Wave Of Congressional Probes Into Cyber Threats Set To Begin
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The question of whether Russia tried to interfere in this country's presidential election is consuming much of Washington today. At the White House, President Obama is getting briefed on the so-called Russia Report. This is the report he ordered his spy agencies to write, laying out what they know about election year cyber meddling.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Congress has begun its investigations into the alleged hack. And right now, the Senate Armed Services Committee is about 90 minutes into the first public hearing on this matter. And NPR's Mary Louise Kelly is there and is on the line.
Mary Louise, good morning.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: Just paint us a picture of the scene over there on The Hill. I mean, this is a big moment, the nation's intelligence chiefs speaking in public - what are they saying?
KELLY: Well, it's a packed hearing room. And, for example, the head of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers, this is the first time he has spoken, at all, in public since November. So we were - the journalists sitting around the room were noticing, as it got under way, I think the reporters are outnumbering the senators by about 10 to 1 in this hearing room (laughter)...
GREENE: Which happens at big hearings sometimes, yeah.
KELLY: Yeah. We're all placing bets on how many times Russia will get mentioned, just that word, in this hearing. I lost count after the first couple dozen, but we're probably up around 200 now.
GREENE: Well, if the word is coming up that much, are we learning anything new?
KELLY: No bombshells so far. The headline from the written statements is probably this. This is a joint statement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and the other other intelligence officials testifying, and it reads, I'll quote you, "Russia is a full-scope cyber actor that poses a major threat to U.S. government military, diplomatic, commercial and critical infrastructure." They went on and testified about this. Let me let you hear a little bit. This is the director of National Intelligence, Clapper, speaking to senators just a few minutes ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAMES CLAPPER: Russia has clearly assumed an even more aggressive cyber posture by increasing cyber espionage operations, leaking data stolen from these operations and targeting critical infrastructure systems.
KELLY: And I will add that shortly after he said that, Clapper got asked about motive. This question of, why Russia was doing this? And the first time, if I'm not mistaken, first time we heard an intelligence official on the record say they are ascribing a motive to Putin, that Putin was involved here. But he didn't want to get into details in this - in an open hearing.
GREENE: That Putin was involved. I mean, that is something that Clapper said...
KELLY: We have not heard that on the record before.
GREENE: OK. Well, the senators, obviously, speaking as well. Senator John McCain is the chair of the committee. And he asked, first, about Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. And we should say, he's back in the headlines because Donald Trump has been tweeting about him and using Assange to cast doubt on the case that Russia was behind this. How is Assange's involvement playing out there?
KELLY: A lot of questions about Assange. I just stepped out a moment ago to come speak to you. I'm right outside the hearing room. And Senator Claire McCaskill was going to town on the Assange question as I was walking out...
GREENE: This is the Democrat from Missouri, we should say, right?
KELLY: Indeed. And Arizona Republican, John McCain, who does indeed chair the committee and did indeed kick off the questioning, started by asking about this. Assange is back in the news, we should note because he has said, yet again, just two nights ago on Fox News, that WikiLeaks, his organization, did not get the leaked Democratic emails from the Russian government. He won't say where they got them, but he says it wasn't the Russian government.
President-elect Trump has seized on that. He has been tweeting about it and questioning, yet again, whether Russia was behind the hack. So let me let you hear a bit of the exact exchange because it was just a few minutes ago. Here's Senator McCain.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN MCCAIN: General Clapper, I just have to mention, the name Mr. Assange has it popped up. And I believe that he is the one who's responsible for publishing names of individuals that work for us, that put their lives in direct danger. Is that correct?
CLAPPER: Yes, he has.
MCCAIN: And do you think that there's any credibility we should attach to this individual, given his record of...
CLAPPER: Not in my view.
MCCAIN: Not in your view. Admiral Rogers?
MICHAEL S. ROGERS: I would second those comments.
KELLY: So, David, that's again, Senator McCain questioning there, Jim Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, and NSA director Mike Rogers. And Clapper went on to repeat this, that Julian Assange has put U.S. lives in direct danger. So pushing back hard there at these tweets that we've seen from Donald Trump.
GREENE: You know, this would be an extraordinary day on Capitol Hill alone. We also have what is happening at the White House, this intelligence report on Russia being delivered to President Obama today. Are we going to know what's in there? Is that going to be made public at some point?
KELLY: It will, not today. President Obama has received it, we're told. It's been delivered to the White House, he is getting briefed on it. He gets it first because he ordered it. Tomorrow, in New York, at Trump Tower, President-elect Trump will get the exact same briefing. And according to two U.S. officials who I have spoken to, the declassified public version, which we assume will be a lot shorter, will be delivered Monday afternoon. So we'll all get a chance to see it then.
GREENE: OK, so Donald Trump getting briefed tomorrow - can we just be very, very clear here, Mary Louise, President Obama, President-elect Donald Trump will be getting the same version of this report.
KELLY: Right. They will be getting the same report, the same top-classified - top-secret, classified version of the report. And interesting how it will be delivered. As I mentioned, it will be in Trump Tower tomorrow. The four biggest guns in U.S. intelligence will all be in that room - the head of the CIA, head of the FBI, head of the NSA, who is here testifying today, and, again, DNI Jim Clapper who's here testifying in the Senate today, all headed up to New York.
That is because Donald Trump asked for that. He asked to be briefed by the leaders of the intelligence community. It also, given how much we have heard in terms of Trump doubting, criticizing even mocking the intelligence agencies, it gives them a chance to present a united front and try to persuade him, we know what we're talking about.
GREENE: OK. That is NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, who's following the Armed Services Committee hearing on Russia and that alleged hack at the Senate on a day when President Obama is receiving a report on the Russia - Russia and the alleged attack from the intelligence officials, today, as well, at the White House. Mary Louise, thanks.
KELLY: You're welcome.
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