Former CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday criticized Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and the House Intelligence Committee’s report on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election as partisan and inaccurate.
The report, also criticized by Democrats on the committee, said there was no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the run-up to the presidential election.
“It is a one-sided and partisan effort to short-circuit appropriate investigative measures,” Brennan said. “There will be a reckoning for those who protect the president. And that will be at the ballot box.”
Before a capacity audience at the University of Utah’s Dumke Auditorium, Brennan said that, if asked, he would not serve under President Donald Trump, who has belittled the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency and seeks Cabinet members who pledge loyalty to him over the country.
“He does not have the requisite experience, ability or ethics for the office,” Brennan said of Trump in an interview after the presentation.
Brennan’s speech, “The Gritty Truth: Counterterrorism in an Era of Instability,” at the 2018 World Leaders Lecture, touched on a number of topics surrounding globalization in the digital age and its impact on politics and world affairs.
“Global instability is one of the defining issues of our time,” he said, “and its implications are hard to overstate.”
As instability spreads, political reform suffers, he added, as some governments turn toward authoritarianism at the expense of democracy and human rights.
Brennan, who also served the Obama administration as assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said there is no good military solution regarding North Korea, which has a growing nuclear weapons program.
“We need to bring the temperature down on those [upcoming] discussions,” he said of Trump’s planned meeting with Kim Jong Un, adding that he is pleased the president has not tweeted lately about “Rocket Man” and hopeful for a political cease-fire.
Neither the CIA nor the FBI used the so-called “Steele Dossier” as evidence that Russia sought to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump, Brennan said, responding to a question from the audience regarding memoranda compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
But once the U.S. intelligence agencies had the documents — which detail collusion and some salacious allegations about Trump — Brennan, then-FBI Director James Comey and James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, delivered it to the new president Jan. 25, 2017, to make sure he understood the allegations.
“It should be a clear reminder to everybody,” Brennan said regarding the Russian meddling, “that we are not as secure as we think.”
Brennan also emphasized globalism and what he called “the arc of history” as people and nations become more and more connected. But not everyone favors the phenomenon, he said, because globalization has benefited some more than others.
“Governance is more difficult in the 21st century,” he said. “A lot of people feel the government is failing them.”
In many places, including the United States, people are turning toward populism and electing celebrities. “But how competent are they to orchestrate systems of governance in this country?”
Adding to the uncertainty is the digital revolution, which is 85 percent owned and operated by the private sector. Brennan noted that impacts of its disruption can affect our way of life and will be an ongoing challenge.
“Every day our dependence on digital systems grows,” he said. “How will we safeguard that environment and protect privacy and personal liberties while protecting national security?”
The intelligence community is making strides to counter cyberthreats, Brennan noted. But our laws have not adapted adequately to the cyberworld. The government cannot do it alone.
As the post-Cold War era drew to a close, the United States emerged as the world’s sole superpower, Brennan said. That has now changed with the re-emergence of Russia and the growing economic clout of China.
“The U.S., Russia and China are in this dance for influence in the digital world,” he said. “We still have the premier influence around the world, but we don’t have the ability to shape events.”
Although the world seems like a troubled place, Brennan said he remains optimistic.
“It’s important to stay focused on the great things we have here,” he said. “I would like young people to think about what they can give back to this great country.”