CIA chief addresses ‘doubters’ of Russian hacking report

All videos by PBS NewsHour

Outgoing CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday that those who doubt the connection between Russia and the hacking of Democratic Party email accounts, leading up to November’s election, should take a look at the forthcoming intelligence report “before they make those judgments.”

President-elect Donald Trump, among others, has questioned the assessment that Russia is behind the hacking, citing past intelligence community mistakes, including the finding of no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“In the aftermath of that, there was a total review of the review process and the analytic process and the assessments that are done with the intelligence community with a number of steps that were taken to ensure that we’re going to be as accurate as possible,” said Brennan in an exit interview with PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff.

“And so, it’s been light-years since that report on Iraq WMD has been done and there has been tremendous further development, I think, of our analytic capabilities as well as our intelligence-collecting capabilities,” Brennan said.

“I would suggest to individuals that have not yet seen the report, who have not yet been briefed on it, that they wait and see what it is that the intelligence community is putting forward before they make those judgments,” he said.

A joint FBI-Department of Homeland Security report released on Dec. 29 has linked Russian intelligence services to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. President Barack Obama has requested an additional report from the intelligence community.

When Woodruff asked about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s claims that Russia did not hand over the leaked information, Brennan said, “well, he’s not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity.”

On Syria, Brennan said “no one could have envisioned” the developments in the war-wracked country over the past few years, including the growth of the Islamic State group.

“When I look back in light of the way things evolved, I think there could have been some adjustments to some of the policies – not just by the United States – but by other countries in order to address this question earlier on and not allow” Islamic State and al-Qaida fighters to gain momentum and take advantage of the destruction of the country, he said.

In terms of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, Brennan said, “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 wellbeing and welfare of its people, who are impoverished; and for [Kim Jong-un] not to be able to continue to invest in the military capability that is only leading to North Korea’s continuing isolation.”

Could North Korea strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon, Woodruff asked. “The fact that he has the ballistic missile capability and he has said that he’s going on the continental side of it and he has a nuclear capability, to me, that’s too close,” Brennan said.

Woodruff also asked Brennan about the vulnerability of Trump’s buildings abroad. “In this day and age when there are so many ways to damage building, infrastructure, systems and networks, they need to put in place the appropriate safeguards to protect themselves from these types of attacks,” he said.

When Woodruff asked, in light of Trump’s recent criticisms of the intelligence community, “has the well already been poisoned?” Brennan responded that “nothing is soured, at this point.”

“I’ve told our folks, just focus on your work and look forward to the opportunity to brief the incoming team,” he said.

Trump has chosen Mike Pompeo, a Republican congressman from Kansas, to take Brennan’s place under his administration. Brennan said his successor will encounter numerous complex issues and that he plans to help with the transition just as the George W. Bush administration helped him.

Watch Part 1 of Woodruff’s interview with Brennan on Tuesday’s broadcast. Part 2 airs on Wednesday.