The FBI learned Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee back in the summer of 2015. In the spring of 2016, security agencies became aware there was a broader Russian campaign to meddle in the U.S. election. By the summer, they had determined what it looked like.
“Their first objective was to undermine the credibility and integrity of the U.S. electoral process. They were trying to damage Hillary Clinton,” said former CIA Director John Brennan speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen Wednesday morning. “They thought she would be elected, and they wanted her bloodied by the time she was going to be inaugurated and they were also trying to promote the prospects of Mr. Trump,”
Also clear to Brennan and his national security colleagues at the time: Russian President Vladmir Putin had authorized the campaign. (“We have our ways,” Brennan said, when asked how they had come to that conclusion.)
That the U.S. government held such intelligence and didn’t respond to Russia more aggressively before the election has baffled and angered many, but Brennan defended the Obama Administration’s approach, saying anything more may have made things worse. He explained:
He added that while America has cyber capabilities that match those of Russia and other more aggressive states, the government is thoughtful about when and how best to deploy them. (One consideration: businesses and citizens can become targets in escalating cyber warfare.) In any case, he said, “I don’t believe that anything we would have done would have stopped the Russians from doing these activities.”
Because of all that, hearing Trump refer to meeting Putin as a “great honor” several made Brennan’s “blood boil a bit.” As for the ongoing investigation into the current Administration’s dealings with Russia in the run-up to the election and Trump’s repeated denial of them, Brennan said only, “He said things. I knew things….I’m not going to pulse one against the other.” (Though he’s not involved, he says the FBI will be looking for evidence of three things: collusion, obstruction of justice and financial irregularities.)
Brennan was more forthcoming on the topic of whether the President has damaged the nation’s intelligence agencies by repeatedly challenging the findings of their Russia investigation: