WASHINGTON — The director of national intelligence told a Senate committee today that the classified report to be presented to Congress on election hacking will include motives for why Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to interfere with the U.S. presidential vote.
“The Russians have a long history of interfering in elections — theirs and other people’s,” DNI James Clapper testified at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “And the difference — and there’s a long history in this country of disinformation. This goes back to the ’60s, the heyday of the Cold War. Funding that they would share or provide to candidates they supported, the use of disinformation, but I don’t think that we’ve ever encountered a more aggressive or direct campaign to interfere with our election process than we’ve seen in this case.”
The director of the National Security Agency also warned that the intelligence community could see an exodus if they feel disrespected by the commander in chief.
“I don’t want to lose good, motivated people who want to help serve this nation because they feel they’re not generating value to help that nation,” Adm. Mike Rogers told the committee. “And I’m the first to acknowledge there’s room for a wide range of opinions of the results we generate. We don’t question that for one minute. And every intelligence professional knows that.”
“…That doesn’t bother any of us. What we do, I think, is relevant and we realize that what we do is in no small part driven in part by the confidence of our leaders in what we do. And without that confidence — I just don’t want a situation where our workforce decides to walk, because I think that really is not a good place for us to be.”
President-elect Trump tweeted on Tuesday, of a closed-door briefing that intelligence officials said was always scheduled for Friday, “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
Today, Trump tweeted: “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!”
Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Clapper at the onset of the hearing about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has denied any collusion with Russia.
“I believe that he is the one who’s responsible for publishing names of individuals that work for us that put their lives in direct danger, is that correct?” McCain asked, referring to dumps of classified documents and cables over the past several years.
“Yes, he has,” Clapper replied.
“And do you think that there’s any credibility we should attach to this individual?” McCain continued.
“Not in my view,” the DNI said.
NSA chief Rogers added, “I second those comments.”
Clapper said the intelligence community stands “more resolutely on the strength of that statement that we made on the 7th of October” linking the hacking to the Russian government; the forthcoming report contains a unified assessment from the CIA, FBI and NSA. “We cannot say — they did not change any vote tallies or anything of that sort,” he said. “And we have no way of gauging the impact that — certainly the intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on the choices the electorate made.”
“This was a multifaceted campaign, so the hacking was only one part of it,” the DNI said. “And, it also entailed, you know, classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.” Those Russian operations are still ongoing, Clapper said, including in Europe.
Asked by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) if the forthcoming report “will ascribe a motivation to Putin” for the U.S. election operation, Clapper replied, “Yes, we will ascribe a motivation. I’d rather not, again, preempt the report.” Later he added there’s “actually more than one motive.”
The director said the report will be rolled out in a series of House and Senate briefings, followed by the release of an unclassified version to the public. Clapper vowed to “push the envelope as much as I can… particularly on the unclassified version, because I think the public should know as much about this as possible.”
He stressed it’s “hugely important that the intelligence community conduct itself and be seen as independent, providing unvarnished, untainted, objective, accurate and timely relevant intelligence support to all policy makers, commanders, diplomats, etc.”
“You only need to walk into the lobby CIA and look at the stars on the wall or the front lobby of NSA and a number of intelligence people that have paid the ultimate price in the service of their country.”
On public criticism from Trump about the intelligence community assigning blame to Russia, Clapper emphasized “an important distinction here between healthy skepticism, which policy makers — to include policy maker No. 1 — should always have for intelligence, but I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”
“The intelligence community is not perfect. We are an organization of human beings and we’re prone, sometimes, to make errors,” he said. “I don’t think the intelligence community gets the credit it’s due for what it does day in and day out to keep this nation safe and secure and a number of plots to — just one example, terrorist plots that have been thwarted, both those focused on this country and other countries.”
Clapper said he’s “received many expressions of concern from foreign counterparts about…what has been interpreted as disparagement of the intelligence community.”
He noted that his “fingerprints” were on the Iraq WMD national intelligence estimate 13 years ago. “We have done many, many things to improve our processes, particularly with respect to national intelligence estimates, in order to prevent that from happening again. Whatever else you want to say about the intelligence community, it is a learning organization, and we do try to learn lessons.”
McCain argued that Radio Free Europe and Voice of America need strategic updates to counter Russian propaganda operations in Eastern Europe.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Clapper if he’s “OK with being challenged” by Trump in Friday’s briefing.
“Absolutely,” the intel director replied.
“We’re in a fight for our lives. I just got back from the Baltics, Ukraine and Georgia, if you think it’s bad here, you ought to go there,” Graham said. “So ladies and gentlemen, it is time now not to throw pebbles, but to throw rocks. I wish we were not here. If it were up to me we would all live in peace, but Putin is up to no good and he better be stopped. And, Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people you can be skeptical but understand they are the best among us and they are trying to protect us.”
“Do you have any response to that diatribe?” McCain asked the witnesses.
“Senator Graham and I have had our innings before, but I find myself in complete agreement with what he just said and I appreciate it,” Clapper replied.