What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Part 2 — John Brennan on what his CIA successor needs to worry about

Read the Full Transcript


    We return now to my conversation with CIA Director John Brennan.

    Last night, we focused largely on allegations of Russian hacking of U.S. political operations during the election and the war in Syria.

    Tonight, we begin with concerns raised by European intelligence officials about possible Russian intrusion in upcoming elections there, and whether Director Brennan believes the U.S. is facing a new Cold War with Russia.

  • JOHN BRENNAN, Director, Central Intelligence Agency:

    Well, I certainly hope not.

    And I certainly hope that, looking out over the next several years, the relationship between Moscow and Washington improves, because it is critically important for global stability for the United States and Russia to have a better relationship, absolutely, and so I fully endorse that.

    However, we see that there are still a lot of actions that Russia is undertaking that undermine the principles of democracy in so many countries. What has happened in our recent election is not new. The Russians have engaged in trying to manipulate elections in Europe for a number of years.

    We see that they take advantage of corrupt politicians. They will fund the parties and groups that support their aims. And so there's active exploitation and manipulation of the political processes.


    But some now have the sense that this will all improve under a President Trump, that this may have just been a feature of the Obama administration.


    Oh, I don't think it was a feature of the Obama administration. I think it was more a feature of the Putin administration in terms of what the Russians have been doing over the last eight years, and certainly before that.

    This is not to say that we cannot find ways to be able to work together, the United States and Russia. Again, I think it's critically important that we do. And maybe now, with a new administration, there will be opportunities to do that. I certainly hope so.

    But the facts are that the Russians tried to interfere in our electoral process recently, and were actively involved in that. And that is something that we can't countenance, because, as you point out, there are a number of countries in Europe that are going to be having elections in this year, whether it be Germany, France, and others.

    And I must tell you, there is level of anxiety among my European counterparts about what the Russians might have up their sleeve in order to promote their objectives in these electoral processes.


    One other question about the president-elect and the intelligence community.

    He has been very critical of parts of the intelligence community. Has the well already been poisoned before he takes office between him and the CIA, which he has been particularly critical of? What are your colleagues saying to you about that?


    The professionals at the CIA are very much looking forward to having the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, their capabilities to the incoming administration, president-elect, vice president-elect, and others.

    And so every time there's a transition, the CIA recognizes that it has a special responsibility and obligation to make sure those who have our national security in their hands are going to be as best informed and as enlightened as possible about the complexities of world events.

    And so I know there have been a lot of things in the media and the press. And I have told our folks, just focus on your work and look forward to the opportunity to brief the incoming team. So, nothing is soured at this point. And I really do believe that agency officers are ready and looking forward to this opportunity.


    A few other important parts of the world I want to ask you about.

    North Korea, over the weekend, its leader, Kim Jong-un, said that his country is — quote — "finalizing preparations of a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile," which one assumes would mark — well, would mark an advance in Korea's attempt to build a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States.

    Are the North Koreans as far along as it sounds like they are? How much should the United States, should the incoming president be concerned about it?


    I think the incoming administration needs to be very concerned about North Korea.

    They continue to advance their ballistic missile capability, and as Kim Jong-un said, even at the intercontinental ballistic range. They continue to develop their nuclear program in terms of having nuclear capability that they could then marry with a ballistic missile. And that would be a threat and is a threat to regional states, as well as potentially to the U.S. homeland.

    Obviously, the trajectory that Pyongyang has been on over the past two decades, to include the last number of years under Kim Jong-un, has not been a good path. And we, the United States, along with our partners and allies around the world, to include China, which has an extraordinary amount of influence on North Korea, we need to work together to change that trajectory, so that North Korea doesn't pose that threat to regional stability, as well as to global stability.


    Your administration has, in effect, celebrated the nuclear agreement with Iran, holding off Iran's ability to have a breakout capability when it comes to nuclear weapons.

    Does North Korea represent a failure in that regard?


    Well, North Korea has been embarked on this for the last couple of decades, it's clear.

    And there have been a number of steps taken to try to prevent its continued march along this path in terms of sanctions and international program and criticism and isolation of North Korea. But Kim Jong-un and his father and grandfather before him were on this path.

    And it's a — it's an unfortunate failure of the international community to find a way to bring North Korea to its senses, so that it can focus on the health and well-being and welfare of its people, who are impoverished, and for him not to be able to continue to invest in a military capability that is only leading to North Korea's continued isolation.


    How close is North Korea to being able to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon?


    To me, the fact that he has a ballistic missile capability and he has said that he is going on the intercontinental side of it, and he has a nuclear capability, to me, that's too close.


    And what does that mean? I mean…


    It means that we cannot be — we shouldn't feel comfortable with the continued military capabilities and the growth of those capabilities in North Korea. That needs to be addressed.


    What should President-elect Trump, once he's in office, and your successor, Congressman now Mike Pompeo, be lying awake worrying about in the months to come, more than anything else?


    Well, I think it's all these things.

    It's trying to make sure that they understand the complexities of the various challenges that are out there, whether you're talking about a Ukraine or Iraq or Syria or North Korea or any of the issues we deal with cyber and terrorism. These are complex and complicated issues.

    And they're not — they don't lend themselves to easy and simple solutions. And also, in my experience, the past five, eight years or so, the number of these challenges continues to go up. And so it's not just complexities of these issues. It's the simultaneity of it.

    And the United States is the global superpower, remains so. And what they need to worry about is how are they going to ensure that they're able to monitor what's going on around the world, protect U.S. national security interests, not overcommit, and also make sure that the policy course that they stake out is one that has near-term interests in mind, but also longer-term strategic goals and objectives of the United States.


    Do you believe they're up to that challenge?


    I believe that any administration that comes in, I think, sometimes is taken aback by the scope, the scale, the complexity of the problems.

    I was part of the incoming Obama administration, and I had served in government before. And I must tell you, once you have that responsibility, it's rather daunting.


    And where will John Brennan be?


    I will be on the sidelines, will be finishing up on Inauguration Day. And this is the absolute best job that I could ever imagine. And so this will be my last job in government.

    But I will be doing what I can to support our national security from the sidelines.


    John Brennan, the director of the CIA, thank you very much for joining us.


    Thank you, Judy. Thank you.


    And you can watch my entire interview with Director Brennan at PBS.org/NewsHour.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest