James Clapper on Russian interference

James Clapper on Russian interference
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently reiterated his belief that Russian interference affected the outcome of the 2016 elections..

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently reiterated his belief that Russian interference affected the outcome of the 2016 elections. Clapper noted that the stance was taken as a private citizen.

Background

James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) from 2010 to 2017, has a long history in the intelligence community. The son of a World War II intelligence officer, Clapper joint the Air Force in 1963. There, he was promoted to lieutenant general before becoming director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until 1995. Clapper was brought back into service has the head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency by President Bush in 2001. He was appointed as DNI under the Obama administration. The position had been created in 2004 by the 9/11 Commission (National Commission of Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States).

Clapper served as the most senior intelligence advisor for over 7 years. In 2013, he was accused of committing perjury. He has been accused by Democrats and Republicans for lying about NSA surveillance during a senate hearing. Clapper maintained that he had misunderstood the question. In 2016, he co-authored the declaration that Russia had attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Clapper retired as DNI in January 2017. He is currently a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. 

Russia investigation

According to US intelligence agencies, Kremlin interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections. Russia is said to have hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the personal email account of John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The data obtained from these hacks was allegedly forwarded to Wikileaks.  According to a report released by the US intelligence community in January 2017, this hack served to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

In May 2017, the Department of Justice (DoJ) appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the Russian interference and related matters. Muller is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections. Campaign aides including former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, have been indicted.

Analysis

In a recent interview with Harvard Gazette, James Clapper spoke about President Trump and the Russia investigation. Clapper, who recently published a memoir, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence,” is not the first intelligence official to speak against the President. Former FBI Director James Comey, and Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, have both been critical of Trump.

Clapper took a strong stance, stating that “In all that time in intelligence, in one capacity or another, I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, but never anything to disturb me as much as what I came to understand, comprehend, what the Russians were doing to meddle in the fundamental pillars of our political system.”

Clapper continued that he believed— in his capacity as a private citizen—that Russian interference in the 2016 election had a major effect on the polls. “Of course the Russian efforts affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point,” Clapper wrote in his book. “Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”

He explained his position in the interview. “I think they got people out to vote who wouldn’t otherwise have voted, and certainly reinforced votes.” Clapper also noted, “There’s a striking parallelism between what the Russians were doing and saying and what the [Trump] campaign was doing and saying, particularly when it came to Hillary Clinton.”

Clapper expressed his belief that Russia has “capitalized on the polarization and the schisms and the tribalisms in this country.” He stated that Russia will be America’s “primary adversary, an existential threat to this country” as long as Putin is in office. By conducting misinformation campaigns on social media, they have attempted to undermine faith in the democratic process. “To me, the most damaging and threatening thing that they do is to cast doubt on what’s truth,” Clapper said. 

The former DNI noted that President Trump has also continued to reject any information that “casts doubt on the legitimacy of his election.” Clapper asserted, “[Trump] has besmirched the Intelligence community and the FBI–pillars of our country–and deliberately incited many Americans to lose faith and confidence in them.” However, Clapper believes that US intelligence should be relatively safe, “and will keep serving up the truth to power whether they’re powerless in the truth or not.”

“Lots of things are going on [to protect against further election interference]. But what’s missing is the galvanizing effect of a clear stalwart statement from the president of the United States that the Russians are messing with us and it’s got to stop. And this needs to be done not just for the government, but for the society,” he said.

Assessment

Our assessment is that foreign interference in the electoral system hinders citizens’ trust in the government. This trust may be further shaken by Presidential delegitimisation of institutions such as the media and intelligence agencies. We believe that a crucial part of national security is to counter attempts to devalue the country’s political system. Independent structures of investigation and oversight are crucial to hold leaders accountable for their actions. As noted previously, we feel that criticism is unlikely to sway Trump’s support base against him.

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