Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Intelligence Chiefs Take Questions from Senate Intelligence Committee; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Domestic political affairs. And Mr. Wray, probably you wind up with this more than anybody else. It gets messy. It gets difficult. And I think we've all got to recommit ourselves to what we're actually doing here to reach the right facts.

I would -- I would respectfully disagree with my good friend from Virginia that we are no better prepared to handle the Russians' onslaught in '18 than we were in '16. When this happened in '16, those of us on this committee, those of you at the panel, and most of you -- most everyone who works in the IC, we're not surprised to find out that the Russians were attempting to meddle in our affairs and after we had the -- I think probably one of the best hearings we've had this year was the open hearing we had on how they used social media, and we saw how disjointed it was, how ineffective it was, how cheap it was for them to do that.

But I think after that, with all due respect to my friend from Virginia, I think the American people are ready for this. I think that now they're going to look askance a lot more at the information that is attempted to be passed out through social media. The American people are smart people. They realize that there is people attempting to manipulate them, both domestically and foreign.

And I agree with everybody on the panel that this is going to go on. This is the way the Russians have done business. This is no surprise to us and we saw it, even more so than we got it in France and Germany this -- in past year. So I think -- I think the American people are much more prepared than what they were before.

Dan, thank you for that analysis of Syria. I doubt it made it any clearer for me and for the American people. It's a Rubik's Cube that is very difficult. And after this last weekend, I think got even more complicated and I think that we're going to have to keep an eye on that.

I agree with you, cyber is certainly something that is right at the top. The financial condition of this country is of critical importance to us.

I want to close, and I want to ask a question, a specific question to four of you regarding Korea. I think that's the most existential threat that we face. I think it's something that's at our doorstep. A year ago when we talked about this, it was then, this is now. The movement of North Korea has not slowed down. In fact, if anything, I think all of us would agree that it's probably picked up. And it's at our doorstep.

This is going to have to be dealt with in the very, very near future. We've talked about trying to engage in conversations and what conditions would be, et cetera. I think we're still in the process of refining that. But that's moving. We've all watched over the last week the smile campaign that North Korea has inflicted on the South Korean people. The South Korean people seemed to be charmed by it to some degree. Some of them seemed to be captivated by it.

From my point of view, I think it's nothing more than a stall by the North Koreans to further develop what they're trying to do, and I suspect in my judgment I think we need to be very, very cautious of this.

Director Coats, Pompeo, Rogers and Ashley, I'd like to hear your view of this supposed turn in the last couple of weeks by the -- by the North Koreans.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, this is an existential threat potentially to the United States, but also to North Korea. Kim Jong-un views this as any kind of kinetic attack or effort to force him to give up his nuclear weapons. It is an existential threat to his nation and to his leadership in particular.

As you know, it's a very hard topic -- collection nation given their secrecy and so forth. But we do know that Kim, it's a one-man decision. We have processes in place here in the United States to have multiple engagements with various agencies in terms of our policymaking and relative to the decision that ultimately the president makes. That does not appear to be the case in North Korea.

The provocative nature and the instability that Kim has demonstrated potentially is a significant threat to the United States. I agree with you that the decision time is becoming ever closer. In terms of how we respond to this, our goal is a piece of settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways which can be described by my colleagues here. Most of that in open -- in closed session.

[10:35:10] But we have to face the fact that this is an existential -- potentially existential problem for the United States.

RISCH: Wise words. Director Pompeo.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: The last part of your question about this past now almost week at the Olympics, we should all -- the American people should all remember that Kim Yo Jong is the head of the propaganda and agitation department. There is no indication there is any strategic change in the outlook for Kim Jong-un and his desire to retain his nuclear capacity to threaten the United States of America. No change there.

RISCH: Admiral Rogers.

ADM. MICHAEL ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: I would just say if KJU thinks he can split the relationship between ourselves and the South Koreans, he's sadly mistaken.

RISCH: And finally, Lieutenant General Ashley.

LT. GEN. ROBERT ASHLEY, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: So no change to his strategic calculus. Matter of fact under the KJU regime, you've seen a much more deliberate effort in terms of readiness, very different from his father. He's got a million-man army, 70 percent of it is south of Pyongyang, and they train in a very deliberate fashion. The strategic calculus is not changing and we should not be misled by the events that are taking place around the Olympics.

RISCH: Thank you so much. My time is up, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks very much. I want to associate myself with some of the comments of Senator Risch. And we just had a secure briefing last week. And I think it was difficult and harsh. I harken back to the words of the secretary of State on the four no's and one, that we do not seek regime change. Two, we do not -- we are not seeking the accelerated reunion of the peninsula. And finally that we will not bring U.S. forces north of the demilitarized zone if -- excuse me, zone if the Korean peninsula is reunified.

Let me ask you, Mr. Pompeo, because you were -- you just spoke with some certainty. Does Kim Jong-un really understand and believe that our goals are not regime change or regime collapse?

POMPEO: Senator Feinstein, I can't give you any certainty about what Kim Jong-un actually subjectively believes. A very difficult intelligence problem anywhere in the world, most especially difficult there. And I have expressed this before, we do remain concerned. Our analysts remain concerned that Kim Jong-un is not hearing the full story, that is, that those around him aren't providing nuance, aren't suggesting to him the tenuous nature of his position both internationally and domestically, the breach with China, the deep connections between the United States and the Republic of Korea.

We are not at all certain that the leaders around him are sharing that information in a way that is accurate, complete and full.

FEINSTEIN: In a recent "Washington Post" op-ed, Victor Cha, who was recently under consideration to be United States ambassador to South Korea, warned of the dangers of a preventive United States military strike against North Korea. He cautioned that such a strike would not halt North Korea's nuclear weapons program and could spark an uncontrolled conflict in the region that could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans.

He's not the only one. A number of experts on the area have said that. And he argued to continue to press for multilateral sanctions at the U.N., to provide Japan and South Korea advanced weapons training and intel and some other things. Has the Intelligence Community assessed how the North Korean regime

would react to a preventive United States attack?

POMPEO: We have. I would prefer to share that with you in closed session this afternoon. That is --

FEINSTEIN: Would you do that this afternoon, please?

POMPEO: Yes, absolutely, Senator. Yes. We have -- we have written about various forms of actions, what we analyzed, the certainty and uncertainty we have around that analysis, as well as what we think happens in the event that the United States decides not to do that and continues to allow Kim Jong-un to develop his nuclear weapons arsenal.

FEINSTEIN: Have you explored what it would take to bring them to the table?

POMPEO: We have. I prefer to share that with you in closed session -- yes, ma'am.

FEINSTEIN: This afternoon as well?

POMPEO: Yes, ma'am.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURR: Thanks, Senator Feinstein. Senator Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, thank you, all, for being here. I also echo the same words everyone else has shared with you about the esteem we have for all of our agencies and the important work they do.

[10:40:07] I -- and I think this already has been touched upon. I do believe that Russia, Vladimir Putin in particular, his efforts around the world are very important. But the biggest issue of our time in my view and I think in the view of most members of this committee, and I would venture to guess most of the members of this panel is China and the risk they pose. I'm not sure in the 240 some odd year history of this nation we've ever faced a competitor and potential adversary of this scale, scope and capacity.

It is my personal view and shared by many people that they are carrying out a well-orchestrated, well-executed, very patient long- term strategy to replace the United States as the most powerful and influential nation on earth. You see that reflected in this repeated use of this term community of common destiny which basically means a retreat from Western values of democracy and freedom and openness towards some other model that benefits them and their pursuit of this appears to be every element of their national power, military, commercial, trade, economics, information and media.

The tools they use are everything from hacking and to companies and critical infrastructure and Defense contractors, everybody you can imagine. To using our immigration system against us, to even our universities and that's where I wanted to begin this week. I -- let me ask this, and I'd start this with Director Coats.

Is it your view that the United States today as a government is prepared for the scale, scope and magnitude of the challenge presented by this plan that China is carrying out?

COATS: We have full awareness of what the Chinese are attempting, they have full awareness of what the Chinese are attempting to do on a global basis. There is no question that what you have just articulated is what is happening with China. They're doing it in a very smart way. They're doing it in a very effective way. They're looking beyond their own region.

I think they have -- it's clear that they have a long-term strategic objective to become a world power. And they are executing throughout the whole of government ways in which they can accomplish that. We have intensive studies going on throughout the Intelligence Community relative to A to Z on what China is doing.

General Mattis has asked us for that. Others have asked us for -- to provide that. Senator Warner called me last week. We had a discussion on that. I assured him that we are pulling all of our elements of intelligence gathering together to provide a very, very deep dive into what China's plant is doing now and what their plans are for the future and how it would impact on the United States.

RUBIO: The -- just to kind of highlight the different ways and traditional ways in which they're pursuing this plan, Director Wray, let me ask you, what in your view could you say in the setting is the counterintelligence risk posed to U.S. national security from that Chinese students particularly those in advanced programs in sciences and mathematics?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I think in this setting I would just say that the use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it's professors, scientists, students, we see in almost every -- in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country, it is not just in major cities, it's in small ones as well. It's across basically every discipline.

And I think the level of naivete on the part of the academic sector about this creates its own issues. They're exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere. But they're taking advantage of it, so one of the things we're trying to do is view the China threat as not just the whole of government threat, but a whole of society threat on their end and I think it's going to take a whole of society response by us.

It's not just the Intelligence Community, but it's raising awareness within our academic sector, within our private sector as part of the Defense.

RUBIO: Well, in that vein, last week I wrote a letter to five higher education institutions in Florida about the Confucius Institutes, which are funded by China -- Chinese government dollars at U.S. schools and it is my view that they're complicit in these efforts to covertly influence public opinion and to teach half truths designed to present Chinese history, government or official policy in the most favorable light.

Do you share concerns about Confucius Institutes as a tool of that whole of society effort and as a way to exploit the sort of naive view among some in the academic circles about what the purpose of these institutes could be?

WRAY: We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes. We've been watching that development for a while. It's just one of many tools that they take advantage of. We have seen some decrease recently in their own enthusiasm and commitment to that particular program but it is something that we're watching warily and in certain instances have developed, you know, appropriate investigative steps.

[10:45:13] GRASSLEY: Senator Wyden.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Vice Chairman Warner highlighted in his opening statement the importance of an effective security clearance process.

So I've got a question for you, Director Wray. Was the FBI aware of allegations related to Rob Porter and domestic abuse? And if so, was the White House informed this could affect his security clearance? When were they informed? And who at the White House was informed?

WRAY: Well, Senator, there is a limit to what I can say about the content of any particular background investigation for a variety of reasons that I'm sure you can appreciate. I would say that the background investigation process involves a fairly elaborate set of standards, guidelines, protocols, agreements, et cetera, that have been in place for 20 plus years. And I'm quite confident that in this particular instance the FBI followed the established protocols.

WYDEN: So was the White House informed that this could affect his security clearance? That's a yes or no.

WRAY: I can't get into the content of what was briefed --


WYDEN: But were they informed?

WRAY: What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July that is soon thereafter we received requests for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up, and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.

WYDEN: OK. Let me turn now to the two recent arbitrary and inconsistent decisions that affect the politicizing of the classification system. The first was the public release of the Nunes memo. The second involved the report that the Congress required on Russian oligarchs, the relationship with President Putin, and indications of corruption.

In that case, the secretary of the Treasury released nothing other than a list of rich Russians taken from public sources. My question, and any of you can respond, did any of you take a position on either of these two arbitrary classification decisions? And did any of you have any communications with the White House about either of those classification matters?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll start and the answer is no.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I raised concerns on this issue with the DNI.


POMPEO: Yes. The CIA was not asked to review the classification of those documents.

WRAY: Not on the second. The oligarch Treasury document, we did have interaction about the memo from Chairman Nunes.

WYDEN: Is there anything you can say that protects sources and methods in an open session with respect to that matter?

WRAY: Well, I would just say -- as we said publicly, that we had grave concerns about that memo's release.

WYDEN: OK. On encryption, Director Wray, as you know, this isn't a surprise because I indicated I would ask about this. You have essentially indicated that companies should be making their products with backdoors in order to allow you all to do your job and we all want you to protect Americans and at the same time sometimes there are these policies that make us less safe and give up our liberties.

And that's what I think we get with what you all are advocating, which is weak encryption. Now this is a pretty technical area, as you and I have talked about. And there is a field known as cryptography. I don't pretend to be an expert on it. But I think there is a clear consensus among experts in the field against your position to weaken strong encryption.

[10:50:03] So I have asked you for a list of the experts that you have consulted. I haven't been able to get it. Can you give me a date this afternoon when you will give me -- this morning, a sense of when we will be told who are these people, who are advising you to pursue this route because I don't know of anybody respected in the field who is advising that it is a good idea to adopt your position to weaken strong encryption. So can I get that list?

WRAY: I would be happy to talk more about this topic this afternoon. My position is not that we should weaken encryption. My position is that we should be working together, government and the private sector, to try to find a solution that balances both concerns.

WYDEN: I'm on the program for working together. I just think we need to be driven by objective facts and the position you all are taking is out of sync with what all the experts in the field are saying and I would just like to know who you all are consulting with and we'll talk some more about it this afternoon.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURR: Senator Collins.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Director Pompeo, last week "The New York Times" published --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We've been watching this hearing, a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, covering a wide range of subjects from Russian interference in elections, the cyberattacks to North Korea. But there were just some significant news made by FBI director Christopher Wray on the timeline of events and the security clearance of Rob Porter. That is the key White House staffer who was just fired or resigned depending on who you listen to and when after allegations of domestic abuse went public.

I use the words went public because now it seems nearly certain that the White House knew much of it a long time ago. Listen to what the FBI director said about the security clearance process on Rob Porter.


WYDEN: So was the White House informed that this could affect his security clearance? That's a yes or no.

WRAY: I can't get into the content of what was briefed to the --

WYDEN: But were they informed?

WRAY: What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March, and then a completed background investigation in late July, that soon thereafter we received requests for follow-up inquiry, and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information and we passed that on as well.



BERMAN: All right. Just to review, they were told something in March, they were told more in July, more in November, the case was closed in January, some additional information this month as well. So it began to be told of Rob Porter's situation as far back as March of 2017.

I'm joined now by former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, CNN analyst Josh Campbell who worked for the FBI, Phil Mudd worked for many intelligence agencies and Karoun Demerjian. You know, Josh Campbell, to you since you have the most current record

I think with understanding how these security clearances work, the White House was given partial information in March, you know, the full report in July, follow-up in November, closed in January, more information in February.

They seemed to have known at least something for a long, long time here, Josh.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. And remember what we learned yesterday at the White House briefing and this was something that was pointed out by some very smart reporters here at CNN that really keyed in on that word "extent." When the White House said they learned of the full extent of the investigation last week, which, again, I'm not a lawyer, it sounds like splitting hairs, if you look at what Director Wray said.


CAMPBELL: There was a partial report that was provided starting in March, so it seems to be at odds with this notion that the White House knew nothing until recently.

BERMAN: You know, Phil Mudd, you heard the FBI director say that, he obviously came prepared with that timeline because he knew he would face questions and he knows the White House was in a way criticizing the FBI process here.

The FBI director, Phil Mudd, seeming to say, no, look, we've been telling you something for a long time here.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. A couple of things going on here and Chairman Rogers might want to weigh in in a second. First, he was prepared for this and I think he did the right thing. First, he tried to say, we can't give you a yes or no answer. But I'll give you a timeline that shows we followed policy and procedure. He didn't offer anything on what that information they passed said.

I think I agree with Josh you can read between the lines, what he's saying is in essence and what I took away is they knew at some point but he's not giving up information on the nature of the interaction with the White House.

I will say I thought the question was completely inappropriate. There is a place for that question. It obviously is a significant issue in America.

[10:55:03] But when you're discussing worldwide threats related to North Korea, Russia, China, to ask the FBI director to participate in political shots at the White House, I thought it was out of place.

BERMAN: Mike Rogers, the timeline, what did you see?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: And I'm going to agree with Phil here, real quickly. I mean, this was a -- this was really significant in another way. We actually pivoted to talk about China and what they're doing and not only in telecommunications with cyber targeting the United States. This is an important pivot for this worldwide hearing as well as what Russia is doing and so that's really important.

As far as the timeline was, what I just heard the FBI director say is by July it was done, meaning that all of those police reports that would have indicated abuse or at least allegations of abuse by the women and there were so many of them were already in the file, which is likely why the FBI said this person does not deserve a clearance. They saw that. And then whatever they wanted to talk about later in November came in November. But it tells me that most of that investigation was done by July.

BERMAN: Which is extraordinary because it is now February, the year after, Karoun. And remember, the two former wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, they were interviewed by the FBI, we believe, in January of 2017. So a full year ago. So -- and they both say that they told the FBI pretty much everything that they've been telling the public the last few days, so the FBI was told about domestic abuse then.

A partial report in March, one would assume that the FBI included that at least in the partial report. That seems to be why you would give a partial report if you're getting that information as far back as March. And add to that, Karoun, you know, the White House has known this for a while and even after they knew all of this, even after they saw the photo of Colbie Holderness with a black eye, this new information just today on top of it all, they arranged an off-the- record briefing so Rob Porter can tell his story to reporters. It's really extraordinary.

KAROUN DEMERJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And having the FBI director say in open forum and I understand the criticism of the question, but that's congressional hearings. Having the FBI -- the director say in open forum that laying out this timeline, you assume that that information given that that's so central to what we've been talking about for the last week would have been in that report to an extent.

But the important thing he didn't mention is who at the White House, these interactions were with. Who were the people that were getting these briefings and how far up the chain it went, and right now in terms of adjudicating what the management -- the management jumble that hit the White House and what should have been done and who should have known to make the call, that's kind of the central political issue right now.

BERMAN: Right.

DEMERJIAN: For determining who is responsible, who stays and goes, and, you know, what may change at the White House as a result of this because remember, he's not the only person to have not secured final security clearance and be in a position where he's actually touching or viewing sensitive information on a daily basis.

BERMAN: Maybe dozens right now.

All right, guys. Rapid fire if we can. One more cleanup on this subject.

Josh Campbell, am I wrong to think that given the fact the interviews with the former wives was last January, the partial report in March likely would have included some information about that?

CAMPBELL: Yes, it could be expected. But, again, you know, the FBI doesn't work on a timeline as they gather information, they'll provide it. I suspect that's what happened here.

BERMAN: All right. The main subject of this hearing as we have been talking about, worldwide threats. Some stark, stark comments from the people including the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats.

You know, Phil Mudd, the DNI flat out said that you could expect Russia will meddle in the 2018 election.

MUDD: Boy, that was stark. I thought there were a few moments in here, and it's a subtle hearing but a few moments that are really important for Americans. That's number one. Not only did you have uniformity in acceptance about what happened in the last election, but uniformity in the view that it will happen in at least the same level in the next election.

I thought related to that, really significant, John, is this judgment now across America that the American security apparatus, people like the FBI and the CIA, should be participating with social media to keep bad stuff off the Internet. I don't disagree with that. I think it's just remarkable that people have shifted to say American spy agencies should be helping Americans not read bad stuff on the Internet. Unbelievable.

BERMAN: All right. Chairman Rogers, you have the floor for 30 seconds. Wrap it up?

ROGERS: First of all, Russia has been engaged in political shenanigans since the 1960s. They're just a lot better at it now because they have a new platform in social media where they can reach into your house. That was very significant today. It's not just going to happen, it's still happening around the world, here in the United States going into 2018 and we are not ready for this problem. We don't have a whole government approach for this.

Second piece of this, watch what they're talking about on China. You know, the 5G build-outs coming to America, the Chinese want to do it. That's what I think the fight is that they're talking about in this open hearing.

BERMAN: All right. Mike Rogers, Phil Mudd, Karoun Demerjian, Josh Campbell, who I just stepped away for a moment. My thanks to all of you.

A very busy day with all this breaking news. That is all for me. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" picks up right now.