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Heads Of U.S. Intelligence Agencies To Testify Before Senate Panel


Leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies heard a warning today. They were called before a Senate committee. It's the committee investigating Russia's role in the 2016 election, among other things. And Democratic Senator Mark Warner said that as new elections approach this year, the United States has left itself open to further interference.


MARK WARNER: Now, we've had more than a year to get our act together, and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter further attacks. But I believe, unfortunately, we still don't have a comprehensive plan.

INSKEEP: This is one of many issues the intelligence chiefs face. And NPR's Tim Mak has been listening in as they discuss it. Hey there, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: Is Mark Warner broadly right? The administration has not addressed the threat from Russia at all.

MAK: I think you'd have bipartisan support for that assertion, right? What Senator Mark Warner is saying is, we all agreed that Russia intervened, that they used social media in order to spread disinformation, and they tried to probe the election systems of 21 states. But there still is no comprehensive plan, and the administration hasn't proposed one. Also, senators voted - 98 out of 100 senators voted to push forward sanctions on Russia. The White House and the Trump administration have declined to impose those sanctions. You've also got legislation that would impose new costs on Russia if they interfered in future elections, and that legislation is going nowhere. So what Senator Warner is trying to express is a frustration - I think bipartisan in many cases - that not enough has been done on Russia.

INSKEEP: What does that mean if you have the head of one intelligence agency after another say, we understand this is a grave problem, this is a grave threat, and yet they're forced to acknowledge that they have not been able to do anything administrationwide about it?

MAK: Well, this really does come from the top because even though the intelligence community and Trump's appointees have agreed in general that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election, and you have them now saying they will continue to interfere in our future elections, the president himself has been very reluctant to acknowledge that Russia ever had any dealings that might've influenced the election or helped him in any way.

INSKEEP: And, of course, the president is under investigation, or to be precise, people around the president have been investigated, and some have been criminally charged for dealings relating to Russian involvement and Russian interest in the Trump campaign in 2016. The president has called allegations of collusion a hoax, among other things. This is just one of many things, though, one of many issues facing the intelligence agencies. Tim, what other threats are the intelligence chiefs seeing out there?

MAK: Well, there are a wide range of threats globally. We're not just talking about Russia. We're talking about hackers in China. We're talking about the nuclear threat that North Korea poses. There are so many different areas right now that are rife for conflict. And these intelligence chiefs, whether they be the CIA or the DIA or other agency heads - they're very concerned about how serious these threats are.

INSKEEP: DIA - Defense Intelligence Agency - the top guy there is Dan Coats, and we heard something of a warning from him.

MAK: Well, Dan Coats said this morning that the risk of conflict between nation-states is higher than any other point since the Cold War. So...

INSKEEP: Nation-states like Russia, China, United States, as opposed to terrorists, OK.

MAK: And that's a very, very serious assertion by one of the heads of our intelligence apparatuses.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tim Mak. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.