Senator Collins Presses Intelligence Community Leaders to Secure Elections Ahead of 2018 Midterm Elections

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing held today by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that examined worldwide security threats to our nation, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Committee, urged intelligence community leaders to protect the United States against foreign interference in our electoral process.

 

Senator Collins noted that Russian actors have repeatedly attempted to undermine Western democracies, and she stressed that action must be taken to ensure the integrity of our elections, particularly ahead of the 2018 midterm elections in November.  Senator Collins questioned Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who oversees the United States’ 17 intelligence agencies and organizations, on Russia’s attempts to influence elections in the U.S. and among our NATO allies.

 

“We have had a lot of discussion this morning about Russian attempts, which are ongoing, to influence elections and western democracies, to undermine NATO, and to try to destroy institutions in our country and elsewhere,” said Senator Collins.  “This is an election year in our country, and it's frankly frustrating to me that we haven't passed legislation to help states strengthen the security of their voting systems. What is your assessment of whether or not the Russians are actively engaged in trying to influence [Latvia’s upcoming] election, and how concerned is the intelligence community that they might be successful in producing a government that is very sympathetic to Russia’s foreign policy objectives?"

 

“Not only are we concerned, the 29 nations of NATO are concerned,” responded DNI Coats.  “Any elections that are coming up…we need to assume there might be interference with that, particularly from the Russians, and maybe from some other maligned actors. And steps need to be taken to work with state and federal officials because many of these elections in an off year will be state and local..."

 

“The more transparency we can provide to the American people, to people of nations that see this threat coming, the better off we will be,” DNI Coats continued.  “Obviously, we have to take other measures, but we need to inform the American public that this is real, this is going to be happening, and the resilience needed for us to stand up and say we won't allow some Russian to tell us how to vote, how to run our country.”

 

Last December, Senator Collins joined a group of bipartisan senators in introducing the Secure Elections Act, a bill to strengthen election cybersecurity in America and protect against foreign interference in future elections.

 

Witnesses for today’s hearing included:

 

  • Director Daniel R. Coats, Director of National Intelligence (DNI)
  • Director Michael Pompeo, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • Director Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA)
  • Director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
  • Director Chris Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Director Robert Cardillo, Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

 

The full transcript of Senator Collins’ Q&A with hearing witnesses follows:

 

SEN. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Director Pompeo, last week The New York Times published a report that alleged that U.S. intelligence officials had paid $100,000 to a Russian source for phony secrets, including potentially compromising information about the president and information on certain tools allegedly stolen from the NSA. First, is it accurate that the CIA has categorically denied the assertions in this story? And second, if so, what would be the motivations of a Russian who peddled this story to The New York Times and other western media outlets? Is this part of the Russian campaign to undermine faith in western democracies?

 

DIRECTOR POMPEO: Senator Collins, first, let me say thanks for the question. Reporting on this matter has been atrocious. It's been ridiculous. Totally inaccurate. In our view, the suggestion the CIA was swindle is false. The people who were swindled were James Rice and Matt Rosenberg, the authors of those two pieces. Indeed, it is our view that the same two people who were proffering phony information to the United States government proffered the phony information to these two reporters. The Central Intelligence Agency did not provide any resources, no money, to these two individuals who proffered U.S. government information directly or indirectly at any time. And, the information that we were working to try and retrieve was information that we believed might well have been stolen from the U.S. government. It was unrelated to this idea of “kompromat” that appears in each of those two articles.

 

COLLINS: Thank you. Director Wray, the president has repeatedly raised concerns about current and former FBI leaders and has alleged corruption and political bias in the performance of the FBI’s law enforcement and national security missions. I want to give you the opportunity today to respond to those criticisms. What is your reaction?

 

DIRECTOR WRAY: Well Senator, I would say that my experience now six months in with the FBI has validated all my prior experiences with the FBI, which is that it is the finest group of professionals and public servants I could hope to work for. And every day many, many, many, many times a day, I’m confronted with unbelievable examples of integrity and professionalism and grit. You know, there are 37,000 people in the FBI who do unbelievable things all around the world, and although you would never know it from watching the news, we actually have more than two investigations, and most of them do a lot to keep Americans safe.

 

COLLINS: Thank you. That's one of the reasons that I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond. Director Coates, we have had a lot of discussion this morning about Russian attempts, which are ongoing, to influence elections and western democracies, to undermine NATO, and to try to destroy institutions in our country and elsewhere. This is an election year in our country and it's frankly frustrating to me that we haven't passed legislation to help states strengthen the security of their voting systems. Putting that issue aside, there will also be an election this year in Latvia, one of our NATO allies. What is your assessment of whether or not the Russians are actively engaged in trying to influence that election, and how concerned is the intelligence community that they might be successful in producing a government that is very sympathetic to Russia’s foreign policy objectives?

 

DIRECTOR COATES: Not only are we concerned, the 29 nations of NATO are concerned. I returned not that long ago from a meeting in Brussels with the intelligence arm of NATO, all 29 nations. The topic was addressed primarily on Russian meddling in elections, in trying to undermine democratic values. At the end of that, the new director of that organization asked for a show of hands or any verbal response from any representatives of the 29 nations if they thought that Russia had not interfered with their processes, and particularly their elections, or had the potential to do so. Not one person raised their hand. He said, so do I understand that we are unanimous in assessing what the Russians are trying to do undermine our elections, to undermine our coordination with the United States and relationships with each other, to undermine the very basic principles of sharing with our European countries, and everything that is accomplished through NATO. So, do I understand that no one has an objection? You all see this for what it is? Dead silent. He said, I take silence to be consent. So, I think that says that this is pervasive that the Russians have a strategy that goes well beyond what's happening here in the United States, even though while they have historically tried to do these things, clearly in 2016 they upped their game. They took advantage, sophisticated advantage, of social media. They're doing that not only in the United States, they're doing that throughout Europe and perhaps elsewhere. I think that sends a very strong signal that any elections that are coming up need to be -- we need to assume there might be interference with that, particularly from the Russians, and maybe from some other maligned actors. And steps need to be taken to work with state and federal officials because many of these elections in an off year will be state and local –governorships, even members of certain of houses of representation within the states themselves. So, it clearly is an issue that is whole of government and whole of -- and I would say this, the more -- we also agreed with this at Brussels and I tried to make the point while I was there -- the more transparency we can provide to the American people, to people of nations that see this threat coming, the better off we will be. Obviously, we have to take other measures, but we need to inform the American public that this is real, this is going to be happening, and the resilience needed for us to stand up and say we’re not going to allow some Russian to tell us how to vote, how we ought to run our country. And I think there needs to be a national cry for that.

 

COLLINS: Thank you, very valuable.