MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It was Aug. 25, 2016 - four years ago today. The head of the CIA was briefing Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, one of a series of urgent classified briefings that month to the most senior lawmakers in Congress. The message - that Russia was actively working to elect Donald Trump president. Well, here we are, four years later to the day, and U.S. intelligence is publicly warning that Russia is still at it, now actively working to reelect Donald Trump as president.
This anniversary of sorts seemed a good moment to take stock. And to do that, we've called someone who was in the room, who led countless classified briefings on Russia in the runup to and the aftermath of the 2016 vote. Mike Rogers ran the National Security Agency and commanded U.S. Cyber Command for President Obama and then stayed on to serve President Trump.
Admiral, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
MIKE ROGERS: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you today.
KELLY: So let's look back before we look ahead. Four years ago exactly, how much did we know about what Russia was up to?
ROGERS: We collectively - the intelligence community and the United States government, we had an awareness that the Russians had been attempting to penetrate the computer systems, the networks of political parties in the United States. And by the summer of '16, collectively, we, the U.S. intelligence community, had come to a conclusion that we were dealing with a systematic effort on the part of the Russians to attempt to, through cyber and disinformation, largely through social media, but using those capabilities to influence the outcome of the U.S. election.
KELLY: Did we do enough to try to stop them?
ROGERS: Well, I think, in fairness to everybody involved, while we had some level of knowledge in the summer of 2016, we didn't fully appreciate the social media and the disinformation side, just how aggressive it was and how much resources the Russians were really putting into this side of the effort. We had some appreciation, but I don't think we really fully understood the magnitude.
KELLY: Is there something specific as you look back, with the benefit of hindsight, that you think - I wish we'd done that?
ROGERS: I wish we had taken, broadly, more action prior to the election itself. Once we saw in the fall that Putin - after President Obama spoke to him in late September, in my memory, it's about probably two months, a month and a half before the election - as we saw that in the aftermath this activity wasn't stopping, I wish we had taken more direct, more public action sooner as opposed to doing so after the election itself.
KELLY: That's two different things - more direct meaning playing hardball with the Russians, engaging at their level and then more public meaning sharing more with Americans?
ROGERS: I would say enacting a price, making them pay a price for the behavior as part of that.
KELLY: Do you think Putin, then or now, did pay much of a price for interfering?
ROGERS: The way I would look at it is, I think, as he looks back, it was good effort. It was a good investment. And it was probably more effective than the Russians had anticipated in some ways.
KELLY: Is your sense that he paid enough of a price to give him serious pause about doing so again?
ROGERS: I would argue, not enough that's made him stop. I will say the 2020 dynamic is a little different in some ways than 2016.
KELLY: Such as?
ROGERS: So first on our side - on the U.S. side, I thought that the U.S. government team, broadly, did a good job of ensuring internally and, I would argue, by extension, externally in the aftermath of the 2016 election. There's much more general awareness, both within the public and at a government level. There's been increased government focus on attempting to ensure both our electoral-associated systems are much more able to be resistant to attempts to penetrate, manipulate or extract from them. There has been much greater dialogue and much greater awareness working with social media companies to say, look; we need to have a greater sense of what is true, what is not true.
So I would just say, broadly, there's a much greater awareness and a much greater set of activities ongoing to ensure that the 2020 election process isn't as impacted or, you know, the Russians don't have the same success, if you will.
KELLY: A big-picture question - did Russia, did Putin succeed in 2016 from the point of view of...
ROGERS: I don't know.
KELLY: ...If the goal was to sow chaos and doubt and divide Americans? And here we are in 2020, divided and fearful about the integrity of this upcoming election.
ROGERS: So remember - we saw this strategy in 2016. We believe this strategy was designed to do several things. It was designed to undermine our institutions, weaken our political will and fracture us as a society. And the Russians didn't create these fractures. They didn't create these divisions. Rather, they studied us. They identified these fractions, if you will, these areas of conflict. And they poured gasoline on them...
KELLY: And amplified them...
ROGERS: ...By assuming identities, by manipulating imagery, by manipulating information, by attempting to inflame our citizens' views on different issues. So you definitely saw them do that. And you have to give them credit. I think there was some measure of effectiveness. How much? I don't know.
KELLY: But I guess my question is, can you draw a direct line from where we are today back to 2016 and say - you know what? - they set out with a goal, and here we are; they achieved it?
ROGERS: I would say the goal continues. I haven't seen any lessening of commitment to achieving that goal, you know, weakening our institutions, to appear - again, I don't know the data, but based on the comments - to, again, you know, desire a particular outcome. You're seeing a consistency over time. And in fact, it predates the 2016 election in some ways. You see a commitment on their part.
Putin isn't - clearly, I think the lesson to be drawn is, we have yet to be able to change their calculations to make them decide that engaging in these kinds of behaviors are not in their best interest and that they - the Russians, particularly - will pay an excessive price, one that leads them to believe, we should stop doing this. We clearly have not seen that.
KELLY: Admiral Rogers, thank you for your time.
ROGERS: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.
KELLY: That is Mike Rogers. He ran the National Security Agency and commanded U.S. Cyber Command under President Trump and, before that, under President Obama.
(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL T.'S "MISSION HILL MORNING")
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