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David Cohen

Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Agency (2015-2017)

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Economy & Finance | Editor's Choice | Government & Politics | Leadership & Strategic Management | World & International

As second-in-command, David Cohen helped manage the CIA’s domestic and worldwide operations, oversee its strategic modernization, and lead the Agency’s performance of its five core missions – foreign intelligence collection, all-source analysis, covert action, counter-intelligence and foreign liaison relationships.  At the conclusion of his tenure, Mr. Cohen was awarded the Director’s Award and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the Agency’s highest honor.

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David Cohen served as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2015 to 2017. As the Agency’s second-in-command, he helped manage the CIA’s domestic and worldwide operations, oversee its strategic modernization, and lead the Agency’s performance of its five core missions – foreign intelligence collection, all-source analysis, covert action, counter-intelligence and foreign liaison relationships. In addition, Mr. Cohen led special projects focusing on the impact of new technologies on the Agency’s mission and on how best to work with US companies to advance the Agency’s mission. Mr. Cohen traveled extensively internationally, meeting with CIA officers serving in the field and foreign intelligence and political leaders, while also representing the CIA in the National Security Council’s “Deputies Committee,” the key interagency national security policymaking forum. At the conclusion of his tenure, Mr. Cohen was awarded the Director’s Award and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the Agency’s highest honor.

Before becoming Deputy Director, Mr. Cohen served for six years in the United States Department of the Treasury, in two key positions responsible for “following the money.” From 2011 to 2015, Mr. Cohen was the Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. As Under Secretary, Mr. Cohen directed the Treasury Department’s policy, enforcement, regulatory, and intelligence functions aimed at identifying and disrupting financial support to nations, organizations and individuals posing a threat to our national security, and directly supervised two key regulatory agencies, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Mr. Cohen was instrumental in developing and implementing the financial sanctions programs that brought Iran to the negotiating table as well the efforts to deprive al Qa’ida, ISIL and other terrorist organizations of access to funding. Mr. Cohen also served as the Treasury Department’s principal representative to the NSC Deputies Committee. Mr. Cohen also led the Treasury Department’s efforts to combat domestic and international money laundering and financial crime.

From 2009 to 2011, Mr. Cohen was the Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing. In that Senate-confirmed position, Mr. Cohen oversaw the Treasury’s counterterrorist financing and anti-money laundering policy efforts. For his work at Treasury, Mr. Cohen was given the Alexander Hamilton Award, the Treasury Department’s highest honor.

Prior to joining the Treasury Department in 2009, Mr. Cohen practiced law in Washington, D.C. for almost twenty years. Immediately prior to joining the Treasury, Mr. Cohen was a partner at WilmerHale, where his practice focused on civil and criminal litigation, the defense of regulatory investigations, and anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance advice. Earlier in his career, Mr. Cohen worked in the Treasury’s General Counsel’s office, was a partner at the white-collar criminal defense firm Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, and clerked for a federal judge.

Mr. Cohen received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1989 and his undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Cornell University in 1985.

The importance of the United States economy, and especially the central role that the US financial system and the US dollar plays in global payments, trade and investment, provides US national security policy makers with enormous and unique tools to advance the interests of the United States.  From coercive sanctions designed to change an adversary’s behavior, to financial intelligence to uncover illicit conduct, to directed investment to build allegiances and tamp down extremism, the US has deployed these tools, often to great effect, over the past decade.  The advantage, however, is at risk of eroding through a combination of factors, including the misuse and overuse of these tools as well as increasing isolationism and trade protectionism.  In this speech, Cohen will use anecdotes from his time at Treasury and the CIA to trace the development and use of these tools, illustrate how US national security has been enhanced – and could be served in the future – through the smart use of U.S. financial and economic power, and highlight how to avoid squandering these advantages.


The world today is more unsettled, complex and potentially dangerous than any time since the end of World War II.  It is critical to have a good understanding the causes, the risks (and opportunities) and the likely future course of the current constellation of national security challenges that we face.  In this speech, Cohen will provide a clear-eyed, apolitical assessment and analysis of international “hot spots” in the world today and what we can expect in the years to come, including: the threat from ISIL, al Qa’ida and international terrorism to US interests at home and abroad; the ongoing catastrophe in Syria, Iraq and the broader Middle East; Russia’s unrelenting challenge to the US and our allies in the West; the risk of China’s economic and military rise; the threat of a nuclear North Korea and other developing nuclear states, such as Pakistan and India; the malicious use of cyber by state and non-state actors; and the impact of technological and scientific innovation.


In today’s complex, confusing and dangerous world, the importance of accurate, reliable, timely and relevant intelligence has never been more important to our national security.  Moving beyond the fraught relationship between the current administration and the Intelligence Community that puts the critical role of the IC in jeopardy. In this speech Cohen will address the many ways in which technological developments – for example, bulk collection, big data analytics, the “Internet of Things,” etc. – have enhanced our ability to collect and analyze intelligence and to produce useful assessments for policymakers, creating a unparalleled opportunity for intelligence to contribute to national security and foreign policy decision making.  But at the same time, technology also has created new challenges in how we operate clandestinely to collect intelligence.  Cohen will provide an overview of how technology has both enhanced and challenged our intelligence mission, and what we are doing – and need to do – to ensure that we make the best use of the technology of today and tomorrow for our intelligence mission. 


  • Source

    One powerful weapon to use against North Korea

    (The Washington Post) – In dealing with North Korea, the Trump administration should look to Iran. Specifically, it should take a page out of the Obama administration’s Iran sanctions playbook and apply against North Korea the tool used successfully to bring Iran to the nuclear negotiating table — “secondary sanctions” on those who do business with the regime.