Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Senate Holds Hearing in Wake of Comey Firing; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00] DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Proven ability to direct and inspire attacks against a wide range of targets around the world. Outside Iraq and Syria, ISIS is seeking to foster interconnectedness among its global branches and networks, align their efforts to its strategy, and withstand counter-ISIS efforts.

We assess that ISIS maintains the intent and capability to direct, enable, assist and inspire transnational attacks. Al Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose a significant terrorist threat overseas as they remain primarily focused on local and regional conflicts. And homegrown, violent extremists remain the most frequent and unpredictable terrorist threat to the United States homeland. This threat will persist with many attacks happening with little or no warning.

In Turkey -- tensions in Turkey might escalate, rapidly and unpredictably in 2017 as the government's consolidation of power, crackdowns on dissent and restrictions on free media continue.

Let me now take just a quick run through some key areas of the Middle East. In Iraq, Baghdad's primary focus through 2017 will be recapturing and stabilizing Mosul and other territory controlled by ISIS. ISIS in Iraq is preparing to regroup, however, and continue an insurgency and terrorist campaign even as it loses territory.

We assess that Iraq will still face serious challenges to its stability, political viability, and territorial integrity even as the threat from ISIS is reduced. Reconstruction will cost billions of dollars, and ethno-sectarian and political reconciliation will be an enduring challenge.

In Iran, Tehran's public statements suggest that it wants to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action because it views the deal as a means to remove sanctions while preserving some nuclear capabilities. Iran's implementation of the deal has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year.

Tehran's malignant activities, however, continue. For example, Iran provides arms, financing and training and manages as many as 10,000 Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters in Syria to support the Assad regime. Iran has sent hundreds of its own forces to include members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the IRGC Quds Force to Syria as advisers. In Yemen, fighting reassess -- fighting will almost certainly persist

in 2017 between Houthi-aligned forces trained by Iran and the Yemeni government backed by a Saudi-led coalition. Neither has Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS branch in Yemen have exploited the conflict and the collapse of government authority to gain new recruits and allies and expand their influence.

In South Asia, the intelligence community assesses that the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in military assistance by the United States and its partners. This deterioration is undermined by its dire economic situation. Afghanistan will struggle to curb its dependence on external support until it contains the insurgency or reaches a peace agreement with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, we assess that the Taliban is likely to continue to make gains, especially in rural areas. Afghan Security Forces' performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, combat casualties, desertions, poor logistics support and weak leadership.

Pakistan is concerned about international isolation and sees its position through the prism of India's rising international status, including India's expanded foreign outreach and deepening ties to the United States. Pakistan will likely turn to China to offset its isolation, empowering a relationship that will help Beijing to project influence into the Indian Ocean.

In addition, Islamabad has failed to curb militants and terrorists in Pakistan. These groups will present a sustained threat to the United States' interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan. Pakistan is also expanding its nuclear arsenal and pursuing tactical nuclear weapons, potentially lowering the threshold for their use.

[10:35:05] Let me now turn to Russia. We assess that Russia is likely to be more aggressive in foreign global affairs, more unpredictable in its approach to the United States, and more authoritarian in its approach to domestic policies and politics. We assess that Russia will continue to look to leverage its military support to the Assad regime to drive a political settlement process in Syria on their terms.

Moscow is also likely to use Russia's military intervention in Syria in conjunction with efforts to capitalize on fears of a growing ISIS and extremist threat to expand its role in the Middle East. We assess that Moscow's strategic objectives in Ukraine -- maintaining long-term influence over Kiev and frustrating Ukraine's attempts to integrate into western institutions -- will remain unchanged in 2017.

Russia's military intervention in eastern Ukraine contains more than two years -- continues, excuse me, more than two years after the Minks II agreement. Russia continues to exert military and diplomatic pressure to coerce Ukraine into implementing Moscow's interpretation of the political provisions of the Minsk agreement. Among them, constitutional amendments that would effectively give Moscow a veto over Kiev's strategic decisions.

In China, China will continue, we assess, to pursue an active foreign policy, especially within the Asia-Pacific region, highlighted by a firm stance on competing territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, relations with Taiwan and its pursuit of economic engagement across East Asia.

China views a strong military as a critical element in advancing its interests. It will also pursue efforts aimed at fulfilling its ambitious "One Belt, One Road" initiative to expand their strategic influence and economic role across Asia through infrastructure projects.

Just a quick look at Sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than a billion people and expected to double in size by midcentury. African governments face the threat of coups, popular uprisings, widespread violence and terrorist attacks, including from al Qaeda and its ISIS affiliates.

In the western hemisphere, Venezuela's unpopular, autocratic government will turn to increasingly repressive means to contain political opponents and street unrest. Oil has long been the regime's cash cow, but mismanagement has led to declining output in revenue. We assess the Venezuelan government will struggle to contain inflation, make debt payments, and pay for imports of scarce basic goods and medicines.

Mexico's government will focus on domestic priorities to prepare for the 2018 presidential election while seeking to limit fallout from strained relations with the United States. Public demand for government action against crime and corruption will add to political pressure.

As Cuba heads into the final year of preparations for a historic transition to a next generation of leader in early 2018, the government's focus will be on preserving control while managing recession. Cuba, which continues to use repressive measures to stifle human rights and constrain democracy activists, blames its slowing economy on lower global commodity prices, the U.S. embargo, and the economic crisis in Venezuela, a key benefactor.

Let me just make a statement on the threat from illegal drugs. The threat to the United States from foreign-produced drugs, especially heroin, synthetic opioids, meth and cocaine, have grown significantly in the past few years. This is contributing to previously unseen levels of U.S. drug-related mortality, which now exceeds all other U.S. causes of injurious death.

Finally, I'd like to make a few points here that are importance to the IC going forward. As you are all very aware, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act is due to expire at the end of the year. I cannot stress enough the importance of this authority in how the IC does its work to keep Americans safe, and I know that is shared by everyone at this table.

Section 702 is an extremely effective tool to protect our nation from terrorists and other threats. As I described in my confirmation hearing, 702 is instrumental to so much of the IC's critical work in protecting the American people from threats from abroad.

The intelligence community is committed to working with all of you in both classified and unclassified sessions, to ensure that you understand not only how we use our authorities, but also how we protect privacy and civil liberties in the process.

[10:40:15] Additionally, many of you have asked me as part of my confirmation process about the status of the IC, its effectiveness and efficiency and how it can be improved. As part of the administration's goal of an effective and efficient government, the ODNI has already begun a review of the entire intelligence community to include the Office of the DNI and to answer the very questions about how we can make our process even more streamlined, more efficient, and more effective.

My office is proud to lead this review and I look forward to the confirmation of my principal deputy in order to shepherd this process to completion, and I have total confidence in her that she has the capacity and capability to effectively lead this effort. The recently passed intelligence authorization bill also includes the requirement for a review of the IC, focused on structures and authorities 10 years beyond the intelligence reforms of the mid-2000s.

Between these two reviews, I am confident that I will be able to report back to the committee with constructive recommendations and the best ways forward for the whole of the IC. In the short time I've been on this job, I have learned that the IC is full of dedicated, talented, creative and patriotic men and women who are committed to keeping America safe. We must retain this posture while looking for ways to improve.

In conclusion, the intelligence community will continue its tireless work against these and all threats, but we will never be on mission. Although we have extensive insight into many threats in places around the world, we have gaps in others. Therefore, we very much appreciate the support provided by this committee and will continue to work with you to ensure that the intelligence community has the capabilities it needs to meet its many mission needs. And with that, we are ready to take your questions.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Director Coats, thank you for that very thorough and comprehensive testimony on behalf of the intelligence community. And quite frankly, you make us proud seeing one of our own now head the entire intelligence community, and I want to thank you and Marcia personally for your willingness to do that.

COATS: Thank you.

BURR: And also past to you we are anxious for your deputy to be considered by the committee. Would you please send us a nomination?

COATS: We are doing our very best to do that, and nobody's more anxious than me. BURR: I'm sure that's the case. I'm going to recognize myself for

five minutes.

Director McCabe, did you ever hear Director Comey tell the president that he was not the subject of an investigation? Excuse me, did you ever hear Director Comey tell the president he was not the subject of an investigation? Could you do your microphone, please?

ANTHONY MCCABE, FBI ACTING DIRECTOR: Rookie mistake. I'm sorry. Sir, I can't comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president.

BURR: OK. General Stewart, you heard Director Coats state on everybody's behalf that there is an expected deterioration of conditions in Afghanistan. Can you give us DIA's assessment of the situation today in Afghanistan and what would change that deterioration?

LT. GEN. VINCENT STEWART, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. I pay close attention to the operations in Afghanistan. I make two trips there each year, one before the fighting season and one following the fighting season. That way, I get on the ground, my own personal assessment of how things are going. I was there about six weeks ago.

The NDSF, two years into taking control of the security environment, they had mixed results in this past year. Those mixed results can be characterized -- can characterize the security environment as a stalemate. And left unchecked, that stalemate will deteriorate in the favor of the belligerents. So we have to do something very different than what we've been doing in the past.

Let me back out just a little bit and talk about the fact that the Taliban failed to meet any of their strategic objectives that they outlined during the last fighting season. They controlled no district centers. They were able to execute high-visibility attacks, which causes a psychological effect, that has a debilitating effect. They maintain some influence in the rural areas but they controlled none of the large district centers.

[10:45:03] Having said that, the Afghan National Defense Security Forces did not meet their forced generation objectives. They had some success in training the force. They were able to manage a crisis better than they have in the past. They were able to deploy forces but failed, in my opinion, to employ the ISR and the fire support to make them as effective on the battlefield as possible.

Unless we change something where we introduce either U.S. forces, NATO forces, that changes the balance of forces on the ground, changes the fighting outputs on the ground, or add additional training and advising capability at lower levels than we do now, the situation will continue to deteriorate and we'll lose all the gains that we've invested in over the last several years.

So they've got to get more trainers below the core level, I believe. I'm not sure how far down or they have to get more personnel on the ground, generate greater forces, greater fire support, greater use of ISR, or this will, in fact, deteriorate further.

BURR: Thank you, General.

Admiral Rogers, every aspect of our daily lives continues to become part of a traceable, trackable interaction -- interacting environment now known as the Internet of things. In addition, artificial intelligence, or AI, has increasingly enabled technology to become autonomous. What is the IC's current assessment of the ever-changing capabilities of the Internet of Things and what it presents?

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: Sir, it represents both opportunity, but from an information assurance or computer network defense perspective, it represents great concern. Where the ability to harness literally millions of devices that were built through a very simple day-to-day activity suddenly can be tied together and focused and oriented to achieve a specific outcome. We've seen this with denial of service attempts against a couple significant companies on the East Coast of the United States in the course of the last year.

This is going to be a trend in the future. It's part of the discussions we're having, I'm in the midst of having some discussions in the private sector with this is going to be a problem that's common to both of us. How can we work together to try to, number one, understand this technology, and number two, ask yourselves how do we ensure that it's not turned around, if you will, against us?

BURR: Thank you for that.

Admiral Rogers, I'll probably put this to you as well. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act authorizes the government to target only non- U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States for the purposes of acquiring foreign intelligence information.

Section 702 cannot be used to target any person located inside the United States, and the law prohibits the government from reverse targeting, that is, targeting a non-U.S. person outside the United States specifically for the purpose of collecting the communications of a person inside the United States.

The IC uses FISA 702 collection authority to detect, identify, and disrupt terrorists and other national security threats. How would you characterize 702 authority and its importance to the current intelligence collection platform overall?

ROGERS: If we were to lose 702's authorities, we would be significantly degraded in our ability to provide timely warning and insight as to what terrorist actors, nation states, criminal elements are doing that is of concern to our nation as well as our friends and allies.

This 702 has provided us insight that is focused both on counterterrorism, but as well as counter-proliferation, understanding what nation states are doing. It's given us tremendous insights in the computer network defense arena.

I would highlight much, not all, much of what was in the Intelligence Community's assessment, for example, on the Russian efforts against the U.S. election process of 2016, was informed by knowledge we gained through 702 authority.

BURR; Thank you for that. Mark.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I've got a couple of questions that I hopefully will only require yes-or-no answers. First, for the whole panel, as the assembled leadership for the Intelligence Community, do you believe that the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment accurately characterized the extent of Russian activities in the 2016 election and its conclusion that Russian intelligence agencies were responsible for the hacking and leaking of information and using misinformation in order to influence our elections?

[10:50:04] Simple yes or no would suffice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

WARNER: I guess the presumption -- next presumption, I'm going ask this question, is consequently, that committee -- that community assessment was unanimous and is not a piece of fake news or evidence of some other individual or nation state other than Russia, so I appreciate that, again, for the record.

I warned Mr. McCabe, I was going to have to get you on the record as well on this.

Mr. McCabe, for as long as you are acting FBI director, do you commit to informing this committee of any effort to interfere with the FBI's ongoing investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign?

MCCABE: I absolutely do.

WARNER: Thank you so much for that. I think in light of what's happened in the last 48 hours, it's critically important that we have that assurance, and I hope you'll relay, at least for me, to the extraordinary people who work at the FBI, that this committee supports them, supports their efforts, supports their professionalism and supports their independence.

MCCABE: I will, sir. Thank you. WARNER: In light of the fact that we just saw French elections where

it felt like deja vu all over again in terms of the release of a series of e-mails against Mr. Macron days before the election, and the fact that this committee continues to investigate the type of tactics that Russia has used, where do we stand as a country in terms of preparation to make sure this doesn't happen again in 2018 and 2020? Where have we moved in terms of collaboration with state voting, voter files, in terms of working more with the tech community, particularly the platform entities in terms of how we can better assure real news versus fake news?

Is there some general sense -- Director Coats, I know you've only been on the job for a short period of time -- how we're going to have a strategic effort? Because while it was Russia in 2016, problem nation states could launch similar type assaults.

COATS: Well, we will continue to use all the assets that we have in terms of collection and analysis relative to what the influence has been and potentially could be in future. Russians have spread this across the globe. Interestingly enough, I met with the prime minister of Montenegro, the latest nation to join NATO, the number 29th nation. What was the main topic? Russian interference in their political system.

And so it does -- it sweeps across Europe and other places. It's clear, though, the Russians have upped their game using social media and other opportunities in ways that we haven't seen before. So, it's a great threat to our democratic process and our job here is to provide the best intelligence we can to the policymakers to -- as they develop a strategy in terms of how to best reflect a response to this.

WARNER: One of the things I'm concerned about is we've all expressed this concern, but since this doesn't fall neatly into any particular agency's jurisdiction, who's taking the point on interacting with the platform companies, a la the Google, Facebook and Twitters? Who's taking the point in terms of interacting, DHS, I mentioned, in terms of state boards of election? How are we trying to ensure that our systems are more secure?

And if you can give a brief answer because I have another question for Admiral Rogers.

COATS: Well, I think the -- obviously, our office tasked and takes the point, but there's contributions from agencies across the IC. Ask Director Pompeo to address that and others might want to address that also, but each of us -- each of the agencies, to the extent that they can and have the capacity, whether it's NSA through SIGINT, whether it's CIA through HUMINT or other sources, will provide information to us that we want to use as a basis to provide to our policymakers.

Relative to a grand strategy, I have not aware right now of any -- I think we're still assessing the impact. We have not put a grand strategy together, which would not be our purview. We would provide the basis of intelligence that would then be the foundation for what that strategy will be. [10:55:01] WARNER: My hope -- my hope would be that we need to be

proactive in this. We don't want to be sitting here kind of looking back at it after the 2018 election cycle.

Last question, very briefly, Admiral Rogers, do you have any doubt that the Russians are behind the intervention in the French elections?

ROGERS: Let me phrase it this way. We are aware of some Russian activity directed against the Russian -- excuse me, directed against the French election process. As I previously said before Congress earlier this week, we, in fact, reached out to our French counterparts to say we have become aware of this activity, we want to make you aware. What are you seeing?

I'm not in a position to have looked at the rest of the French infrastructure, so I'm not really in a position to make a whole simple declaratory statement.

WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURR: Senator Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. McCabe, can you, without going into any specific of any individual investigation, I think the American people want to know --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, there you have it, the first round of questioning from Chairman Richard Burr of the Senate Intel Committee and the vice chairman, the Democrat Mark Warner. You heard the real headline out of there, the first question that Senator Burr asked the acting director of the FBI, Andy McCabe. Did you hear the then FBI director James Comey tell the president he's not the subject of investigation? The answer from the acting director, he can't comment on any conversations between the president and the former FBI director.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's hear from the acting director now.

MCCABE: -- to date, all right. Simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.

RUBIO: And this is for all the members of the committee, as has been widely reported, and people know this. Kaspersky Lab software is used by not hundreds of thousands, millions of Americans.

To each of our witnesses, I would just ask, would any of you be comfortable with the Kaspersky Lab software on your computers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A resounding no from me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir.

RUBIO: On the -- Director Pompeo, on Venezuela, which is mentioned in Director Coats' statements, as all of you are probably well aware, armed civilian groups or coletivos, these militias in the street, have been armed by the regime for purposes of defending, for lack of a better term, the regime from protesters. We are all aware of the Maduro regime's cozy relationship with Hezbollah, with the FARC, which is a designated terrorist organization, and links to narco trafficking. Among the weapons and the stockpile, the military in Venezuela are Igla-S, these basically Russian variant of our stinger missiles.

And Director Pompeo, if you could comment on the risk that I believe exists that as these groups become more desperate, potentially even operate at some point outside the control of the Maduro regime, they're running around in the streets also in search of money and food and anything else that they want to get their hands on. The threat of any advanced weaponry such as what I've just mentioned being sold or transferred to the FARC, a terrorist organization, sold to drug cartels in Mexico, potentially, or even sold to terrorist organizations on the black market.

Is that a real threat? Is that something we should be cognizant of?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Senator, it is a real threat. As we have all seen, the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate. Maduro gets more desperate by the hour. The risk of these coletivos acting in a way that is not under his control increases as time goes on as well.

In a classified setting, I'm happy to share with you a little bit more about the details of what we know. We have not seen any of those major arms transfers take place. We don't have any evidence that those have taken place to date, but those stockpiles exist not only -- not only in the Maduro regime, but other places as well. There are plenty of weapons running around in Venezuela and this risk is incredibly real and serious and ultimately a threat to South America and Central America in addition to just in Venezuela.

RUBIO: Staying in the western hemisphere for a moment, and this potentially is also for the director -- Director McCabe, directed to you, Director Pompeo. I continue to be concerned with the potential and what I believe is a reality of a converted effort on the part of the Cuban government to recruit and unwittingly enlist Americans, business executives and others, even local and state political leaders, in an effort to have them influence U.S. policy making on Cuba, and particularly the lifting of the embargo.

Would this be a tactic consistent with what we have seen in the past from other nation states, including the regime in Cuba?

POMPEO: Mr. McCabe may comment as well, but yes, of course. Frankly, this is consistent with what we've -- this is the attempt to interfere in the United States is not limited to Russia. The Cubans have deep ties. It is in their deepest tradition to take American visitors and do their best to influence in a way that's adverse to U.S. interests.

MCCABE: Yes, sir. I fully agree. We share your concerns about that --

(END)