Transcript: Sue Gordon on "Face the Nation," September 13, 2020

Ex-top intel official: Election doubt "exactly" what Russia wants
Ex-top intel official: Election doubt "exactl... 07:43

The following is a transcript of an interview with former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, that aired Sunday, September 13, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to turn now to Sue Gordon, she is the former principal deputy director of National Intelligence, and resigned in August of last year. She joins us this morning from Sea Island, Georgia. Good morning to you.

FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE SUE GORDON: Good morning, MARGARET. Thanks for having me. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure. You've got nearly 40 years of experience in intelligence at the CIA and other agencies, and you had an op-ed this week in which you argued that election interference is a "grave and persistent threat." You said you're frustrated with how all of us as a country are talking about election security. You said it's turned vitriolic, diversionary and unhelpful, and we are doing our enemies work for them. What do you mean by that?

GORDON: So I think three things, MARGARET. The first is, I believe the most significant strategic threat to America is if we end up not believing in ourselves, and I've shared this with the president, there- almost anything else we can overcome. But stopping to believe in the way that we govern in the way that we act would be devastating. The second is we know our adversaries are attacking our elections. There's- there's little doubt on it. They continue to, they have in the past. And that's the bedrock of our democracy. But I think we're so focused on the elections themselves that we're forgetting that their intention is to achieve various interests. In the case of Russia, it's to undermine democracy. In the case of China, it's to create an economic advantage and down the line. And when we don't understand the intention, when we don't understand the intention is to make us weak, and what we do is create a conversation that sows distrust in our leaders and our institutions, we've done their work for them. And what I wanted to do is provide some clarity around what we know, what we don't, what we're doing well and what we need to do better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I hear you and I also hear you putting blame in a lot of places for contributing to this. I do want to point out something the White House, the president said from the White House podium this week, which was that he again said that his campaign was spied on. And then last night at a campaign rally, he said this about the 2020 election.

(BEGIN CLIP) 

PRESIDENT TRUMP: And it's Democrats, they're going to they're trying to rig this election. If you go to New Jersey, if you go to Virginia, if you go to Pennsylvania, if you go to California to look at some of these races, every one every one of these races was a fraud, missing ballots.

(END CLIP) 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this undermining of institutions? You're talking about coming from the top?

GORDON: Yeah. So I'm- I'm going to always hold the president more responsible than anybody else because he's, well, the president and his voice carries further, speaks louder. And so I think he always carries disproportionate responsibility. And that message that you can't trust our system, that you can't trust the vote, that you can't trust the other party that you can't trust is exactly what the Russians particularly hope to achieve. And their aim would be to sow the divisions and to get Americans to say, you know what, it's not worth it. I can't trust it. We're not going to vote. But he's not the only one. When the other party says that a difference in policy means that he is malfeasant or evil or being controlled, that too is undermining it. So his is the biggest voice. But there are others.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This week, the US Treasury actually put sanctions on a Russian agent who was part of a campaign to denigrate Joe Biden. This is the Trump administration acknowledging this is happening. When you were in office, was it the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia was trying to help President Trump win?

GORDON: So, again, go back to the interests of Russia. Russia is going to support anything that advances its interests. If they believe that President Trump's policies are ones that advantage them, then they will. And that's what you see. It doesn't mean that they prefer the human, it means that they're talking about the policies. And remember that Russia is a very capable adversary. They've been at this for a long time. They've been at this since the Cold War, and they will use human, they will use digital means in order to advance their interests. And I think that's the thing that I would stress. When our adversaries attack us, they are doing it for their purpose. And when we don't respond properly, we are serving their aims.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe our election infrastructure, where you go to vote, how you go to vote, that it is adequately protected?

GORDON: Yeah, I am really proud of the work both the government has done to organize efforts not only at the federal level, but all the way down to state and local to protect the physical infrastructure around voting. And companies have leapt into the tray-tray to try and protect the infrastructure. So I would never say that it is impenetrable because we have this glorious, open nation that has lots of endpoints. But I think we are far better than we were in '18-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we know there was Russia-- and we know there was Russian malware installed in election systems in Florida.

GORDON: Yeah, what we're talking about more is the systems around the elections, not the election infrastructure itself. So I think- I think our infrastructure is as well protected as it's ever been, even though we can do better on that front. But remember, half of it is influence, and when we look at the information that is being amplified and the misinformation that is going through our social media, we probably have more work to do on that front to ensure that inauthentic messaging that would sow divisions is more protected. So we have more work to do there. But-but as far as the infrastructure itself, even though it can never be 100 percent, we're in pretty good stead on that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean by that? How do people at home protect themselves from being manipulated by what you're describing?

GORDON: OK, so two ways I would say is for every individual, stop forwarding, sending messages that you don't know the origin. We know that on everything from COVID to mail fraud, our adversaries are amplifying putting messages in that look authentic. And if citizens just keep sending that out, we're doing a pretty good job. So stop amplifying messages and forwarding message that you don't know their origin. And the second is start being some- doing some critical thinking when you receive information and if it's someone telling you what to think or that you can't believe then do some research on your own. And cybersecurity across the board. Pay attention to cyber hygiene. It'll save a lot of heartache.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you said Twitter is of concern to you in particular and social media. Sue Gordon, it is great to get your insight. We're going to have to leave it there for time today-- 

GORDON: Thanks, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --but hope to have you back. And all of us here on FACE THE NATION will be back in a moment.