Top intel chiefs testified at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Monday over allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. electoral system during the 2016 campaign.
United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes made clear during his opening statement that the committee needs to find out what actions Russia undertook during the 2016 political campaign and if anyone from the Trump campaign colluded.
In his address, Mr. Nunes referred to the Russian news outlet RT as a “propaganda network” and admitted that “it’s still possible that other surveillance methods were used on Trump and associates.”
National Security Agency head Adm. Mike Rogers told the committee that the intel community has been aware for some time of the “direct connections” between RT and the Russian government such as “monetary flow.”
During his testimony Adm. Rogers answered a good deal of questions but managed to bob and weave around others in which details remain classified.
Likewise, F.B.I. Director James Comey’s testimony fell short whenever any sensitive questions arose, making his answers rather brief and stale.
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the F.B.I. as part of our counter-intelligence mission is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating any links between individual associates with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and the Russian efforts,” Comey said.
Adm. Mike Rogers addressed that fact that the N.S.A. has no evidence indicating votes were changed during the election process, but appeared to be dodging questions regarding the “incidental collection” of data surrounding “U.S. persons” who may have spoken with or came in contact with a targeted foreign individual.
The N.S.A. head explained to the committee how in most cases the masking of a U.S. person’s name in documentation is usually done with a generic entry such as “U.S. Person 1” or “U.S. Person 2,” which typically keeps the person of interested unidentified.
Adm. Rogers said that he is one of only 20 people inside the NSA that have the ability to “unmask” names or “purge” the data and that the White House can make a request to unmask a name but it is ultimately left up to specific agencies and employees.
Rogers also told the committee that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requests have nothing to do with Section 702 which is not authorized to be used domestically.
Rep. Trey Gowdy also expressed his concerns during the hearing in regards to the unauthorized publication of classified information by domestic news agencies.
“The unauthorized dissemination or publication of classified or otherwise legally protected information is punishable by up to 10-years in prison, ” Gowdy said, also listing the New York Times and the Washington Post as offenders.
According to Gowdy, only the Department of Justice, along with the C.I.A., F.B.I. and the N.S.A. can unmask U.S. persons’ names and leakers should be held accountable.
F.B.I. Dir. Comey said he didn’t want to confirm such classified information had hit the press from anyone inside his agency, but made it clear such actions are “criminal.”
Additionally, the committee spoke about political operative and frequent guest on the Alex Jones Show Roger Stone who may have been a target of surveillance due to his alleged connections to the hacker Guccifer 2.0 and his foreknowledge of the Podesta email leaks.