U.S. Intel Chiefs Push Back on Trump and Russia Hack
Clapper welcomes "healthy skepticism" of US intel, but there's a "difference between skepticism and disparagement."
U.S. intelligence officials today pushed back on assertions from President-elect Donald Trump that their conclusions about election-related hacks are not to be trusted.
The U.S. intelligence community "is not perfect," James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We're human beings and we're prone to making errors." But the community rarely gets enough credit for what it does accomplish, he continued, pointing to plots that have been thwarted.
At issue is an October report and a more recent assessment from U.S. agencies that places the blame for last year's hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other U.S. targets on the Russians. Trump has refused to concede that the Russians might be behind the breaches, even going so far to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin as "very smart" for not retaliating against the U.S. when President Obama imposed sanctions over the hacks.
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
On New Year's Eve, Trump told the press he wants the intel community "to be sure" they have it right, pointing to the intelligence failure with the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction as an example of them getting it wrong. "I think it's unfair if they don't know, and I know a lot about hacking," Trump continued. When asked what he knew, the President-elect said he'd reveal more this week, but has thus far failed to do so.
Today, Clapper and Admiral Mike Rogers, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, declined to go into detail about their investigation into the hack. More information will be released next week in a report ordered by Obama, a non-classified version of which will be made public, they said.
When asked about Trump's criticism, Clapper says he welcomes "healthy skepticism" of U.S. intelligence, but said there's a "difference between skepticism and disparagement."
Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain argued that "every American should be alarmed by Russia's attacks on our nation.
"There is no national security interest more vital to the United States of America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference," McCain said. "That is why Congress must set partisanship aside, follow the facts, and work together to devise comprehensive solutions to deter, defend against and, when necessary, respond to foreign cyberattacks."
Trump raised eyebrows again this week when he tweeted quotes from a TV appearance by Julian Assange of Wikileaks, which posted the contents of the hacked DNC emails.
"Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta' -- why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!," Trump wrote. Later, Trump argued that his tweet does not mean he agrees with Assange. "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!"
Clapper said today that "I don't think those in the intelligence community have a whole lot of respect" for Assange. He and Rogers both declined to "attach any credibility" to the Wikileaks founder when questioned by Sen McCain.
When asked if he stands by the intelligence community's assessment about the hacks, Clapper says he stands even "more resolutely" than before.
"We have invested billions, and we put people's lives at risk to glean such information," he said. But don't expect a full rundown. Exposing all the details on U.S. intelligence-gathering procedures "would imperil our ability to provide such intel in the future," Clapper told the committee.
And the hacks are only going to get worse, according to Rogers, who said he can't think of any nation-state that's backing away from its hacking efforts. Russia is also not alone; U.S. intel needs to be mindful of China, Iran, and North Korea, too.