Washington, D.C. – During today’s U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned the leaders of the intelligence community about the FBI’s ability to continue its investigation into Russian activity related to the U.S. presidential election, cyber security software company Kaspersky Lab, the threat of weapons ending up in the wrong hands due to the crisis in Venezuela, and the Cuban regime’s efforts to covertly influence Americans.
Video of the exchanges can be watched here. A full transcript is below.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
May 11, 2017
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RUBIO: Mr. McCabe, can you, without going into the specific of any individual investigation, I think the American people want to know, has the dismissal of Mr. Comey in any way impeded, interrupted, stopped, or negatively impacted any of the work, any investigation, or any ongoing projects at the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
ACTING FBI DIRECTOR ANDREW MCCABE: As you know, senator, the work of the men and women of the FBI continues despite any changes in circumstance, any decisions. So there has been no effort to impede our investigations to date. Simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.
RUBIO: And this is for all the members of the committee. As has been widely reported, and people know this, Kaspersky Lab software is used by, if not hundreds of thousands, millions of Americans. To each of our witnesses I would just ask, would any of you be comfortable with Kaspersky Lab software on your computers?
DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DAN COATS: A resounding no from me.
NSA DIRECTOR MICHAEL ROGERS: No.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: No, senator.
MCCABE: No, sir.
DIA DIRECTOR VINCENT STEWART: No, senator.
NGA DIRECTOR ROBERT CARDILLO: No, sir.
RUBIO: Director Pompeo, on Venezuela, which was mentioned in Director Coats’ statements, as all of you are probably well aware, armed civilian groups or ‘collectivos,’ these militias in the street, have been armed by the regime for purposes of defending, for lack of a better term, the regime from protestors. We all are aware of the Maduro regime’s cozy relationship with Hezbollah, with the FARC, which is a designated terrorist organization, and links to narcotrafficking. Among the weapons and the stockpile, the military in Venezuela, are Igla-S – these basically Russian variant of our stinger missiles. And Director Pompeo, if you could comment on the risk that I believe exists that as these groups become more desperate, potentially even operate at some point outside the control of the Maduro regime, running around in the streets, also in search of money and food and anything else that they want to get their hands on, the threat of any advanced weaponry such as what I’ve just mentioned being sold or transferred to the FARC, a terrorist organization, sold to drug cartels in Mexico potentially, or even sold to terrorist organizations on the black market. Is that a real threat? Is that something we should be cognizant of?
POMPEO: Senator, it is a real threat. As we have all seen, the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate. Maduro gets more desperate by the hour. The risk of these collectivos acting in a way that is not under his control increases as time goes on as well. In a classified setting I’m happy to share with you a little bit more about the details of what we know. We have not seen any of those major arms transfers take place. We don’t have any evidence that those have taken place to date. But those stockpiles exist not only in the Maduro regime but other places as well. There are plenty of weapons running around in Venezuela and this risk is incredibly real and serious, and ultimately a threat to South America and Central America in addition to just in Venezuela.
RUBIO: Staying in the Western Hemisphere for a moment, and this potentially is also to Director McCabe, it’s certainly to you, Director Pompeo. I continue to be concerned about the potential, I believe, is the reality of a concerted effort on the part of the Cuban government to recruit and unwittingly enlist Americans, business executives and others, even local and state political leaders, in an effort to have them influence U.S. policymaking on Cuba, and particularly the lifting of the embargo. Would this be a tactic consistent with what we have seen in the past from other nation states, including the regime in Cuba?
POMPEO: I’ll let Mr. MccCabe make comment as well. Yes, of course. Frankly, this is consistent-- the attempt to interfere in the United States is not limited to Russia. The Cubans have deep ties. It is in their deepest tradition to take American visitors and do their best to influence them in a way that is adverse to U.S. interests.
MCCABE: Yes, sir. Fully agree. We share your concerns about that issue.
RUBIO: And my final question is, all this focus on Russia and what’s happened in the past, is it the opinion of all of you … that even as we focus on 2016 and the efforts leading up to that election, efforts to influence policymaking here in the United States, vis-à-vis the Russian interests, are ongoing? That the Russians continue to use active measures, even as at this moment, even on this day, to try through the use of multiple different ways, to influence the political debate and decisions made in American politics, particularly as they pertain to Russia’s interests around the world. In essence, these active measures is an ongoing threat, not simply something that happened in the past?
MCCABE: Yes, sir, that’s right.
POMPEO: Senator, it’s right. In some sense though, we have to put in context. this has been going on for a long time. There's nothing new, only the cost has been lessened, the cost of doing it.
COATS: I would just add that the use of cyber and social media significantly increased the impact in the capabilities that Russia-- obviously this has been done for years and years, even decades. But the ability they have to use the interconnectedness and all that that provides that it didn’t provide before, they literally upped their game to the point where it’s having a significant impact.
ROGERS: From my perspective, I would just-- cyber is enabling them to access information in massive quantities that weren’t quite attainable to the same level previously. And that’s just another tool in their attempt to acquire information, misuse of that information, manipulation, outright lies, inaccuracies at times. But at other times, actually dumping raw data, which is as we also saw during this last presidential election cycle for us.