Diane talks to McKay Coppins of The Atlantic about President Trump’s use of disinformation as the 2020 presidential campaign gets underway.
The Washington Post and New York Times reported Friday that the CIA had determined Russia intervened in the U.S. presidential election to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning. On Fox News Sunday, the president-elect called the CIA’s conclusion “ridiculous.” President Barack Obama ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to produce a full report on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. And a group of GOP and Democratic senators are preparing similar investigations. Diane and a panel of guests discuss the latest on Russian interference in U.S. politics, and potential cyber threats to democracy.
- David Sanger National security correspondent, The New York Times; author, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power"
- Laura Galante Director of global intelligence, FireEye: a cyber security company; former cyber threat intelligence analyst, Department of Defense
- Fiona Hill Senior fellow and director, Brookings Institution's Center on the U.S. and Europe; former intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia, The National Intelligence Council; co-author, "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin"
- Andrei Sitov Washington bureau chief, Itar-Tass news agency of Russia
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Tensions between U.S. intelligence agencies and Donald Trump escalated over the weekend. The president-elect mocked reports of the secret CIA assessment on Russia's role in the U.S. presidential election. Here with me to talk about the latest on investigations into Russian election-related hacking, David Sanger with the New York Times, Laura Galante with the cyber security company, FireEye and Fiona Hill of The Brookings Institution.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite your calls, your comments. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning, Diane.
MS. FIONA HILLMorning, Diane.
MS. LAURA GALANTEGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all. David Sanger, I know The Washington Post broke the story, but the New York Times published a very similar story just hours later. Tell us about the details the CIA is now looking at, which indicate Russian involvement in our election.
SANGERWell, Diane, there's new in the conclusion that the Russians were attempting to interfere in the election. We've all been writing that since we broke the story in July, I think, that said that the CIA had high confidence that it was Russians who were behind the hacks of the DNC and John Podesta's emails and all that. So the only debate now is what was their intent? What were they trying to accomplish with that? In October, when the director of national intelligence and the department of homeland security came out with their first formal attribution, their statement about who did this, which ran months behind these stories, they indicated at that time only that there had been interference and their suggestion was that they were trying to disrupt the election and perhaps discredit it.
SANGERBut I think that there's been a sense, throughout the intelligence community, with the possible exception of the FBI, which we'll get to in a moment, that the intent of the people who were messing around here may have evolved over time. They had no more of a reason to believe that Donald Trump would get elected president when all this started in June of 2015 than any of the rest of us did. They didn't think he would make it, I'm sure, through the primaries and we were all wrong on that. But as he rose in first -- in the party, it was clear he was going to get the nomination and then became a contender in the election, it did look like there was a more concentrated effort to put their finger on the scale, release information that was damaging to Secretary Clinton and thus, aided him.
SANGERNow, we can argue about whether, in the end, that would've made a significant difference, and even many of the people around Secretary Clinton have said to me they do not believe this was decisive in the election. But the very fact that you got a foreign power doing this raises a whole set of questions.
REHMAnd the question for me is why President Obama has called for this investigation now. Why did he not call for it earlier? Laura.
GALANTEOne of the really difficult spots that the intelligence community can be put in is trying to weigh in on a political topic, especially a domestic political topic. So there's an inherent desire not to influence or be seen as a political actor by the intelligence community, by the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community. And I think there had to have been a good deal of consternation during a very tense, obviously, last few months of that election that the agency, the CIA wouldn't have wanted to potentially weigh in on this on the level that could've caused this level of consternation.
GALANTESo they're put in a nearly impossible spot to be apolitical and, you know, now we're looking at clearly some additional intelligence that allows the motive to be more specifically discussed by the agency and going to that next step, which David referred to, which is we think this isn't just Kremlin directed, but it was directed in a way that was purposefully to benefit Donald Trump to be elected president.
REHMDo we have any idea what that additional information is?
GALANTEWe don't have a lot of indications around that. Obviously, the first rule of intelligence is protect your sources, right? So we're probably not going to see that level of specificity. That said, to get to this additional level in discussion that this isn't just about degrading an American institution or questioning American democracy, that this truly was to put the thumb on the scales of this election for Donald Trump would've necessitated a whole lot more additional understanding interest and then, obviously, intelligence to go to that further point.
REHMAnd we should say, Fiona, that yesterday, President-elect Donald Trump called this ridiculous, saying, you know, the agencies have gotten things wrong in the past. Why should we even pay attention to it this time?
HILLWell, I think this, in itself, what the president-elect said is also very dangerous because, you know, discrediting your intelligence agencies, as Laura said, the 17 agencies that put themselves on the line on a regular basis for intelligence on every imaginable subject is not a great way to be starting off your presidency. And the statement that said, well, they've got it wrong in the past, I went in to the director of national intelligence as someone completely from the outside, with no knowledge whatsoever of the intelligence community in 2006 following on from someone who'd had a similar non intelligence background that was all part of an effort by the intelligence services to address some of the mistakes in analysis and judgment that were made during the whole run-up to the Iraq war about the assessments of basically Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction.
HILLThere was a great deal of soul-searching in the agencies. The people who were responsible for those errors of judgment and analysis have been long gone. In fact, many of them were civilian overseers. We can name them, but let's not do that. And a whole effort for the last decade plus has been really focused on how to bring things up from the grass roots, how to get a larger context, how to get outside experts to provide a corrective. There's a red cell that basically does exactly what President-elect Trump is asking for, which is to challenge the assessments, challenge the analysis and to really get behind even including things like the sources and methods and how accurate and reliable they can be.
HILLSo I think that he perhaps doesn't fully understand what has been happening in these agencies in the period since the Iraq war.
REHMDo you have any concerns about the delay in releasing this information to the public, to releasing these concerns on the part of the intelligence agencies to the general public?
HILLI don’t, actually. I'd be worried if they did it really quickly for precisely the reasons that the president-elect is suggesting, that then it could be seen as being partisan. I mean, I think the fact that The Washington Post and the New York Times and people like David Sanger and others, you know, got that information out there into the public eye, they're doing their jobs. That's what they're supposed to do. But the intelligence agencies are supposed to be making sure that they have really robust intelligence. They're supposed to be dotting the Is and crossing the Ts, especially the FBI.
HILLAnd I think that that's one of the reasons why the FBI may be more reluctant because they have to think about how they can make a criminal case if laws have been broken. They're the group that operate in the domestic arena, not the CIA. They are looking for any kind of criminal activity that they may be able to prosecute and they have to have ironclad information. I think that's what we're seeing here. And, again, I'd be worried if there was a quick rush to judgment because that's the kind of thing that's got us into trouble in the past.
REHMAnd now, you've got congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle this morning, Senator Mitch McConnell saying this is very serious. There should be a full investigation. What kind of investigation do you see going forward, David?
SANGERWell, there are going to be two things going on simultaneously. So first, President Obama ordered -- and we learned from Lisa Monaco, his homeland security advisor, on Friday, a report from the intelligence agencies on the lessons learned, deliverable to him before he leaves office. Now, why that timing? Because everybody in the White House is concerned the given President Trump's statements that this may not have happened, this may not have been the Russians, there's no big deal, that this would all disappear as soon as he gets inaugurated. I don't know if that's a legitimate fear or not, but by ordering the report to get delivered before President Obama leaves office, and perhaps making parts of that public, President Obama is assuring that whatever the intelligence community is putting together and putting out will be in the public record or, at least, in some classified record before President Trump gets inaugurated.
REHMAre we in any way looking at the delegitimization of the 2016 presidential election?
SANGERI think if you're President-elect Trump, that's got to be part of his concern here. Now, another way he could've approach this, would've been the way Mitch McConnell approached it. Mr. McConnell stayed quiet for a long time. He clearly is a supporter of President-elect Trump. His wife has just been appointed to be in Mr. Trump's cabinet. And yet, he came out very strongly today saying there needs to be an investigation and we need to understand this. President-elect Trump could've done the same thing.
REHMDavid Sanger of the New York Times. Laura Galante, she's with FireEye and Fiona Hill of The Brookings Institution. Short break. Your calls, comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. A comment posted by Assim on our Facebook page. He says there is still no such evidence for any of these claims. What we have instead are assertions disseminated by anonymous people completely unaccompanied by any evidence, let alone proof, Laura.
GALANTESo for years the private sector, including our company, FireEye, has discussed the infrastructure, the tools and then the groups behind the activity that we believe to be sponsored by the Russian government. To give you a taste of the type of forensic data and evidence that we've been seeing mount for years, the tools that these Russian groups use go back to development in 2007 at the very -- at the very latest and could even have been before that.
GALANTEWe see details in the way that the code is written that shows that sustained effort. We see a well-resourced and sophisticated developer and team of developers behind this who are able to change the tools that are used to break into networks like the DNC and adapt the tool as they see fit. We also see these compiled -- this code compiled in Moscow's time zone over 90 percent of the time for the last nine years now.
GALANTEThen we start to look at the targets. We see Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia targeted for some time attaches in Eastern Europe, Chechen journalists. The profile of the targeting, the types of tools used and then the infrastructure that lets us track these groups are just some of the initial pieces that we even see on the private side, let alone what the intelligence community has to bear, which are a whole lot of additional sources, that start to piece together the understanding of how Russia has been operating these campaigns and the likelihood that they're sponsoring these activities in cyberspace.
REHMWas there any activity into the RNC on the part of Russia?
GALANTESo that's been discussed in some of the articles this weekend, and the question is if an intelligence-gathering operation, which we see nearly every day by these groups that we think are sponsored by the Russian government, if the intelligence-gathering at the RNC resulted in a different type of action, for instance they didn't leak the data that was stolen from the RNC, but they did steal the evidence from the DNC, then that starts to show a difference in how we think these groups were trying to have an effect on opinion.
REHMAnd what about intelligence agencies in other countries, Fiona, like Germany?
HILLWell there's actually been a recent announcement by the German BND, the major external intelligence agency, and also by the internal intelligence, so the equivalent in some respects of the FBI, letting the public know that there has been a similar high-level hack of the German parliament. So I came back from Germany on Tuesday night of last week, I'd been at a conference, and some of these officials were there. So just before the announcement was made public, they were talking about it very openly.
HILLAnd they have the kind of evidence that Laura is talking about. So one of the problems I guess that Assim, who posed this question, is this stuff is not being made public, and he probably wants to know why. Well, the fact is that if this is not made public, either by the -- if this made public by the private sector or by the intelligence agencies, these are incredibly sophisticated groups who will then simply change the methods in which they conduct the hacks.
HILLNow presumably Assim and other people in the general public, having heard about the Edward Snowden revelations and others, wouldn't like their own data to be hacked, and we were all on a very -- on a daily basis now, just as private citizens, subject to people taking our private info, be that from a health care company, be that from shopping at Target, I mean, there was the famous hack of Target, I mean I personally had my credit card used immediately afterwards, I'm sure half of Washington, D.C., had. This is the kind of information that's out there for criminal purposes, but that same information is also being used for espionage and then for intelligence purposes by foreign countries.
SANGERYou've heard from Laura and Fiona what you see when you look at the patterns of these hacking tools, and some of them were made public, or at least some of the code was made public, by CrowdStrike, which did the DNC investigation, a private company. What we don't see is the information that is gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies abroad, and this is the part that they're most leery of discussing, but it's no secret that the NSA has what are called implants, software sitting in foreign computer networks all around the world, tens if not hundreds of thousands of them, we saw the evidence of that in the Snowden papers, we've seen it in the hack of the Iranian nuclear program and so forth, and these are places where they could see the results of what the hackers actually obtained.
SANGERWe have been told that there is corroborating evidence that has been picked up from human and technical sources outside the United States. So if you put together what you -- the patterns that you see here and that, and that other material we're not likely to get in much detail, that seems to be the basis of the -- of the CIA's new conclusion.
REHMAll right, so you've now got lawmakers on both sides arguing about -- some are downplaying it, but now you've got Mitch McConnell coming out and saying this is very serious. Laura, what would you expect from the Congress in terms of its own investigation?
GALANTEI think a piece of this revolves around how the intelligence community decides to put findings and warnings out publicly, and when you think of the dynamic of this election and the politicization of statements coming out of the White House, one of the real difficulties was how do we alert state officials, how do we get the message out that this is actually a potential foreign power involved in an election and taking active measure to affect it, and how do we do that in a way that gets our intelligence out so that it's useful to the broader audience that it needs to hit, state and local law enforcement, at the time voting officials, right. How do you get that warning out without it getting clouded by a penumbra of political torrent?
GALANTEAnd I think part of the investigation on the congressional side needs to revolve around this question of what intelligence should be made public and how should you do it.
REHMAre you suggesting there that voting mechanisms themselves may have been targeted?
GALANTEI'm not. What was the overriding question into October, up to election day, was how do we get the understanding that Russia and based on the October 7 statement by the director of national intelligence, that the Kremlin itself is orchestrating a clear operation against U.S. democracy and against this election, how do you get that warning in the minds of the right officials.
GALANTENow that's different than how do you protect a voting system, but it was all part of this question of how do we defend the legitimacy of this election.
HILLYes, this is obviously the big question that is on everybody's minds about whether this might have tipped -- tipped the balance. I think as David Sanger started us off, which was really an excellent analysis here, that probably the motivations and goals of the people who were wanting to tip this false -- and orchestrating this operation changed over time as things seemed to be more possible.
HILLThe way that the Russian intelligence community works, and many other community -- intelligence communities work, is they have contingencies. So, you know, they may have a broad set of goals. It's perfectly legitimate in their view for the Russian intelligence to try to do something like this, but they can't always reasonably expect that there will be opportunities there to go as far as, you know, in this case we think they may have gone, and those opportunities presented themselves as the campaign opened up.
HILLHowever, anything that they may have done in terms of releasing this information or encouraging the release of this information through WikiLeaks or the circulating of fake news, which is another aspect of this that we haven't really touched on yet, they could only have hoped to have some kind of marginal influence on the outcome.
HILLI mean, I think if we're looking at recounts and everything else that's going on, it's going to be impossible to say whether they had any kind of influence in the outcome of the vote. The reason that they've taken on such a larger prominence is because this was such a close election. Under normal circumstances, there wouldn't have been any hope of having this kind of impact just in people's imaginations and minds.
REHMOn the other hand Donald Trump said yesterday he was elected by a landslide.
HILLWell he was certainly elected by the system, the electoral system and by winning the Electoral College, the popular vote is another matter, but what we're talking about here is what they tried to do to discredit the election. I think that's what David is saying, and this is what Laura is saying, which is very important. For them, the win-win, the contingency, was to make the U.S. electoral system look very bad, and now the fact that we're having this debate is another win because we're now asking ourselves about the legitimacy of integrity of not just our electoral system but also a political system.
HILLAnd for intelligence operators on the other side, who continue to see and have seen for a very long time the United States as their main opponent, the idea that they could discredit 17 intelligence agencies just at the drop of a hat must be an incredible sense of victory for them.
REHMAll right, and then in another, related event, President-elect Trump is expect to choose Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. He has strong ties to Putin. Do you expect Donald Trump to move forward with this appointment, and do you believe that the Senate would confirm considering now all this new information?
SANGERWell it's not a done deal, but it seemed this weekend to be pretty close to a done deal. And very frequently we've discovered with President-elect Trump that they sort of drop the names out and watch what the reaction is to measure whether or not this is viable candidate. That happened with Rudy Giuliani, and he pulled himself out of it. We're not quite sure what's happened with Mitt Romney, who we were told is still in the race, but if he was going to pick Mitt Romney, my sense is he would have done so by now, and Mitt Romney certainly wouldn't have had any problem getting passed by the Senate.
SANGERI suspect that Rex Tillerson will also pass fairly easily through the Senate, but I think it will be a rougher set of hearings. Senator McCain has already said that he wants to examine the relationships with Russia and so forth. Now if you've been at Exxon-Mobil and its predecessor Exxon for 41 years, it means you've dealt with a lot of pretty nasty dictators because it just happens to be the way the world works that land has oil underneath it frequently has dictators on top of it, and those two are related for all kinds of reasons that Fiona can describe much better than I can.
SANGERSo it's not surprising that he has gone out and dealt with these people, and I think that's one of the big attractions to Donald Trump. The question is can he move from thinking about the interests of Exxon-Mobil to thinking about human rights interests, other diplomatic interests of the United States.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And joining us now by phone from Washington, D.C., Andrei Sitov. He's the Washington bureau chief for Itar-Tass News Agency of Russia. Thanks for joining us.
MR. ANDREI SITOVThank you for having me, Diane, it's a pleasure and a privilege as always.
REHMThank you. What do you make of the reporting that the CIA concluded Russia intervened in the 2016 election in order to help Donald Trump?
SITOVFrankly, Diane, I don't think it's good enough just citing your own intelligence services. We remember the quote-unquote proof that the intelligence provided for the war in Iraq, which now everybody agrees was disastrous. So I think they need to do better than that. If they have proof, let them produce it.
REHMSo you feel there -- the intelligence agencies are simply saying these things without any underlying proof?
SITOVI have no way of knowing that, of course....
REHMWell, but of course it...
SITOVWhat my guess would be, Diane, would be that they are saying the things that they are saying under political pressure from the White House, like it was the case with Iraq. And when I was talking, for example, to a former senior executive with the FBI, he described to me how very unhappy the rank and file at the FBI were with how the (word?) investigations were handled. So in a way it is not entirely impossible to imagine that they could leak.
SITOVSo like Donald Trump has said many times, it could be Russia, it could be China, it could be a guy in New Jersey.
REHMDo you think Russian President Vladimir Putin is happy that Donald Trump is the president-elect?
SITOVI think he probably is. He has said many times that given a choice between two individuals, one of whom seems to be with a friendly disposition, it is natural to pick that individual not in the sense of helping him because, again as President Putin has said many times, it is ridiculous to think that Russia first would be capable of influencing the election in the United States and second of all that it would want to because it is not our job, it is dangerous.
SITOVYou know, if I may digress here for a second, I find this strange. I find this -- that generally speaking Russia bashing is understandable. Whenever Russia begins to stand up for its interests, whenever Russia begins to be winning like it is winning now in Syria for example, then the people in Washington start -- at the official podiums start foaming at the mouth. The never -- they never...
REHMAll right, and let me, if I may just interrupt. We have a few seconds left. Of course in the past, Russia has denied any involved in cyberattacks. How come the Kremlin has not commented on this latest report?
REHMFrom the CIA.
SITOVThey've said many times the same thing, America is no banana republic, we do not interfere. No one has produced any proof whatsoever that the Russian government is involved, and....
REHMAll right, we'll have to leave it at that. Andrei Sitov, Washington bureau chief for Itar-Tass News Agency of Russia, thanks for joining us.
SITOVThank you, Diane.
REHMShort break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. First to Stokely, in Matlacha, Fla. You're on the air.
STOKELYThank you so much for taking my call.
STOKELYI wanted to ask, isn't it ironic that Mr. Trump spent the last half of his campaign saying the system is rigged, insinuating that it was rigged in Hillary's behalf and when proof comes that may prove that it was rigged he's saying it wasn't rigged.
GALANTEI think there is certainly some irony to that. What is so insidious and so powerful about what the Russians are trying to perpetrate with what will be considered an informational warfare activity or information confrontation, kind of a more direct translation -- is that this is about more than just hacking systems and releasing documents. This is how do you have an impact that has a psychological effect on a specific audience. And how do you have a sort of opportunistic moment and use the scenario at hand to have the greatest outcome for your political or your intelligence goals.
GALANTEAnd that's what we've seen Russia actively say for years. And even last week, with the release of their new information security doctrine, it's a stated Russian government goal to figure out the best way to operate in this space that can kind of be short-handed as winning hearts and minds. But they have active operations, and have for years, and capability around this to really harness this tool. And we had the perfect storm with this election to do that in a way that didn't even require a, you know, bits and bytes level Election Day disaster to have an effect on this election and to really question the legitimacy of the vote.
REHMTo Michael in Birmingham, Ala. You're on the air.
MICHAELHi, Diane. I'd just like to start off by saying that I'm a pretty non-liberal or conservative. I'm pretty down the middle. And I work in IT field at a major ISP in America. And I've looked into this whole Russian hacking thing. And the only proof that I've seen is a Russian IP address, Russian language used in it and the time zones that it was released.
MICHAELI'd just like to say that in the internet security field and IP address means literally nothing when it comes to tracking somebody or some kind of proof when it comes to accusing somebody. I just think it's very -- it's just the most fishy thing I've ever seen.
REHMAll right. To Laura.
GALANTEIt's a great question. And the claim that's getting made here is not one based on a single piece of evidence. It's not just how do we track the infrastructure, the IPs where this is coming from or do the tools have Russian language setting or were they compiled in Moscow. It's the totality of the evidence that is at hand to make an intelligence assessment.
GALANTEAnd with these groups, with APT or Advanced Persistent Threat 28, which is the name we've called this Russian group who's been behind these hacks this summer, and long-running since '07, it's the combination of their tool use, the specificity of targets, the way that the tools are constructed and then the alignment with what they do to the interests of a specific state. And it becomes very unlikely that sponsorship is anyone but the Russian government.
REHMNow, isn't the CIA or the FBI who are in somewhat of a disagreement over the importance of this information, aren't they going to have to release more information in order for the doubters, the American public to say, well, yeah, this is really important?
SANGERYes, Diane, they are. And we've been in this situation before. I mean, go back to 2003 when President Bush was made to defend his State of the Union Address in which he had said that Saddam Hussain had sought to get uranium in Africa and other statements that he made there. And it all came from a national intelligence estimate that I remember the White House refused to release and refused to release and refused to release. And I remember talking to very senior officials in the White House there.
SANGERAnd I said, look, the political pressure is just gonna grow and grow and grow. And you're gonna do one of two things. You're either gonna release it now and have a really bad, you know, week or so. Or you're gonna, you know, bleed for a while and then release it, which was the path they ultimately chose. Now, in this case I think President Obama and this White House have a strong interest in getting this information out.
SANGERThey're also gonna have to answer, though, to the question, why they reacted so slowly to all of this. Now, they've given a couple of different answers. One is that they did not want to appear to be acting in a partisan way for Secretary Clinton. A second answer they've given is that they didn't want to get into a cyber escalation cycle with the Russians that they couldn't get off of. In other words, had we done a cyberattack back and the Russians could have hacked on Election Day and so forth.
SANGERSo they had good reasons for -- what they viewed as good reasons for holding back. But I hear a lot of regret these days in the White House on this issue. And perhaps…
REHMThat they didn't come out sooner?
SANGERThat they -- that's right.
HILLBut this is always a dilemma, I think, actually for any organization that's involved in this kind of analysis. Particularly when it's so sensitive, you also want to make sure that you've got all the proof you have. Precisely because of the very valid and justified questions that all of our callers are having. If you're, you know, one individual like our other caller works in IT and you're doing some research yourself, you'll find certain bits of evidence. You know, for some, you know, people like Laura and David and I, you know, out there in the private sector now, you know, we have teams available to us, but we don't have the ability to put all of this together.
HILLAnd I think, you know, the other thing that the White House has to do is they have to try to find out the judgment of all of these intelligence agencies together. Usually these assessments require bringing representatives of all 17 agencies to put forward on the table about what is the information that they have and then to thrash these out. And they probably didn't feel very comfortable at time to have that high confidence that they have now stated.
HILLIt takes time to do really good assessments. And the lessons from the past show that when you rush these or when you hurry them precisely because of political motivation, because you want to get ahead of a policy decision that you've led, that's when you really get problems and when the evidence can be faulted. But I think that now indeed there will be a great deal of regret because now we're getting into a situation where we're gonna have to make some very hard choices. And on the cyber escalation, the Russians…
REHMWhat kind of choices?
HILLWell, we're going to have see, you know, how much Congress can push this forward. There may have to be some major hearings where an awful lot of people will be brought in behind closed doors to allow out, you know, what they knew and when they knew it, which has happened on numerous other similar occasions. But we're also going to have to figure out what we want to do with the Russians.
HILLThe Russians have been pushing, in fact, for a new agreement, a big treaty. You know, forget arms contrail of the past, they now want one on cyber security. This, I think, has been, to be honest, a major motivation for this. I mean, irrespective of Andrei Sitov and others have said the Russian government wants to make sure that we cannot do it to them.
REHMAll right. I want to take a caller in Fort Wayne, Ind. Doug, you're on the air.
DOUGGood morning. I hope everyone's doing well today.
REHMQuite well, please.
DOUGI -- thank you. Good. I have a concern for the media view on this. Has anyone in the media seen any credible evidence to support the alleged involvement of the Russians with anything? I recall Senator McCarthy waving around a list of names that was never produced, WMBs in Iraq, and the majority of Guantanamo Bay being captured on the field of battle, when in truth it was the exact opposite. And we're dealing with an organization whose primary goal in some areas is misinformation, the CIA. And it concerns me deeply that this keeps getting echoed, that Russia was involved -- and perhaps they were, but has anyone seen proof?
SANGERIt's a superb question. And you get at the hardest issue in doing intelligence reporting of any kind. And not just this. I mean, the same issues come up -- came up throughout the Iranian nuclear negotiations, same issues came up in dealing with North Korea and of course, they came up with Iraq, as we've talked about before. So what you have to do is put together a composite picture. We start often with a product of companies like Laura's, FireEye, because that's unclassified data that is available to us.
SANGERWe do a fair bit of interviewing of people in the intelligence community, but also skeptics who remember well and we're burned by faulty intelligence in the past. Intelligence gathering is not a science. It is an art. It is full of mistakes. And we go into it recognizing that. That said, at the end of the day you've got to sort of put together the preponderance of the evidence you have assembled and that's where we are.
REHMI want to turn a question to Laura because you were previously a cyber-threat intelligence analyst at the Department of Defense. You are not with the media, but have you seen evidence?
GALANTEWe have. In 2014, we profiled this group that we believed is sponsored by the Russian government. And the reason we did it was there were such swirling conversations about the Russian capability in cyberspace. And we called it a little bit of the boogey man theory, both on the government side and on the private side, to say is there proof that the Russians are actually doing this or do we have to keep thinking they're so good that no one can see it. And that motivated our interests in exposing this so that people could understand the reason we had to believe that there was a capable group with tools and targeting that indicated sponsorship by the Russian government.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Laura, do you believe that FireEye knows as much as what the intelligence agencies know?
GALANTEI would hope not. With 17 intelligence agencies and the authorities to have intelligence gathering in a much more open way, or I guess closed way, but with additional means, you know, is the reason why the intelligence communities' assessments are a full understanding or the best understanding that our government has of specific national security issues. And that is the reason why we have this concept of all-source intelligence analysis, which is what the assessment at hand from Friday that's getting discussed is the product of.
GALANTESo how do you put together the information at hand to answer an intelligence question? This is the work of the community. And they're not looking to do this in a way that either politicizes their end goal or frame the question based on the evidence. They're truly trying to say, what data do we have available and what is the most likely conclusion that we can draw from that information. And that is the -- those are the legs of the table that is the intelligence assessment process.
REHMHere's an email from Christine, who says, "I heard it said not long ago that Russian hackers were also involved in swaying the British Brexit vote. Is there any evidence of this? And if so, how is Britain approaching this?" Fiona?
HILLIn the British case it's been somewhat different. There wasn't really a hacking per se and the revealing of emails in the way that we've heard here and looks like is going to happen in Germany, as they go into their electoral campaign next year, which already there's been this public warning about. What we saw in the case of Brexit was a kind of amplification through the Russian media of the case for leaving the EU, especially through the person of Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party.
HILLNigel Farage frequently appeared on RT, Russian Television, he was frequently seen in the Russian media that plays back in the international arena. And there was also, again, quite a bit of the Russian media and people around the Kremlin, but not in the Kremlin. There was no -- there was nothing that Vladimir Putin himself actually specifically did or said. This has to be very clear. He was somewhat maligned also in this debate, to be honest, unfairly because he personally didn't say anything.
HILLBut plenty of people and commentators in circles, you know, outside of the Kremlin, certainly made noises, emphasizing about the risks of the European Union and, you know, discrediting some of the European Union positions. So it wasn't quite the smoking gun or the kinds of attempts to interfere that we've seen in the ISIS states and elsewhere.
REHMAll right. One last call, to Mark in Ferndale, Mich. You're on the air.
MARKYes, hi, Diane. If the Russian cyberattack is proven, as the earlier guest you had seems to be asking for, Putin being formal head of the KGB, what, if any, actions can the Electoral College take to remedy this or is this Electoral College vote a foregone conclusion? I'd also like to know if the Hamilton Clause in this case would be enacted and any retaliation the United States may take against the government of Russia.
SANGERSo on the first question, the Electoral College -- and they meet imminently and none of these…
SANGERDecember 19th. And they will not -- we won't have investigative results by then. But as we discussed earlier in the show, I haven't run across many people who suggest that you could quantify how this would move the votes or even that it would have resulted in a different outcome. So I think these investigations are about something different. They're about understanding what Russia's motives were, what they would be in future elections, how this could affect the elections in Germany, in France, certainly in Eastern Europe in coming times.
SANGERAnd how you rethink the nature of American cybersecurity so that we're not just thinking about what happens if someone turns off the power grid or the cellphone network or whatever, which has been where most of the effort has been, and to think about the combination of cyber and influence operations, which is what caught America unawares in this case.
REHMI do find myself wondering, however, if new information actually does come from these intelligence agencies, isn't that going to, in the least, undermine the belief in the office of the presidency with Donald Trump at the helm?
SANGERWell, that certainly would be Vladimir Putin's objective, but this is Fiona's territory.
HILLWell, I think that's absolutely right. I mean, I think that, you know, when we were talking about earlier why would they do this and could they reasonably expect they could determine the outcome. I think, again, they have this whole spectrum of contingencies, but the ultimate goal is to discredit the system. So I think it's incumbent upon us not to let them do that. Which is why we need to have what Mitch McConnell is saying to do, a proper Congressional investigation into this. This is absolutely the right thing to do.
REHMFiona Hill of the Brookings Institution, Laura Galante of FireEye, David Sanger of The New York Times, thank you all so much.
HILLThank you, Diane.
SANGERThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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