives, the primary decision makers,” explained Brekke.
But things are about to change, and Brekke and OPS will play a vital role in these changes.
The need for OPS was envisioned by Director James Comey and then-Deputy Director Mark Giuliano—both saw that the FBI should have an organized, coordinated, and horizontal approach to interacting with the private sector in today’s complex threat environment.
Why interact with the private sector at all? Explained Brekke, “Most of our nation’s national security-related and economic infrastructure rests with our private partners—our technology, our innovation, and our intellectual property. So invariably, that’s where the threats from—and the victims of—nation states, terrorists, and hacktivists are.”
“We need to engage with the private sector if we’re going to succeed in staying ahead of the threat,” added Brekke. “And staying ahead of the threat—through leadership, agility, and integration—is Director Comey’s vision for the Bureau.”
Private industry, according to Brekke, has the innovation to mitigate risks. “For instance,” he said, “we could never build the systems or the platforms fast enough to mitigate the cyber risk. What we have is the information that gives the private sector a clearer picture of cyber threats so they can more effectively address them. Only by the FBI and private sector working together can the U.S. economy and its national security truly be protected.”
Highlights of some of the current efforts by OPS:
- Building partnerships: Among other efforts, OPS is working to determine where the FBI doesn’t have relationships with companies where it should, enhance legacy partnership programs like InfraGard and DSAC (Domestic Security Alliance Council) so that they’re more effective and vital in today’s fast-moving threat environment, and engage with those in the private sector at the “C-suite level”—the chief executive officers, chief information security officers, general counsels, and others who make key decisions for the company pertaining to investment and risk.
- Sharing information: Innovative ways to share information and work more closely together—whether through embedded FBI analysts at private sector companies or with more effective information sharing portals—is where OPS is focused. “Essentially, we are working to take our cooperation to the next level,” noted Brekke.
- Providing tools: OPS is working to develop analytical tools and programs to identify gaps in the FBI’s private sector relationships regarding both existing threats and over-the-horizon threats, where strategic Bureau engagement is vital.
OPS, which is not involved in investigative work, serves as an entity within the FBI that coordinates—and has a 360-degree understanding of—the Bureau’s engagement with the American business community.
And OPS is making sure that companies looking to reach out to the Bureau won’t have to try to figure out who to contact for each issue. In addition to the OPS team at FBI Headquarters, there is a private sector coordinator in every field office to provide one FBI voice and connect private industry with the appropriate Bureau contact—no matter what the concern. Said Brekke, “Field offices are centric to our efforts—they are our boots on the ground, the people who actually interact with these companies.”
Brekke is perfectly suited to lead OPS. He is a former FBI agent who worked a wide variety of criminal cases in several different field offices, and he also served for more than a decade as a chief security officer for a major American retailer. “Both experiences gave me an insider’s view of what the FBI needs and what private sector concerns are,” he explained.
His primary message to the private sector? “By engaging with the American business community in a smarter and more effective manner, both the FBI and the private sector will be in a better position to counter today’s threats and identify and mitigate tomorrow’s.”
“And in the end,” said Brekke, “it’s the American public that will benefit.”
“We need to engage with the private sector if we’re going to succeed in staying ahead of the threat.”
Brad Brekke, Director, Office of Private Sector