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Transcript: Sen. Mark Warner talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters" podcast, Aug. 28, 2018

On "Intelligence Matters" this week, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, talks with CBS News senior national security contributor and former Acting Director of the CIA Michael Morell.

MICHAEL MORELL: Senator, welcome to the show.


MICHAEL MORELL: It's great to have you, and, most importantly, it's great to see you again.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Great to see you.

MICHAEL MORELL: You and I spent a lot of time together when I was acting director and deputy director and you were on the committee and I always enjoy talking with you, so I'm really looking forward to this.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, thank you for your service.

MICHAEL MORELL: And that's where I'd love to start, actually, is Senator, your insights into the men and women of the intelligence community with whom you meet almost every day, both here on the Hill and when you visit them-- in their stations in the U.S. and their stations around the world. I want to ask you a few questions about them. 

And the first would be, how would you describe the intelligence officers that you know and you meet? Who are they? What are they like? What are their-- what's their level of competence? Their level of dedication, commitment? Could you spend a little bit of time talking about them?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Sure. You know, this is an area that I've really come to learn and appreciate over the last seven or eight years. Before I was senator I was governor, and was aware of obviously the intelligence presence, but didn't have that much formal interaction.

MICHAEL MORELL: A big chunk of it in Virginia.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: And obviously a bit chunk of it in Virginia, both in terms of installations and folks who-- many of the folks who are posted abroad-- in the agency or other entities, you know, retain their American residence in Virginia. And I came to it with, you know, not that many preconceived notions. Matter of fact, I remember as I first got onto the intelligence committee, I didn't even realize there were 17 different agencies that make up the I.C. 

What I found-- whether it's in town halls at the C.I.A., whether it's at town halls at N.G.A. and N.R.O.-- traveling abroad, you know, the men and women who serve in our intelligence community are some of our best and brightest. They are committed. They're dedicated. They work extraordinarily hard, never getting the recognition that they deserve. It is terribly important that they feel like they have the independence to speak truth to power, and that's one of my biggest concerns about this president and this administration, who seems to be undercutting and undermining that independent analysis that the intelligence community provide to us as policy makers. 

So I've tried to carve out to be not only a good intelligence committee member and learn the issues, but I've kind of also felt I've got a unique opportunity as their kind of hometown senator to also be an advocate around pay and retirement and benefits. And just the kind of human issues.

MICHAEL MORELL: And I know from my time at the agency that that was deeply appreciated by everybody.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Showing up is part of it. Showing up and trying to give recognition. Doing -- you know, it's not a big thing. We do an Intelligence Professionals Day honoring each year. A variety of other things. Many functions as I can to get out and see the troops. It's really-- again, one of the reasons why I'm so disappointed by some of the president's words and actions towards the community.

MICHAEL MORELL: So in what you see, Senator, do you believe there's any truth at all to that view on the part of some of our fellow citizens that there a deep state within the intelligence community that's trying to undermine the president.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Absolutely not. You know, I have been-- you know, there's conspiracy theories that have nobody around for some time. I've been to some of these international conferences. I've always waited for the secret handshake, (LAUGH) and have not--

MICHAEL MORELL: And it's never come--

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --seen any of that. No. And, you know, what I-- the men and women I see in the intelligence community, they value service over partisanship. One of the things I've always thought remarkable was I've never had an explicitly political conversation with anybody I've worked with in the intelligence community. I don't have the foggiest idea what people's politics are. What I have no doubt of, though, is people's loyalty to America and their willingness to put country first. And-- one of the things that has come out of the internet, a lot of good, a lot of value from social media. 

My background is a technology guy. I appreciate that. But the internet and some of the channels out there have allowed these whacky theories to gain credence, and for people to kind of discover each other-- that have these, you know, relatively—unfounded, factually, theories. And what's just so frightening, in a way, is that in so many cases, we see the current occupant of the White House actually accepting those theories and promoting them.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. So the reason I asked the question about these myths, right? About the deep state and about the political views of intelligence officers affecting their work, is because I'm a little concerned that the public feud between former senior intelligence officers, and I'm one of those, and the president can create the impression, false impression-- but the impression nonetheless that our intelligence agencies-- that current intelligence officers are somehow politicized. And so with that in mind, I'm wondering how you think about the roles and responsibilities of former senior intelligence officers and what they should do publicly and what they shouldn't do?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, historically, I've not seen former intelligence officials weigh in-- and they may weigh in on a matter of specificity, of policy in Iraq or a policy in Afghanistan, but they normally don't weigh in on the politics of whoever happens to be in the White House or whoever controls Congress. 

But some of the former intelligence officers, when they have their integrity impugned, or when this president has basically denied the validity of the intelligence community, or kind of attempts to, you know, undermine-- you know, in a sense undermine rule of law, whether it's attacking the intelligence community or Justice Department or F.B.I., I-- I think people got a First Amendment right to speak up. Because clearly those who sit in the existing jobs may feel the same -- even if they're appointed by this president, but their professionalism prevents them from saying anything while they currently are in service. So if the formers are not willing to stand up for the agencies and organizations they spent their careers working for, who will voice that support for the community?

MICHAEL MORELL: So it sound like you're saying it's not only-- a right -- you're saying it's a responsibility, almost—

SENATOR MARK WARNER: I think it's an obligation, because, you know, it-- is it really fair to the men and women, particularly in the intelligence community, who live and die by classified information, by protecting sources and methods, to allow anyone on the political field, and particularly if it's an individual like Mr. Trump, to go out and just be blasted entirely. He knows, or people around him would know, that sitting existing intelligence professionals cannot respond. So someone has to respond, and I think it's very appropriate that many of the former intelligence officials have spoken up in defense of both the men and women who serve and the job they do.

MICHAEL MORELL: And from the perspective of Director Coats and Director Haspel-- your advice to them would be--

SENATOR MARK WARNER: -- my advice to them has been-- and I was very candid with both of them. I supported both of them and particularly Director Haspel was a challenging nomination process. And I asked them point blank, "If this guy goes too far, and this becomes a question of following the law or following Mr. Trump," I wanted their commitment that they'd follow the law. No one in America is above the law. Even with this president who doesn't seem to know how to tell the truth, and, frankly, ignores laws and customs and traditions on a regular basis. And, you know, I believe and I hope that both of those individuals, Dan Coats and Gina Haspel, and others who I voted to support-- if we come to that breaking point, and there have been times we've gotten close-- and considering what may be ahead of us-- there may be times we will even get closer. I trust that they will stand up for our country first.

MICHAEL MORELL: My sense, when you were asking questions of Director Haspel, your other expectation was that if she ever felt pressure to change a view for a political reason, that she might not be able to stand up and say that publicly, but she needed to be able to come to you--


MICHAEL MORELL: --and the chairman, right?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Our committee-- I'm very proud of our Senate Intelligence Committee. We're the last standing bipartisan group that's-- whether—

MICHAEL MORELL: Seems that way.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --we're looking into Russia or looking into the challenges that grew out of that intervention. And, you know, what I think Richard Burr, the chairman, and I have tried to say to the I.C. all the time is, "Hey, you know, you do your jobs. We'll have your back." 

And whether it's Director Haspel or, for that matter, anyone else, up and down the line, if they feel they are being forced to take actions that are inappropriate, that are politicizing the information that they're supposed to be providing policy makers-- they need to feel they've got a comfort to come to the committee and tell us.

MICHAEL MORELL: So you said-- right and responsibility of former senior offices to stand up for what they believe in. The president just took action, as you know, against one of those, John Brennan. Stripped him of his security clearance. You just introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would bar the administration from revoking security clearances-- for politically motivated reasons. I believe Senator Flake, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Collins are co-sponsoring that bill with you. What are the chance that that's going to pass? And why did you do this?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, I think-- If we got a vote, if we get a vote I'm pretty optimistic it'll pass. But I think we've again seen from the majority-- the Republican party's leadership, that they don't want votes like this, and that's the right of the majority to kind of control to a degree the debate on the floor. I knew that, you know, it would be perhaps a bit of a stretch for Leader McConnell to grant a vote on this item, because it is so controversial, but I thought it was really important, and I really appreciate Jeff Flake and Susan Collins-- and I could add many, many other-- particularly Democratic co-sponsors, but I wanted to keep this bipartisan, which I try to do on most of the work I'm working on here on the Hill. 

To simply say, "Yes, the president has these rights, but they ought to be grounded in rules and norms." That-- as far back as 1995, there was an executive order that laid out 13 different reasons why somebody should have their security clearances stripped, and there's a lot of latitude in that. It's about allegiance in the United States or allegiance to a foreign power. Challenges with drugs or alcohol. There's normal with-cause reasons. But nowhere on that list was there something that says, "Well, I can strip you of your clearance because I don't like what you're saying about an administration's policies." That's just counter to basic First Amendment rights, and it's counter the to, again, what we talked about earlier. I think the rights and responsibilities of these former intelligence officials to weigh in, particularly when the community's under such assault. 

Unfortunately I don't think we will get a vote, but the fact that we had a bipartisan amendment, the fact that we will have bipartisan legislation that we will file as well, with the hope that if this president continues down this path because, you know, obviously Mr. Trump and John Brennan have had harsh, harsh words. And-- but what bothered me as much as the challenge a Brennan was the silencing effect of this Nixonian enemies list that was enumerated by the White House of people that might be next. It was almost the-- and the president says they're going to prepare all the paperwork. And it sounded to me like they're preparing the paperwork so that they can roll this out to distract Americans the next bad news cycle they're going to have. Although considering the kind of news cycles I think the White House is going to have, their enemies list may have to get larger if they're going to fully distract the American public.

MICHAEL MORELL: I was involved over the weekend in getting the list of the names together, right? Of people who were speaking out against the president and his action. And I will tell you, Senator, that are were a number of people who said to me, "I'd love to sign. I believe in what you're doing, but I can't take the risk." So that silencing effect is real already.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Right. The fact is that Mr. Trump's actions have already changed people's behavior, and, you know, the irony of what Trump did and threatened was not only formers-- but he had on that list a current Justice Department official that, to my knowledge, has no charges against him. Has nothing other than Donald Trump's ire. But the notion that we're going to go into not just formers but current elected officials and current-- not elected, but current-- officials and threaten them as well?

MICHAEL MORELL: And this even in some sense scarier, right? Because--

SENATOR MARK WARNER: It's scary. I mean this is--

MICHAEL MORELL: --their-- their job's on the line. Right--?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: This is-- you know, my friend Bob Corker, the senator from Tennessee, probably said it best. Said, "This is the kinda stuff you expect out of a banana republic," and not the kind of thing that you'd expect from the United States of America. And particularly the United States of America in 2018.

MICHAEL MORELL: So these erosion of norms is really important-- but I know you also worry about the erosion of the rule of law, right? Today. Talk a bit about that--

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, I-- over-- a year ago, about a year ago, I -- when there started to be the rumors about the president wanting to fire Bob Mueller or fire Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who's overseeing the investigation after Mr. Trump's attorney general had to recuse himself-- went to the floor and tried to put as much of a marker down as possible, saying, "You just can't fire these people. You can't stop an ongoing investigation." 

And it was a pattern that we see from the White House, reinforced by some of his allies, particularly in the House, and certain news networks, that go out, and with this broad brush simply attack everybody at the F.B.I. or everybody at the Justice Department or everybody obviously involved in the Mueller investigations. 

And what I think the signal, and what is so absolutely reprehensible, is that this president, in an effort to try to protect his own personal fortunes, is willing to impugn our rule of law and the people who are out there trying to carry out that. And in a sense, give them a green light that says, "Well, these guys are all part of the, quote unquote, 'deep state,'" or these guys are all, you know, crooked or whatever. And that gives license to people to start to think, "Well, gosh-- you know, if the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice are all crooked, maybe if I get a speeding ticket -- you know, I don't need to follow that law." Or, "Maybe I don't need to protect our country's security with classified information." Because if you suddenly grant that license to any individual to make those choices, you end up in a very scary place. 

And history is full of countries, even great nations, who when they undermine rule of law, those countries don't remain great very long. And, you know, this kind of damage that this man is doing-- I mean the programs that he's cut can be replaced. Regulations can be refurbished. Even some of the crooked individuals he's placed in positions can be replaced ultimately. But this undermining of trust in rule of law, in our democratic process around the elections, or, as we were talking off-air, the trust of our allies around the world, the global order that in many ways the United States has led post-World War II, when they see this president so repudiate that. Those are genies that once they come out of the bottle, you can't just pass a new law and regain that trust and confidence. And that's—

MICHAEL MORELL: And you set a—

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --huge damage.

MICHAEL MORELL: --precedent for other people to go down that road.


MICHAEL MORELL: Let's switch to Russia, Senator. And I have lots of questions to ask you here. And maybe the best place to start-- is your passion about this. I've known you for a long time, and I've watched you for a long time, and I know you care deeply about a lot of things. But the Russia issue seems-- seems to me to be special to you. Seems to me that you feel perhaps a sense of history here. That history's put a responsibility on your shoulders. Can you react to that?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Yeah, I did not expect little over two years ago when I became vice chair of the intelligence committee, that I would be spending so much of my time on this subject. You know, I've had a whole set of economic issues I was working on. You know, portable benefits in our changing economy. How do you make capitalism work for-- in a broader way. And, you know, budget and, you know, domestic economic issues has been really where I focused a lot earlier in my Senate career and my time as governor. 

But when we saw how extensive the full on assault of Russia and its agents, directed by Vladimir Putin, to interfere in our most basic and critical democratic process, our presidential election process, and when we saw then-Candidate Trump almost-- saying only good things about Putin, and almost parroting the Russian propaganda line, even before his election, in a sense saying that the American elections might be rigged-- this to me felt like it was as important as anything I'll do in my public life. 

And I committed-- and again, wanna-- you know, give credit to the whole committee, and Richard Burr, my chair from North Carolina. Republican chair. You know, we kind of linked arms and said, you know, "At the end of the day, we may not fully [get to the bottom of] everything, but we gotta run this straight." 

When you've got people on either end of the political agenda, you know, making assumptions about where the investigation was going to end up on day one, either presuming that Trump was guilty or presuming that Trump was innocent, you know, I thought we had to play this straight. 

And I think history will look back on us. And, you know, it's evolved from, you know, increasingly tangled web of a cast of characters that, you know, if you'd put in a book or movie wouldn't be believable, because there are so many of them are so sketchy. And, you know, who knew what when, that component that we'd made progress on. 

Obviously Mueller-- in his investigation I think has even more assets to bear. But it's also raised huge policy questions on a going-forward basis. We've talked in the past, Mike, as you know, about the absence-- and this is not a problem with Trump, but an absence of having an articulated cyber doctrine, so that I feel whether it's Russia's active measures or China stealing intellectual property, our near peer adversaries have been able to whack us in the cyber domain with very little fear of retribution. And I've also seen-- and it's really sharpened my thinking on what our approach ought to be around cyber. And that's a problem that's only going to get worse as we move into the Internet of Things and the vulnerability even increases. 

And then similar, and even maybe more complex, is-- the questions around the social media platforms. I remember first raising the issue that the Russians might have interfered on social media in late November of '16, and, you know, I'd-- known Mark Zuckerberg, respect him, but I remember I was kind of annoyed with his comment, which is basically blowing it off and saying, "Anybody that thinks Facebook was manipulated was-- you know, doesn't get it." Well-- that obviously did not prove to be the case. But it really has opened up a whole realm of policy choices around social media that we're just at the front end of, and I'm trying to help my colleagues, since I had a tech background, kind of get up to steam. 

And both whether it's cyber or whether it's misinformation, disinformation over social media, you know, the optimistic part of me says there's nothing about these issues that fall neatly into a Democrat-Republican, left versus right camp. This is a future versus past kind of issue. Are we going to lean into this future and get it right, because this is not going away as a problem-- or are we-- not going to take appropriate action. 

And what it's really made me also think, and this is a bit of a heresy sometimes, coming from a state like Virginia. You know, we just passed a $713 billion defense budget. Largest ever. 10X of what Russian spends. About 3X, 4X over what China spends. And I sometimes worry whether we are buying the world's best 20th century military in terms of tanks, ships, planes, guns, when our near peer adversaries are already in almost active conflict with America, particularly Russia—


SENATOR MARK WARNER: --in the domain of cyber and misinformation and disinformation. And respectfully, I know we've talked about this in the past, I don't think we are yet up to the task in terms of our output, and part of it is made even more difficult because we do respect individuals' personal rights. We do respect the privacy of Americans. 

So, you know, the C.I.A. finds something, N.S.A. finds something that's-- somebody's-- masquerading as Mike Morell from Virginia, but they're actually posting from Macedonia, you know, you identify that in Macedonia. Once it hits a device in America, you have got to throw it over the transom to the F.B.I. and D.H.S. colleagues. So our very structure makes it harder to compete in these new domains.


SENATOR MARK WARNER: Last point-- I want to keep going, but it's just-- on this issue is-- I also see the marrying of both cyber and misinformation to be really where the cutting edge challenge is going to be. 

So if somebody, a foreign actor, was behind the Equifax attack, and suddenly has a 150 million Americans' personal information, they can then contact you with personal information. And you will open that message, because it's got your Social Security number. If suddenly what pops up is not simply a fake account, but a live stream video of an image of a business leader or political leader using what's called deep fake technology, you've got that marrying of misinformation and cyber together. And boy oh boy, you know, the havoc that could be wrought upon our country, not just in elections, but in markets. In business. This is where our struggle's going to be.

MICHAEL MORELL: So how well-- it's a great transition. So how well positioned do you think we are today in terms of our intelligence capabilities, law enforcement capabilities, Homeland Security capabilities to detect, assess, defend what our adversaries are doing against us in this information space? And the reason that I ask you that is because, Senator, you said earlier this month that you were concerned that even after 18 months of study that we're only scratching the surface when it comes to understanding what the Russians did. So how well positioned are we today to deal with this?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: I think people are trying really hard. But if you-- until recently, for example, most of the Russian active measures, intervention in 2016, we attributed to the Internet Research Agency, which was a group of individuals, in a sense outsourced by the Russian government-- run by an oligarch. We've got a lot of indications of what they've done. 

The Russian spy agencies, one of which-- you know, G.R.U., we're starting to see a lot of their activity. But we still haven't traced back with specificity what G.R.U. did fully in 2016. I think we've made improvements around social media, but I hear from a lot of the I.C. that there's lot of working groups being stood up. But whether those working groups are actually interacting and interfacing with the social media companies and the platform companies at the appropriate level, I got a really open question--

MICHAEL MORELL: Is there an executive department or agency, executive branch department or agency that is looking at what's going on social media?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: No. And in a normal world, with a normal White House, when we have this level of national security threat, and we're in an area where we don't have our boxes aligned correctly, you know, this would be a place where there would be a leader in the White House that would assign somebody in the White House to be that convening force. Instead the Trump White House got rid of the top person in the position of cybersecurity. Has no one in charge in election security. 

You know, many of the individuals that Mr. Trump have appointed at the line level at D.H.S. or C.I.A. or N.S.A. are all good folks, and they're trying to do the right thing, but because the lines are still a little blurry, nobody's drawing that together. I mean let me give you a perfect case in point in election security, and this is partially due to, you know, our federal system. And elections have been closely guarded by state and localities. 

But we have a real problem, what I call the last mile. Even if we detect a foreign entity interfering at a state level or a local level, D.H.S. and F.B.I. can go and offer assistance, but we still leave it to the local registrar to determine what kind of assistance he or she wants to take. And if local registrar says, "Well, you know, I don't really need the D.H.S. I'm gonna hire my brother-in-law, who's got a great little I.T. firm," we as American don't know whether that last mile ever got remediated, and so we don't know whether the vulnerabilities are still out there. Now, we'll have to sort through all this in a way that, you know, I'm not interested federalizing elections. We ought to keep our system in place. But-- across the board, we're going to have to sort things out. And these are going to get more and more complicated. 

One area that I've really tried to dive into, and it's a huge frustration, because it should be lowest hanging fruit. I think most of your listeners would realize we're moving into what's called the Internet of Things, where all of our devices--

MICHAEL MORELL: Everything's connected.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --cars to refrigerators to your microwave. I even saw at the consumer electronics show a hairdryer that was connected to the internet. Why you need a hairdryer connected to the internet--I don't know.


SENATOR MARK WARNER: But every one of those surface spaces has new cyber vulnerability. And I've been pushing to at least say, with taxpayer money, if we're buying an IOT connected device, there ought to be minimum security. We still have some of the low end industries who are fighting that. So--

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah, I know. Yeah.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --this is a active challenge at the governmental level, in terms of our private sector partners-- but it's not dull.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah, yeah. Social media companies.


MICHAEL MORELL: You've praised Facebook and Twitter for taking steps towards being more transparent. Do they need to do more?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Absolutely. And Facebook-- Zuckerberg said the other day and-- I give him credit for this, that security is not an end point. And we can say, "Okay, we've checked that box and can move on." The bad guys, whether they are foreign agents, or, for that matter, just plain old hackers and cybercriminals, are always going to continue to improve. And—

MICHAEL MORELL: It's a moving target.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: It's a moving target. And, you know, and I was really reluctant. We lost about eight or nine months-- the first eight or nine months of 2017 when neither Facebook or Twitter were that attentive. They've gotten better. Actually, Twitter, who was lagging, has really gotten a lot more aggressive. I'm really concerned about Google, who've tried to keep their head low and stay out of the line of discussion. Google obviously owns YouTube. We've also seen some of their algorithms be manipulated on their search engine. None of these companies are going to be able to get a pass here. And--

MICHAEL MORELL: So three of them, right? Google, Twitter and Facebook, are getting to the committee--


MICHAEL MORELL: --early next month I think--

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --Google has not-- we're not sure whether Google's going send someone at an appropriate level. We want the leaders. We don't want the lawyers. We want their leaders here. Because they have an obligation. And, you know, I'm not going be in this hearing trying to, you know, ding 'em for what happened in 2016. What I want to explore is what we can look at on a going forward basis--


SENATOR MARK WARNER: --to help inform Americans better. You know, I want to ask them, for example, should we as Americans have a right to know when we're being contacted with a post, whether that posting is by a human being or by a bot. Should we have the right to know when somebody says they're posting from, you know, Maryland and the post is actually originating in Kiev or St. Petersburg. Should there at least be a geo indicator? Not get rid of the post, but at least put a geo indicator up there. 

Should we actually think about ways that we can add more competition in the space? It's-- I was an old telecom guy and it was real-- used to be really hard to be able to move from one telephone company to another, till we had number portability. 

Should we look at data portability so we can-- I can take all my Facebook posts, including my cat videos, and move them to a different site. So I don't know the answers here, but I think what I hope that will come out of this hearing coming up after Labor Day, is both acknowledging the progress we've made, and they've made, behave also really saying to them, "You guys gotta step up and help us figure this out." 

And as a former tech guy, as a venture capital, I don't want to stifle innovation. And I sure don't want to diminish the role of the American tech companies, because you've got Chinese counterparts right behind them who have absolutely no --

MICHAEL MORELL: Waiting to pounce.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Waiting to pounce. No protection of privacy. But the wild, wild west cannot continue. And I do think that's not only in terms of the threat to our systems, but I also think you're starting to see the American public turn when they feel like they're being manipulated, particularly by foreign actors.

MICHAEL MORELL: So then other countries-- National Security Advisor John Bolton-- said a few days ago that the administration's concerned about influence operations, not only from Russia but also from Iran, China and North Korea. Do you see any of that yet? Are you concerned about it?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, we've seen in the last few days-- both Microsoft, Facebook and I think there'll be shortly an announcement from Google, about Iranian activity. From my first blush review, it seems a little less sophisticated. The English in this is good. The techniques, the tradecraft isn't as good. I think from everything that I've seen is that we will see China focus on economic activity, but probably not electoral. Obviously North Korea we've got history back to the Sony hack. But there is no doubt from both volume and sophistication and focus Russia is far and ahead better than any of our other potential adversaries. And, again, it's not just vis-à-vis us. The Russians have practiced this on their own people—

MICHAEL MORELL: Yes, they sure have. Yep.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: They practice it on their near states like Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. They've done it-- and France, frankly did probably a better job than any country so far in terms of taking down some of the Russian threat. And what we shouldn't think it's going to go away, because I-- you know, we did a back of the envelope estimate and we added up all the money to Russians spent interfering our elections. All they spent in the French elections. We even threw in a fudge factor on how much they might have spent in the Brexit vote, where the U.K.'s looking. You add that all up? It's less than the cost of one new F-35 airplane.

MICHAEL MORELL: Just goes back to your point about--

SENATOR MARK WARNER: This is effective--

MICHAEL MORELL: Right, right.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --cost-effective--


SENATOR MARK WARNER: And is an area where they are our peers, at least.

MICHAEL MORELL: So this gets to the issue of deterrence, right? We clearly haven't deterred Vladimir Putin. To the point that other countries are now looking at this as a possibility. What does a credible deterrents policy strategy look like, do you think? What do we have to do--?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: I believe there are-- let's take this into two buckets. Let me first of all say there are low hanging fruit-- around security and defense. Things like basic standards for Internet of Things devices. Things like informing Americans a little more if somebody's misrepresenting themselves on a Facebook post. Now, again-- I'm-- I'm careful how we do this, because I don't want to also expose the identity of the female journalist in Egypt. This is not easy stuff. But there are some things that could be at least first round, you know, intermediary tools that can be used. 

In terms of deterrence, and Mike, I know you-- you've been part of these discussions, we-- because we are so more technologically advanced than these adversaries, we've been reluctant to use our tool kit. And, you know, you shut down Moscow for 24 hours with no power, and that's a problem. You shut down New York for 24 hours and you got a crisis. So I think what we need to do-- let's start with the cyber domain, is that we need to have almost a level of international agreement that there are certain level of cyber attacks or hacks that are, in a sense, beyond the pale of what is acceptable.



MICHAEL MORELL: Like we have in a whole bunch of things—

SENATOR MARK WARNER:--not the-- yeah. Like a lot of things. And again, I don't want to make the analogy to nuclear weapons. I'd make it more to chemical weapons or to landmines or other areas where there is this international agreement. And then if a enterprise shuts down a water system, and that becomes a norm that we are not-- that is beyond the convention, then we're going to have a lower level of standards for attribution, but we're gonna go back and we're gonna tell you we're gonna whack you back. On social media, you know-- the government, frankly, has been pretty crummy on-- I-- I had-- you know, again, all due respect, I've seen some of the products that the I.C. has put out. They read like they're written by, you know, government employees, not by, you know-- young folks who are familiar with the technology. 

We are going to have to use some of those tools as well to counter. I think we're getting better-- but we will need offense capability, both in misinformation, disinformation and in the cyber domain. And we're not there yet. And I'm afraid that we're just-- we're still-- lots of groups are thinking about this, but I don't see this overall structure. It's not just-- we use this term, which I know frustrates some people, whole of government effort. This is a whole of society effort. We can't fix this with just government actions only.

MICHAEL MORELL: Just want to ask one more set of questions about Russia, and that is-- you mentioned the great relationship you have with Chairman Burr as you're working on this issue together. What's the secret of that partnership? Is it the importance of the issue? Is it a personal relationship between—


MICHAEL MORELL: --the two of you? Is it-- because it's not something you see pretty much anywhere else in Washington.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, it may be-- you know, I was a business guy before I was in politics. And in business, I got measured by what I got done. You know, if I didn't put points on the board, I couldn't get a deal done, I didn't make any money. And maybe the biggest difference between politics and business is there's an awful lot of good men and women I work with in politics that may have had a long career that they've never got anything done. They can tell you a lot of what they're against, and what they've stopped, but not what they've gotten done. 

And I just think, you know, if-- I was the co-founder of a company called Nextel. Used to be an old wireless company. We never put out a great product, and we simply ran down the competition, we would have never-- and, frankly, we had some of our own set of problems, but we would have never been a viable business. And I have always believed, from my time when I was governor, and I'm a Democrat and the legislator was two to one Republican, that I had to build those levels of trust. 

Because I think in politics, and I think the same in business, that it's, you know, maybe 50% the policy, but 50% that trust level. That your partner, you're not gonna screw 'em. If they make a mistake or you make a mistake, you're gonna stay focused on getting to yes. And-- you know, and I think with Chairman Burr, it was helped because one of my dearest friends in the Senate was Saxby Chambliss, Republican senator. Former-- actually chairman, vice chairman of the intelligence committee. And he and I had worked together on the debt and deficit issues. And we'd built a really strong personal relationship. And that carried over to Richard Burr. And again, I give Chairman Burr a lot of credit, because the pressure he's received, I'm sure, from this White House and others to, "Hey, you know, go nuclear. Shut down the investigation. Don't let it continue," has been great. And I think he has withstood it as well as I think we got a really good committee. People have been really upright and standup—

MICHAEL MORELL: And what can we expect from the committee's investigation going forward? How much work is left? What's the timeline?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: We've got five subject areas that we've taken on. First-- and this part was completed. We had to do an assessment of the intelligence community's assessment that basically said, "Was that report appropriate? Did Russia intervene? Was it at the direction of Putin? Was it to help Trump and hurt Clinton?" Unanimously came out and said that was the case. 

Second thing was election security, and we've got a bipartisan piece of legislation right now-- it's not going to fix everything, but it's going to move the ball forward. And my hope is it got jerked from a markup recently, but that it'll get back on the docket, because I think it'll pass overwhelmingly. And we've got recommendations around election security. 

Third area, and we are mostly done, but have not put out a report on this. I think-- well, I'm-- was a fan of President Obama. There were certain things the Obama administration did right. There are certain things they did wrong. And we need to point out-- from a corrective basis, and that will be the third part. 

The fourth part will be social media, and we've got a major committee hearing on that coming up. And again, I put out a set of 20 policy ideas recently, just to kind of seed the debate. And I'm not sure we'll come out with conclusions, but maybe at least some directions that we ought to pursue. And then-- the big enchilada, you know, was there collusion or not. And we still have a number of witnesses we need to see. 

The challenge with this investigation has been everybody leads to somebody else, and if anything, the universe grows rather than has been subtracted. And obviously when you've got now people like the president's former lawyer-fixer, Mr. Cohen, saying that he is willing to come back and testify without immunity, I mean that would be high on the list. There's a number of questions that we still have to answer—

MICHAEL MORELL: So you'll have him back?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: That's my hope. That's my hope.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. Senator, you've been incredibly generous with your time. I just wanted to ask you two more questions.


MICHAEL MORELL: One about North Korea and one about China. On North Korea you asked the D.N.I.-- a few weeks ago for a report. Essentially where are we. What are the North Koreans doing. Where do you think we are in this negotiation with the North Koreans?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: I am worried that this president has given Americans a false sense of security that North Korea as a trouble spot is off the table. Now, I commend the president for breaking some glass and actually meeting with Kim. You know, I think-- he--


SENATOR MARK WARNER: You know, went away from the established order, but it was the thing to do to meet. But to come out of that meeting and say, "Hey, North Korea's no longer a problem, and they're on the path to denuclearization," just is not true. So I think we need to stay vigilant.

I think-- you know, Secretary Pompeo has got the confidence of Mr. Trump, and, you know, I hope he will push ahead. But we cannot whitewash this, and as you know, and I think people in the intel community knows, just because of the nature of the-- frankly the weather and the topography of North Korea, it's really hard for us to have full eyes on North Korea and all of their potential-- missile sites. So I think--

MICHAEL MORELL: Is the administration keeping the Senate informed about how the negotiations are going?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: We are not as kept informed on the day-- you know, the back and forth on a specific negotiation. We are obviously, from the intel community, kept informed about what their assessment is of the regime's capabilities and their actions. And I can-- I would like to be kept more informed, but I also would understand that if you're in the middle of a negotiation you want to probably get a little bit further down the path before, you know, Congress. Even though we pride ourselves on the Senate Intel Committee of not being god-awful leakers, but-- you know, I-- I-- and I'm not a fan of the president, but I'm not going to whack him for not keeping us informed of each twist and turn on negotiations.

MICHAEL MORELL: Right. And then China, which-- we've spent a lotta time talking about Russia. But at the end of the day, maybe our biggest challenge globally-- or over the next 25, 50 years, is China and what is our relationship going to look like. And-- how are we going to manage that relationship in a very complex world. How do you think about that?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, this is, again, an area where I intend to spend a lot more time. My views on China have fundamentally changed over the last two, two and a half years. I was, two and a half, three years ago, optimistic. Thought there would be some path of coexistence. I am much, much more concerned right now. I am much more concerned in terms of China's military objectives in South China Sea, and their overall military capabilities. I am extraordinarily concerned about their investment strategy in terms of the rules of the road for American companies who I think are willing to sometimes sell their soul to get access to the Chinese market. Do things they would not do in the American market or the European or any other market. 

I'm concerned that many of the Chinese students who are coming over here are now coming because America is not viewed is as welcoming of a place, particularly under Mr. Trump, and China feels like it's on the go. And I also think President Xi's government is actually requiring many of these students to come back with-- taking back intellectual property from our universities. I think China has a well-defined plan around artificial intelligence, 5G technology, quantum computing, the next iteration. And not to be copycats. And I think there are so many Americans who presume that, "Oh, the Chinese will just do cheap end manufacturing or mimic our products." No way.

MICHAEL MORELL: They're innovating now.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: They are innovating now. And I see-- particularly in the A.I. space, with just the amount of data they have, they are ahead of us in things like face recognition. I believe in many areas of artificial intelligence you take their larger population and you add on top of that. If you had Facebook, Google and Amazon share every bit of information with the U.S. intelligence community, we'd be pretty good. But they've got that in terms of Alibaba, Badu and TenCent. 

And what I'm working on real-time, and it is-- the intelligence community has briefed us so many times with kinda hair on fire, "Oh my gosh, this is awful." But they have done-- a bad job of being able to either get a brief that can be declassified enough, or for that matter, even at a classified level, that is all of the intelligence community. I've seen the C.I.A brief, I've seen the F.B.I. brief, I've seen the O.D.N.I. brief, I've seen D.I.U.X. I've seen every enterprise's brief. You put 'em all together, you got a good product. And what I'm trying to force the community to do is we are doing our country and, frankly-- our business community and our academic community and investment community a disservice if we don't get out and get in their face and say, "Guys, buyer beware." And the community is going to have to be willing to-- you know, frankly, show more information than they have in the past. And that is-- obviously, you-- you've been a pro at this much longer than I. That's normal—

MICHAEL MORELL: That's doable. That's app--

SENATOR MARK WARNER: That's normal intelligence resistance.


SENATOR MARK WARNER: To share information. But in a world where we've got as much information out there open source, boy oh boy, we need to do that.

MICHAEL MORELL: So-- what do you think the policy answer to this is?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Well, I think the policy answer has to come from strength. I think that, you know, on trade policy, for example. I think China plays by a different set of rules. I think they have companies that, frankly, don't operate on a real market-based system. They are all indirect or directly related to the government. And I think we missed-- there was a growing recognition, I've talked to lots of folks within Asia, concern about China. But with America's walking away from global leadership, with America walking away from the TPP, which should have been not sold as a trade agreement but sold as a national—

MICHAEL MORELL: A security-- yeah.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: --international security agreement, you know, they gotta say who's going to-- if they feel like the Chinese are going to be in charge, we're not building that alliance enough. I think around the business area-- not just with what's called CIFIUS, our ability to review investment. We gotta be much more forward-leaning. We gotta get our business community to be aware. And I continue to hear from Fortune 100 companies who've spent a lot of time in China, who are starting to realize, "We've been here ten years. We've made money on paper, but we're not able to get any of our money out." I worry about academia. You know, we've-- many of our universities have 20% to 30% of their students now foreign-based, and mostly Chinese. And -- and listen, I welcome foreign-based students. I think it's one of our greatest assets. I think there is something uniquely different about some of the Chinese students now with their mission, as opposed to in the past, or other countries who still want to come here and prosper in America. 

So I think we need a much more articulated wariness of China. Not conflict, but wariness than we have. And I think the rest of the world would look to us for that leadership, because I think they have-- I mean you can think about even second or third world countries which have been seduced into natural resource deals with China with the promise of China building a big institution and providing a lot of jobs. Well, they may have gotten the dam built, but it was built by Chinese labor, not by labor from those countries. So I think--


SENATOR MARK WARNER: --I think there was a chance to put that coalition together.

MICHAEL MORELL: But without that, U.S. leadership, right, the rest of the world gets sucked into China—

SENATOR MARK WARNER: The one thing-- and this sounds-- you know, nationalistic or jingoistic or politically incorrect. But the one thing that I've seen in the seven or eight years, you know, behind the curtain on the intelligence community is on virtually any issue-- waiting for the rest of the world to get their act together without American leadership, we're gonna wait a long time.

MICHAEL MORELL: Isn't gonna happen.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: And I say that even with our partners in Europe. You know, leading a charge towards democracy, our human rights-- a lot of well-intentioned entities, but the folks need American leadership.

MICHAEL MORELL: Senator, thank you-- for your time. I know that there aren't a lot of political benefits to serving on the Intelligence Committees-- but thank you for your service.


MICHAEL MORELL: It's incredibly important.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Thanks so much.


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