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Transcript: Sen. James Lankford talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

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              MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator Lankford, thanks for joining us today. It's great to have you on the show.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Michael, it's great to be able to have this conversation. Thanks.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

We have at least a couple things in common. One-- and most important is that your mom was an elementary school librarian.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

That is correct--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And my wife is an elementary school librarian. It's an amazingly (LAUGH) important job, as you know, getting kids excited about reading.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It is.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

The other thing we have in common is we both have a podcast. What's your podcast called, and what do you try to do with it?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I just called my podcast, "The Breakdown with James Lankford." And it-- we try to take some of the hard issues of the day and spend a little more time being able to invest in those issues and to say, "Okay, let-- l-- let's talk about something that everyone's talking about in the news in little 30 second pieces, and let's take 20 minutes-- to be able to really go into depth." Because as most people see, I think, on the news-- they see a story, they hear a story, and they think, "There's probably more to that than what it sounds," And there usually is.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. And where can they find that podcast?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

They can just go to Lankford.Senate.gov. That's-- my website, and they can get a chance to be able to find out more information there, and be able to listen. And we do about one a month and just take one of the hard issues of the month. Obviously, this month is gonna be Supreme Court-- because there's a lot about just the selection process, what's happened, and what goes on, be able to break down some of the issues.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, you have a-- fascinating biography. In particular, the more than a decade you spent working with young people in Oklahoma, and I'd love to ask you a couple questions about that. I-- I'm sure the kids learned a great deal from you. What did you learn from them?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

There's a lot you can w-- learn from students, obviously. I worked for about two decades-- before I came to congress with students. That time period, you-- you have the opportunity to be able to learn from families-- listen to students. Students, if you've ever had time to really work with students-- they will ask you anything. They're uninhibited. What they think, they're just going to ask you.

And their main focus is, "Is that real? Is that really the facts? I-- I wanna know more about that." Because they're at that stage of learning and asking questions constantly, and pushing. That's a good thing. So it pushes you to try to just be authentic, not try to put on airs, and to say, "Okay, let-- let's just talk about this-- this is what I understand. This is what I don't understand." And I think if there's anything that students can teach you, it's a little bit of humility.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And they're not burdened by assumptions, right, that build up over life?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

No.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And so they ask you very simple but powerful questions.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

The-- the older we get, the more that we put things into boxes and say, "I've been around someone like you before, so you must be like them," and you immediately put someone in-- in that box, as you described, and say, "You're one of them because I-- I-- you remind me of something from before." With students, they're still building those boxes. And-- so you have the opportunity to be able to say, "Let's have a more open dialogue."

              MICHAEL MORELL:

The other thing I'm wondering about is-- I'm-- I'm sure you still spend time with-- with young people in Oklahoma, and I'm wondering how you talk to them about the ugliness that has become part of our politics. 'Cause certainly, they see that, and how do you try to put that in context for them?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I d-- I do spend a lot of time talking to-- student groups still. When I'm in a community in Oklahoma, I will often meet with several different business groups. I'll meet with the local media. I'll meet with just people on the street and be able to talk about-- I'll sit at a restaurant, and be able to just visit with random people and be able to connect.

And I'll often go to the high school or to a local college and-- just be able to visit with the students and be able to get a feel for that. Most of those folks know me, and from my background, my-- my time working with students was a faith-based work. I'm not ashamed of that. That's a part of who I am, and I think it's for any person-- they can make a decision about their own faith journey.

And-- so they'll ask me questions. "Okay, how do you connect your faith journey with what's happening in DC right now?" That-- that's a very fair question based on what's actually happening, and the noise that's in DC. And I try to remind people-- that what they see on TV all the times is not always what is happening. And I don't mean-- that-- for each individual.

I mean just the constant yelling. Often, on TV, you'll see two or three people yelling at each other all the time, and I try to remind them, that's not everyone in DC. There are people that really are trying to be able to solve the issues. I have a perspective, again, come-- my-- from my faith perspective, that every person's created in the image of God and has value and worth. Every person.

So even people I disagree with, I should be able to disagree with them on an issue, but not belittle them as a person. And so that type of engagement, I think, helps solves problems rather than elevating a problem. There's a difference between putting a fire out and adding gas to a fire.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

What's your sense of what your constituents want of you in this respect? Do they want you to be partisan, or do they want you to be the problem solver and work across the aisle?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I-- I have a running statement that in many states-- especially right now in this time period-- states and areas are either electing carpenters to fix the problem or arsonists to burn the place down. Now, both of them-- a carpenter and arsonist will change the building. They just have very different techniques to do it.

And so I-- I see a lot of times, people will elect someone to say, "I want someone to go in and burn the place down, start all over again. Everybody's gotta get out. Do it entirely different." And I'll have other folks that'll say, "What I really want is someone to go in, get into the details, get in the policy, figure out what the problem is, and then solve the problem and go from there." And that just depends person to person. That's not a political party, either. There are people on both sides of the aisle that like carpenters and arsonists. So it-- it just depends on where people come from.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, a couple of career questions. How did you decide from going-- to go from working with young people to politics?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Yeah, that's-- what my wife calls life's greatest interruption for us. The-- this was never on our career path. And it is one of the things that I tell students all the time. There's no reason the group of students that I'm talking-- that one of those students can't be a senator-- from Oklahoma.

I have no political background. No one in my family was ever in politics. I wasn't even in student council in school, okay? That-- this just wasn't my deal. And I-- I stayed up on the issues. I was in speech and debate from the time I was in fourth grade, actually-- and worked on speech and debate and on policy and issues.

As you mentioned before, my mom was the librarian, and I was the nerdy kid that read the newspaper all the time to be able to dig into the issues. But never assumed I would ever be in politics. But I was always passionate about the issues. But in 2008 and nine, again, coming from my own faith perspective, I really felt compelled to do this.

Now, it wasn't like God spoke some audible voice from the clouds and some booming lightning. It was just this overwhelming sense of, this is what I had to do. And I spent about seven months really struggling with that, saying, the-- this is a crazy transition, because working for a faith-based non-profit to shifting to politics is a pretty big shift. And working from a faith-based non-profit, I understood that if I ran for office, I would have to step down from my job.

I couldn't do both-- because it would put that non-profit at risk. So we prayed it through, my wife and I did, for about seven months and finally came to the decision, I'm gonna be an old man one day telling my grandchildren about the time I didn't follow God, and the things that I really felt compelled to do. So in September of 2009, I resigned my job there and-- spent the next year running for office and living off our savings with-- you ever meet someone who works in youth ministry and with students, that savings is not large. But we spent that time living off our savings, ran for office, I was elected-- seven-way primary, run off-- four weeks after that, and then--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

To the house--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

--general election to the House of Representatives. And was elected to the House, representing central Oklahoma. Four years later, ran for the senate when Dr. Tom Coburn (PH)-- when he stepped down early from his retirement. It caused a special election to happen in the state. We had a five-way race-- for that race, as well. Won that one. Have now served four years in the Senate.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Was there something going on in the country? Was it the direction of the country that you think led to God speaking to you?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

No, you know what? I w-- I wish I could tell you that. There were lots of folks that caught me and said-- when I was elected in 2010, obviously, that was a groundswell election. Lots of new faces-- all over Capitol Hill at that time, and many of them said there was a certain regulation that brought me. There was a certain speech that brought them. There was something else.

And I just had to say, you know what? I really just felt compelled to do this. So there wasn't any one passionate thing I would have to come in and be able work on, other than this overwhelming sense of, I wanna be able to serve. I wanna be able to help.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And then where does the interest in national security come from? Was the service on the Senate Intelligence Committee something you sought out, or how did that work?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

What's interesting is I'd-- I'd served on homeland security issues-- in the House for four years. When I came to the Senate, it's an area that actually sought me. Mitch McConnell came to me and sat down and asked if I would-- consider serving on the Intelligence Committee. The Intelligence Committee in the Senate is a select committee-- meaning it-- it's not one that-- is necessarily seniority-based like other committees are. It's one that the majority leader and the minority leader hand-pick those individuals that go there.

And the criteria they're looking for is obviously, they want people that are gonna study and go into policy issues. They want people that can do their work and do it quietly. You don't wanna have an Intelligence Committee full of people that are politically minded that are gonna go share that information all the time, and you need people that are gonna dig in.

And so he came to me and he said, "I see this characteristic in you. Would you be willing to be able to take this on?" For me, I started then at only a-- national security background from homeland security-- from the House work, but then stepped into it to go to a much deeper and a much broader level.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And what have you learned about our nation's intelligence community from serving on the committee?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I-- I think the-- the first thing that you learn-- are the number of people that serve around the world, that serve our nation, that never get a thank you from anyone. When you see someone in a restaurant that's wearing a military uniform, many people will buy their lunch or buy their breakfast. They'll stop by their table and they'll say thank you.

They'll encourage them and say, "I appreciate what you're doing." When you see someone that serves in national intelligence, you don't know they serve in national intelligence. So it's not that people don't wanna say thank you. They don't even know to go to them to say thank you. They absolutely blend in-- to other people that are around them.

Many times, the-- some of their family members don't even know exactly what that they-- they do every single day. And no one is really able to say thank you to them. So one of the things that I try to do is when I meet those professionals that serve in intelligence is to make sure that I do, because I know the people in my state have incredible gratitude for what they do every day for the nation, but they never have the chance to say thanks.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

You know, one of the things that strikes me is-- is on Sunday, when I go to church, we pray for men and women in uniform. And I always say to myself, well what about-- what about intelligence officers, right--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Who are not in uniform. Or their uniform looks just like what you're wearing.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Right. Right. Who in some cases, as you know, are-- are in just as dangerous places.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Sure they are. Yeah. They're in very dangerous places, and-- they're doing very, very difficult tasks. And many times, the tasks that they're doing is exceptionally tedious-- in a dark room going through all this different information trying to be able to gather information together and put pieces together-- that they literally know something's up, but they've gotta be able to find the pieces to the puzzle. And it takes that analyst a very long time to be able to unpack that.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator-- on the key issues, I know that cybersecurity is of particular interest to you. Why have you paid so much attention to it?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It's-- it's an issue that I think not enough people are paying attention to nationally, and so I've tried to push this out. And this has been something I've done for the last four years, especially-- to be able to sit down with individuals and to say, "Have you considered?" The-- the issues is there are a lot of businesses and individuals that say, "I have a virus protection software. I have a password that I change every year, and so I'm fine."

And they don't think about the rest. They don't think about vulnerabilities. They don't think about access points into their system. One of the stories I will often tell to businesses when I sit down with them and say, l-- let me just talk through some background issues that you may wanna think about on cybersecurity issues. How many points of access are there to your network at your office?

And most of them will say, well, there's only one. And I say, "Really? Let's start talking about it." And my favorite line is to say-- tell me about the soft drink machine-- in-- at your business. Is the soft drink machine-- is that one that automatically refills? There's-- is there a message that goes to the distributor? If yes, then that means it's probably connected to your network. Which network is it connected to? Is your soft drink machine an access point into your main network where you're storing all your confidential information?

I talk to a lotta businesses that'll say, "Well, I'm not a really big business, so I'm not a target point." But, well, people lose track of the fact that it's-- it's the-- the weakest link is often what a foreign-- adversary's gonna look for, 'cause they know you're connected as a supplier to someone that's larger. So you don't have to be Boeing-- to be a risk into the national security area.

If you're a supplier to Boeing, then you're an access point to them to be able to get to it. People don't think about-- simple things-- like how many people have passwords, how often they change those passwords-- what that looks like to have-- different access, to have two-factor authentication. People just don't think about those issues, and so I try to bring 'em up and to say, "Let's start with the basics," because we've got a lot more advanced work to-- to do after we get through the basics.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So how worried are you about-- the cyber threat-- particularly to our critical infrastructure?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

I-- I think we all should be worried. The-- the-- the hard part is there is no system, if you're connected to the internet, that's totally foolproof. There's not one. So the only way to make that foolproof is to separate it from the internet and be completely isolated. And even that, if someone can put a jump drive into your system, there's an access point there.

So the challenge is, how do you secure the system the best possible way that you can, and thinking the next step on it, what parts of your system absolutely cannot fail? For those parts of your system that absolutely cannot fail, you probably need to have a secondary system that's not digital, that's analog, or that's a person into that spot.

And that may seem like I'm challenging people to back up, but there are things that you've gotta look at and to say, what if that fails? How do I actually check it? If it's a system that's a control system-- we look at the-- things on the screen and assume everything's correct. But we all know, for any of us that work with cybersecurity issues-- that malware can be put into a system, they can get an access into a system, what's on your screen appears normal, but what's happening physically at that valve, or what's happening physically on that line is totally different. You're just getting a false message.

So how do you do a backup into that system so that you can actually tell, and there's a physical check on it-- with a hardcore-- valve on it that-- that's connected, or that's an analog valve, or again, a person that's actually checking it to verify what's on your screen is actually correct. Those are things that people need to think about more-- because that is the real risk that we face.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So the big adversaries out there, right? Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, organized crime-- is there one that you worry more about than others? Is it all kinda equal in your mind? Did I miss anybody there? How do you think about the adversaries?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

The adversaries I think of first, actually, on the cyber side are what you would classify in that list as organized crime, what I would just list as cyber entrepreneurs. These are folks that are going out to find vulnerabilities, and when they find them they exploit them and then try to figure out a customer that'd like to buy 'em. If we go back, you know, eight years ago or so-- when there's-- an attack from a foreign adversary, we assume that it's someone within the structure of their government that's actually making that attack.

Now, I assume it's not. Now, I assume it's someone who lives in their country or is all-- allied with their country that was able to penetrate a system, then went to officials they had there and said, "I have a product. Would you like to buy it? For $10 million, I can sell you access into this information that I stole from a university. Would you be interested in all this Ph.D. work that I stole from this American university?" And to be able to try to sell that on the open market.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Or you have a situation where you have a talented-- you have a talented cyber guy who during the day works for an intelligence organization, and at night they work for an organized crime.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Right.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Same skill set.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Is same skill set. Same-- same abilities that are there, and you've gotta be able to figure out, is this person with us all the time or part of the time? If you can go on the dark web-- which I obviously discourage people from doing-- but if you go on the dark web and look around, there are people that are advertising their services, say, if you wanna hack into your girlfriends' old computer, they will steal files. Pay me X amount in cryptocurrency, and I'll-- and give me the IP address and I'll go do that for you.

Or if you wanna be able to get into a certain business to be able to shut 'em down, pay me, I'll get-- I'll do that for you. These are cyber criminals that are cyber entrepreneurs that are actually stealing damaging information. They don't care who it is or what it is. They're just doing it for cryptocurrency and they'll go after it.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So-- so-- so doing the right things on this issue are incredibly important, and the president just declared this month-- National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. His administration recently introduced-- its national s-- cyber strategy. How do you think about that strategy? Is it the right one? Are there any missing pieces? Kinda put that in perspective for us.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

So the-- one-- one of the things we've really pushed-- the previous administration to do, and this administration, is to have what's affectionately called the cyber doctrine. That is what we're going to do when something happens, how we're gonna react to that. People know-- that if there is a nuclear attack and you launch a missile, there-- they're pretty aware of what the United States is going to do. We've made that clear.

If you do physical attack on the United States, we've proven, here's exactly what we're gonna do to respond to that. That's a deterrent. For a long time, there's not been that-- on the-- on the cyber side. So if North Korea decides to break into Sony Pictures because they don't like a film, and to be able to devastate some of their system and destroy some of their files-- what do we do, exactly, with that? That is a foreign actor that is breaking into an American company and (UNINTEL PHRASE)--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

What do we do in response in order to deter them going forward?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

That's correct. You know, how-- how do we respond to that? How-- what-- what's the message we send back to sorth-- North Korea and say, "You're never going to do this again because we're doing this." Previous administration struggled with that, as every administration would, because-- quite frankly-- if someone attacks your cyber, it doesn't mean you respond back to them cyber. It may be a different response, maybe an economic response. It could be a military response. It could be kicking out diplomats.

It-- there's all kinds of things that are there. The challenge has been, it's not been clear from our government what is our response. So this administration has taken the first real step to say, if attacked on a cyber level, we consider that attack. We will respond, and here are some options for how we're going to respond, and we're gonna be able to lean in on that.

That's helpful to being able to put the gauntlet down. Quite frankly, it's something every country in the world is gonna have to do-- because in the days ahead, we see c-- clear threats from Russia. There's not a single country in NATO that hasn't been attacked by Russia in some way on the cyber level. So all of us are gonna have to be able to put out a clear focus to say to Russia, "This is not acceptable. Here's what we're gonna do to respond to that, and be well prepared for it."

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And-- and-- and why do you think-- why do you think we've been tardy on this issue? I'm not-- I don't know the answer to that. I--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

No, I-- it-- it--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

I-- I've thought about it.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It's a very fair question. I think there are a couple reasons. One is because attribution's not as easy as it looks in the movies. You see in a Bourne movie, as soon as something happens, everything's instantaneous and you pull it up on your screen and you can exactly tell what it is. It's not that simple. It takes a long time to be able to actual-- absolutely be certain of attribution. Now, you can have guesses on that, but if you're gonna respond, you'd better be-- have a greater level of certainty on it. So that takes some time. So it slows down the process of response.

The second thing is, what is the right response? We don't wanna get to a tit for tat back and forth on cybersecurity issues. If they come and attack-- a system of ours-- do we go back and shut down their electric grid? Do we go back and try to shut down theirs? Do you do what's called offensive cyber work on it? What's the appropriate response? So some of that is just the grand debate of what direction do we go from here? So it does take some time.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. Senator, perhaps-- a few more words about election security. So Oklahoma was one of the states whose election systems were targeted-- by the Russians in 2016. They did not penetrate your systems.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

They did not--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Though they tried. Have you seen any indications that the Russians are trying to get in today, and during the midterms, or not?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

At-- at this point, I've not seen anything that looks close to what we saw in 2016. In the weeks leading up to 2016-- it was a very different environment. In fact, by this point in 2016-- this is when Jeh Johnson was doing a public announcement and trying to go to election officials and saying, "I wanna declare election-- entities-- s-- as critical infrastructure. We need to step in and lean in more."

This is when a lot of those election officials were basically giving Jeh Johnson the Heisman and pushing him back and saying, "No, we're-- you can't come over here." And Jeh Johnson was trying to explain, there is a real risk, that we had seen it, we had seen on the in-- intelligence level, obviously-- homeland security had seen it. We're not seeing that-- that level that-- what we saw in 2016 of preparation of attack of probing through systems.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And what about the vulnerability? Have we made any progress with-- with reducing the vulnerability, or is it still there?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

So there're a couple ways to look at vulnerability. One of them is what's happening just on the information war that's on social media. Russians and others are still very engaged in social media. Not to the level that they were before-- but they're still very engaged in misinformation. That's one area. That-- that-- I'm-- I'm gonna separate that out.

On the election security, there's two pieces on this, as well. There's both the-- election hardware and software that you actually go vote with, and then there's the actual system of-- for the-- what we call Secretary of State or election board. How they actually manage their inner processes. Both of those are more secure than what they were in 2016.

Department of Homeland Security and the individual states have been pretty aggressive in the past two years-- to beef up their own systems-- to have outside entities, to be able to look at it, for them to be able to have a second look at their own systems and determine, where do we have vulnerabilities? Where do we have a second check on anything to be able to verify your information that's going out is accurate?

What are we doing to be able to safeguard our systems? As you can imagine, every vendor of every election-- system that's out there as far as the actual voting machines are all aggressively going after it because they don't wanna be the company-- that is actually proved to be vulnerable, because that'd be devastating to their company.

So they're all aggressively going through their software, going through their systems, trying to figure out vulnerabilities to be able to respond to that. The hard part is, for states, they don't have the finances-- nor the time to be able to change their hardware before the 2018 elections. So it's securing what they have as much as possible. We have five states that have systems that are entirely based on electronic systems. It's basically voting on an iPad-- where they're actually pushing the buttons electronically. It shows, "Is this how you wanna vote?" You push yes.

But there is no backup. As I mentioned before, on critical infrastructure, you wanna have a secondary backup somewhere that proves that what you're seeing on the screen is actually correct. They don't have that in five states in-- in the United States right now. So that's something that those states are gonna have to figure out what to do with.

But there woulda been no way they could have changed that system by 2018, 'cause they have to get it out to all their counties. They have to train all these volunteers. There's no way to do it. Now, they can get it done by 2020, but they can't get it done by this year. But saying all that, we're much better prepared, and there's much more attention to this issue now than what there was two years ago.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And you've been-- Senator, you've been absolutely clear that election security's not a partisan issue.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Shouldn't be--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

It's-- it's a democracy issue--

              (OVERTALK)

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Democracy shouldn't be partisan. There-- there should be people getting their voice out and trusting that how I voted is actually counted the way I voted.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. And you've worked very hard on this. You actually co-sponsored a bill with democratic senator Amy Klobuchar-- called a Secure Elections Act. Two questions on that. What would that bill do-- and-- and I guess more importantly, is-- why hasn't it gone anywhere?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Yeah, that's a great question. It is moving. It's not a total zombie-- at this point. So it is still working its way through the process. But there's a lot of heat. W-- w-- when you get into a-- a debate on any issue in congress-- let's just take the Senate. You get into a debate on any issue.

Typically, you'll have four, five, ten people that are really experts at that issue. They either did it in their past life, they're very engaged in it, or it's their committee of jurisdiction and they spend a lot of time on it. And so those ten or-- you know, five, ten people will really debate it, work it out, and everyone else looks over their shoulder knowing those folks are the experts and you're trying to weigh it out.

When you deal with elections, all 100 of us have been through elections. So all 100 have an opinion about it, and everyone's very engaged on this issue. And so it's much slower to be able to go through the process. So the key things that Amy Klobuchar and I wanna be able to put in this bill is what are the lessons learned from 2016 and how we make sure we learn those lessons. Things like-- getting-- clearance-- to someone in the states.

In 2016, Jeh Johnson tried to be able to go to states, and the F.B.I. tried to go to states and say, "There is a problem." So they said, "Here's an IP address you should watch out for." When states said, "Who is this? What is this?" All that they could say is, "Well, here's the memo, and it's an IP address. Watch out for it." A year later, states learned, oh, that's the Russians. That's very different than what I thought it was. But there was no one in states that had security clearance.

And so they-- the F.B.I. was not going to those individuals to try to get them more detailed information about what to do. We're fixing that problem, where DHS has someone with security clearance in every single state in their election system, so if there's a problem, we can rapidly get to that. We wanna codify that to make sure that-- that is not lost, that six years from now, we haven't forgotten that lesson. We wanna make sure that-- systems, quite frankly, have a way to audit-- that there's some way to be able to do a paper ballot or a paper receipt or something--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So if there's a question--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Correct--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

You'll be able to go back.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

That's correct. So-- 'cause-- well, one of the threats is you take one of these five states that has no way to be able to audit their systems at the end of it. All the Russians have to do after the 2018 elections is say that they actually got into one of those systems, leave the hint out there that we cay got into it. Find a close election in some areas and say, "We got to that machine." And there's no way to be able to verify they did--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Raise doubts--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

--or they didn't. If you raise doubts, all Americans rise up and go, "Wait, is-- did this happen? Did this not happen?" You can imagine the election of 2000 all over again with Bush and Gore and hanging Chads and trying to figure out, is this real? Is this not real? With no way to verify it. People calling for a new election. It-- they raise chaos. And the Russians' focus really is raising chaos more than anything else.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So-- so you mentioned-- the social media piece-- of election interference. So maybe a couple of questions about that. What I call the weaponization of social media. The Intelligence Committee has held a number of hearings on this. What are your key takeaways from all of that?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

The vast majority of our hearings and briefings we do in private, as we should-- an Intelligence Committee hearing. But we have done more in this session, public hearings, than I think this committee has ever done. And part of it is because there are some of these issues we need to have a national conversation about, and we wanna try to bring information to them.

Social media is one of those. People are s-- are-- strange as it may sound, there are some people in America that are learning, you can't believe everything you see on the internet, as odd as that sounds to be able to say that. But there're also people that would say, "Yes, I don't believe every story I see on the internet, but I believe everything that comes from a friend of mine." Well, sometimes a friend of yours has been targeted-- by an adversary to be able to put out misinformation.

Or they click like or share something and shared it and you see it, and that's not really from a friend of yours. And at other times, networks have been developed over months and months and months-- from someone who put information out that was reliable, and then closer to a time, they start putting out unreliable information. That's a pretty dramatic shift that we've seen, where people are intentionally trying to deceive using social media.

Social media has become so exceptionally venomous-- that whether you're a restaurant and you just get attacked ruthlessly because your fork wasn't clean at some point, and everyone is-- is attacking you and piling on, or whether it's someone in political office, or whether it's someone just saying, "Have a nice day," and someone randomly goes by and says something mean to you, it's a really different environment on social media, and people are trying to figure that out.

Social media companies are trying to figure out how to manage all that-- venomous anger-- that's out there in America and how to manage that when they were really hoping to create an environment for families and friends to connect, and it's become this hateful place of-- of dialogue. But they're also trying to figure out, what happens when someone on social media posts a video out there calling people to Jihad and saying, "Here's how to kill people. Here's a method of how to be able to do it, and a place and time to do it. Take a video of you doing some act and post it online."

Or to tell them you're about to be a martyr and then go post it and then go do it. They're trying to figure out what to do with that. They're trying to figure out what to be able to do-- with-- how do you handle-- all the misinformation that's factually incorrect that's being shared by people.

Do they go through and-- do they monitor that? You know, that's not a federal responsibility. It's a free speech platform. We have the New York Times, and we have the Wall Street Journal, and we have the National Enquirer. Okay? We-- we-- we don't control the speech on any of those. It's gonna be the same on social media. It's not the role of the federal government to go in and say, "Hey, that's misinformation. You can't say that." But those platforms that do wanna stay in business need to engage with that.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So what is the government's role here? And I know you're a big believer in free enterprise. You're a big believer in the government staying out, to-- to the extent possible. What do you think the government's role here--is there a role for regulation? Where are you on that question?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

So I'm-- I wanna stay away from regulation as much as possible, especially on the social media platforms. Those are free speech platforms (UNINTEL PHRASE). If someone's going to engage in that business, they agree when they click in and join in that, to the parameters of that business. That business, though, has to make a decision. Is the reputation of your business being destroyed based on what you allow-- on that platform?

An example of that would be the Russians-- in 2017 that-- they work with a group for months and they develop-- an outspoken, patriotic group in Texas and then an outspoken-- engaged Islamic group in Texas, in Houston. And-- within a few months, they started pushing them towards each other. They call for a rally, an anti-Islam rally and a pro-Islam rally at the same day at the same time in Houston, trying to get two groups together in the cyber world to physically meet and to fight on the streets in Houston, Texas.

Well, they were able to actually get people to show up at the same place at the same time, but the police got engaged, pushed people on the opposite side of the street, and it went away. But it was an action where that platform was used by the Russians to try to literally cause a fight in a town in-- in Texas--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

A physic-- physical effect--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

A physical fight--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Physical effect--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Right, trying to be able to spur towards that. So-- how do they want their platform used? How do they monitor that? We're trying to engage with those entities, saying I don't have any desire to step in and regulate in this area because this is a private business, but you have got to be able to help engage what's happening on your platform--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

And how do you think they're doing on that? Peop-- you know, Facebook and-- and Twitter-- may-- may-- maybe at one end of the spectrum, and Google maybe at the other. How do you think they're doing?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

They-- they are addressing it. And we'll-- we'll see how far that they continue to be able to go. But they're fighting and learning how to do it. They don't have the staff to be able to manage that. How do you manage, you know, people saying inappropriate things, or how do you manage-- people saying-- things that are false or that can engage people to violence?

They're trying to set their own parameters because they want to allow free speech-- but they also-- wanna not have their whole platform ruined-- by someone destroying-- their system and their platform based on how they're behaving on it. So they're hiring additional staff. They're trying to be able to figure out systems to be able to monitor.

They're trying to set up algorithms to be able to figure out what words, what phrases, what people. Even things like fake identities. Of late-- Facebook has really engaged quickly on the issue of fake identities. For years now, people would grab someone's picture. They would use that picture. They would set up a fake identity and they would start sharing it around, trying to be able to get friends in a town or a community. It happened to people in politics all the time.

All of-- all the time, folks are grabbing my photo and trying to be able to set up a fake account and try to do some demeaning thing on it-- because they don't like-- a position I'm in in some ways. Facebook's now trying to capture those and try to figure out what's a real account, what's a fake account. Before they had that little check mark. Now they're trying to grab, okay, an actual photo-- is that something that you're using of someone else's?

Okay, you can't do that, either-- to be able to manage this. So for them, they're learning their way through this, as well-- but I think the more that we can raise this as an issue and saying, "What are you doing," the more the public can see it and ask those hard questions, the better they'll be.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

You mentioned, Senator, that you haven't seen any evidence that the Russians are trying to get into election systems. Have you seen any evidence that they are playing in the social media realm visa vis the midterms?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

So let-- let me-- let me do one correction-- on that. I would say I haven't any evidence they're not trying to engage in the elections. It's not to the level that they were doing in 2016. 2016 was a very different level of engagement and of probing systems and of trying to be able to go through different companies and such than what we're seeing now.

So y-- they are still out there. It's not that they've walked away. They've learned their lesson of how they did it last time that we could see it before, and so they're working in other ways. So I-- I'm confident they're still out there and they're still probing away and still biding time. They are very, very engaged, still, in the social media side.

What was exposed before, with the-- what was called the Internet Research Agency-- a group of Russians-- that-- developing fake profiles, fake names, that were very engaged in the election, were also very engaged in lots of other issues. Again, a context thing for us. The-- the Russians weren't trying to affect the elections. The Russians are s-- are sowing discord. The election's just one issue of many. They had their same social media folks that were engaging-- after the election even more than they were before the election. And we can show the spikes-- they continue to engage more and more after the election. They're engaged with things like NFL Take A Knee. That wasn't--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Charlottesville. Charlottesville--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Yeah, Charlottesville, they were very engaged. Race issues, religion issues. Wherever Americans have a debate, they try to jump in. The way I describe the Russians are-- if you remember back on the playground in elementary school, there were those two kids on the playground that had the fight.

There was always a third kid on the edge of the playground screaming, "Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight," trying to get everybody to come watch it. That's what the Russians are. They're that third kid on the playground. Two Americans are hi-- having an argument. That's our argument. But they're trying to get more people to run to it to make it louder--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

That's a great metaphor. That's a great metaphor. Both the President and the DNI stated in the last week or so-- that the Chinese are beginning to play in social media in the United States. How should we think about that-- and is the fact that we haven't deterred Russia now encouraging other countries to do the same thing?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

So we are deterring Russia-- but I think what Russia has done and what other countries have done in the past-- everybody's gonna test out. They're gonna experiment with-- to see what they can do. The Chinese certainly have the capability-- to be able to engage in this area. We haven't seen them engage on election issues before, but the Chinese also have-- a PR-- preference, as well.

And so if there's a way they can get a Chinese message into the American public, they're gonna work to be able to do that because they wanna do business with the United States. There're obvious issues that have come up-- as we identified in Russia-- with-- software packages that they're trying to be able to get into American systems-- whether it be virus protection programs, they try to be able to get into our system-- to be able to have access points or other things.

We've identified those and we're pushing back. We're also seeing that with the Chinese, as well, with-- the question with ZTE and other entities to say, do we really want a Chinese company to be able to run all communication in the United States? Do we really want a Chinese company to be able to manage all 5G-- for the United States when that is rolled out? What access do we want the Chinese government to be able to have, knowing that you don't have a business in China that is not also run partially by the Chinese communist government, as well?

So how much data do you wanna hand to the Chinese government about what we do in the United States are fair questions, and the Chinese are trying to be able to push back and to say, "Trust us," basically. "We're in-- here for business. We wanna-- to continue to have American investment." So they're engaging in a PR level-- as much as anything at this point to try to help protect their own reputation.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

The s-- the committee's investigation-- into Russia-- do you have a sense of the timing of that? When will that be done, or is it hard to say?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It's hard to say at this point. We really had hoped to have it done last December-- quite frankly. That was our initial target, and to be able wrap everything up. We go through interviews. We'll interview somebody. Then from that person, there'll be a couple of more people that we need to interview, and we're following through on that one.

Now we're getting close to the election. We're not gonna do anything. We're not gonna release anything. We're not gonna talk about it at all. That was something that we had all decided on in a bipartisan method, to say, we-- we don't wanna try to affect it either way or anything on the-- on this point, because there's nothing earth-shattering that we're gonna drop out that needs to be dropped right now. And it's best for us to be able to finish our work quietly and to try to be able to get it out.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So this has been-- th-- this has been a bipartisan effort on the committee--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It has been, it has been.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

What's the secret sauce there? And how do you spread that around the rest of Washington?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

You know-- in-- in the Intelligence Committee, the 15 of us that sit around that dais, we talk about very hard issues-- that-- like I've mentioned with elections, that's-- it's a democracy issue, not a partisan issue. When you deal with national security, that should be an issue that is not partisan. That should be an issue to say, w-- what are the issues we do to be able to protect our-- our democracy-- and our-- our fabulous republic that has existed longer than any other in the-- in the world at this point? So let-- let's see what we c-- what we can do to be able to protect that--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

So you guys have been able to do it where the House-- you know--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

We-- have engaged from--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

--struggled with that--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

--the very beginning. I would put a lot of credit on that for Richard Burr, the chairman, the vice chairman, Mark Warner. They worked very hard to be able to establish that kind of dialogue among the two of them, and the-- develop a trust among the two of them. We work very hard around the dais not to be able to criticize each other publicly. Where we have differences, let's try to be able to work it out behind closed doors and be able to establish that. I-- I do think that's a good model, and it's something that can be done.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. Senator, you've been very gracious and very generous with your time. Let me just ask you two more questions. You've mentioned a couple times that you are a man of faith. I know you were trained in divinity at the Southwestern Baptists Theological Seminary. And I'm wondering how that training influences how you think about national security issues.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

That's a great question. I-- I think that builds into me a sense of optimism. Be-- because in the-- in intelligence world, you understand just how many threats are really out there, and how many things you don't know. Everyone counts on knowing everything, but again, this is not a movie script-- where everything's tracked, everything's seen, you can flick on every traffic camera in the world instantly and be able to see everything. That's now how it really works--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

When I used to come to the committee, I talked about-- more about what we didn't know than what we did know.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

There-- there-- there's a lot we don't know. And so that-- that drives you into a sense of, we've gotta be able to know more. We've gotta be able to know more. And-- and we-- we've gotta be able to keep our clear constitutional protections as Americans, but I wanna be able to see a threat from somewhere else.

If someone's trying to plan an attack coming at America, I wanna know it. So that drives you to be able to do the information. My faith-- says to me, okay, let's do the work that needs to be done, but I'll also understand all nations are really in God's hands-- at the end of the day. The rise and fall of nations, and what is happening with people and lives-- is a thing that's existed throughout the history of the entire world.

That-- I do believe there is someone bigger than us that, when I have the opportunity to be able to pray and to be able to sit down and to pray and t-- and take that opportunity-- I understand that I'm literally putting my nation in God's hands. But I have a responsibility to do my work, as well-- for each person. So I think my faith does blend in a sense of optimism that there's someone bigger than us that does care about us as individuals, as well--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. Yeah, we need some optimism. Finally, you are a huge supporter of Goldstar Families. Could you just talk about that for a minute?

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

Yeah, g-- Goldstar Families is a group that no one ever wants to join. Those are folks that have lost a family member-- that-- in-- in service. Those individuals who are serving our country-- and have died in the service of their country, and now they family is left on the backside of that-- to-- to deal with the grief, to deal with the loss.

And as a country, from the very beginning-- George Washington even calling out the country to be able to walk alongside those widows of war-- and those individuals that are orphans and have lost-- those-- loved ones. We've done that from the beginning as a country. Now, we're-- we-- we learn a lot on how to be able to do that, and some of the areas that I encourage us on is how we can learn more how to be able to take care of those family members-- that forever, they will remember the loss and the sacrifice of their loved one.

We've lost over a million people in the country just in the last-- s-- century as Americans, of people stepping out to be able to guard this democracy that we have. Those are families we should not forget. We're better at it with active duty. With intel folks, it's harder-- because again, people aren't seen the same way. And it's actually something that we've not perfected on National Guard and Reserves, either. With the National Guard folks-- it's-- it's a different structure-- for them to be able to help take care of those families, and some states are still learning how to be able to take care of our (UNINTEL PHRASE)--

              MICHAEL MORELL:

It's also true of diplomats, right--

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

It is-- that is true. Diplomats, as well. These are folks that have lost someone precious. Precious to the nation, and obviously precious to their family. And-- so this is a season we spend additional time being able to talk about those Goldstar Families. But it's something that my wife and I do spend a lotta time-- checking in on Goldstar Families in my own state.

And just to be able to help where we can-- and the state just to be able to encourage them. A phone call, a meal-- a get together, an opportunity for them to be able to talk, go shop, just be together-- is a great asset to those Goldstar Families, because we should never, ever assume they have forgotten the sacrifice their loved one made.

              MICHAEL MORELL:

Senator, thank you very much for joining us.

              SENATOR JAMES LANKFORD:

You bet. Thank you. Glad to do it.