Ex-CIA chief: cyber domain is Russian playground

CIA Director John Brennan speaking at CSIS Sept. 9 2016 

Former CIA Director John Brennan warned lawmakers on Russian election mischief in cyberspace.

As the Department of Justice and Congress continue to investigate Russia's campaign to influence the 2016 election, Russia is likely learning lessons from its efforts in order to refine its tactics future elections, the former CIA director told the House Intelligence Committee.

John Brennan testified that in the summer of 2016, he convened an interagency working group between the CIA, NSA and FBI to investigate intelligence showing contact between Russian officials and Trump affiliates.

The intelligence he was seeing "raised concerns in my mind about whether or not those individuals were cooperating with the Russians either in a witting or unwitting fashion, and that served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion or cooperation occurred," he said.

Brennan said he was not in a position to judge whether there was collusion, but when he left office on January 20, 2017 he said he had a lot of unresolved questions and that the FBI investigation was "well founded."

The former CIA director added that on August 4, 2016, he warned his Russian counterpart that the U.S. was aware that Russia was attempting to influence the election, and such efforts would "backfire" on Russia.

"Mr. Putin and Russian intelligence services are determined to do what they can to influence in a very inappropriate and illegal way, activities within Western democracies, to undermine the Western-led liberal democratic order," said Brennan.

"They've been involved in elections for many years including trying to influence the ones here in the United States with propaganda or whatever, but this cyber environment now provides new opportunities to collect, to collect and release, to influence, and they are increasingly adept at it," he said.

"The cyber environment now really provides so much more opportunity for a variety of trouble making and the Russians take advantage of it," he added, saying that Russian intelligence is increasingly collaborating with organized criminals to conduct cyber operations.

"And that collaboration between Russian intelligence and Russian organized crime, I think is more and more of a concern so that they can promote their respective interests," he said. "This is something that I think that the Russians are looking for new opportunities to partner with whomever they can in order to do what they want to do."

Over the course of the hearing, Brennan declined to reveal more details of the intelligence behind the January 6, 2017 report from the intelligence community that concluded that Russia intervened in the election with the intent to harm Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. He told members he would share more details in a closed setting.

As in the March 20, 2017 Intelligence Committee hearing featuring former FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, a number of members called for investigations into who leaked classified information to the media. Brennan said the leaks need to stop.

"I think the unauthorized disclosure of classified information at all times hurts the national security, compromises our intelligence capabilities and needs to be investigated," he said.

About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.


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