Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey says Donald Trump is quickly getting up to speed on understanding American intelligence efforts, but he wants to see the incoming president get more aggressive on cyber security and respond to Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign in a way that will make sure the Russians never try to do it again.
Woolsey calls the report on Russian hacking efforts “quite professional” and says there are two obvious takeaways.
“One is that the Russians do this all the time, not so much against us but in a lot of other countries. It’s not in the report, but they call it disinformation, known to you and me as lying. They have thousands of people working on photoshopping pictures, rewriting prefaces to books, etc.,” said Woolsey.
He says that also have a habit of going after political parties and institutions that espouse an ideology contrary to the Kremlin’s – including the Catholic Church.
“That side of things is not new. What’s new is using cyber, which is hard often to figure out the source of as a tool in this disinformation campaign,” said Woolsey.
He says this episode has also once again exposed the flawed cyber warfare mindset of the United States.
“We are like a very good and highly talented hockey team that has decided to use all of its players as goalies. So everybody is clustered around the goal, trying to keep any shot from getting through. We’ve kind of given up on offense,” said Woolsey.
He says there needs to be a greater emphasis on offense. And he says an appropriate response to the Russians is a good place to start.
“You do have to do that in cyber. You have to keep people from scoring against you at all. But you can’t just hunker down. We need to make the sort of things that the Russians did this last time around…very, very unpleasant for them,” said Woolsey.
Woolsey’s most preferred response to the Russians is less cyber-related and more of an economic blow, urging Trump to unleash the free market against Russia and their allies in OPEC. Specifically, he wants the auto industry to embrace methanol, a fuel derived from wood waste and other sources.
“You will make our Chinese and Israeli friends, who are working hard on this technology, very happy and you will make our Russian Iranian acquaintances very sad. Russians do not like competition and they don’t produce anything except oil and gas and weapons,” said Woolsey.
As for the future of the intelligence community, Trump has hinted that he may try to restructure it. Woolsey, who was a part of Trump’s transition until stepping down in recent days, says that may be a good idea, because the current format is too bloated.
“I’m skeptical we’ve got the right solution,” said Woolsey, noting the explosion of bureaucracy since he led the CIA from 1993-1994. Woolsey says then he was not only the head of the CIA but was “chairman of the board” of all government intelligence agencies.
“I did that with an added 19 people. Today, there are about 2,000 people that are used in that oversight and coordination,” said Woolsey.
Another thing he would like to see intelligence officials do is keep their mouths shut.
“I think the agency leadership in the last few years inclined more and more to public statements and I don’t think that’s a good idea. The key thing in intelligence is preserving your sources and methods. You can’t do that if you’re talking all the time about different aspects. Even though they might not be directly disclosing a source can contribute to that,” said Woolsey.
Woolsey is very encouraged by Trump’s picks to lead the intelligence community, namely Mike Pompeo for CIA and Dan Coats to head the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
He also says Americans shouldn’t read too much into the public spat between Trump and the intelligence professionals. He’s confident it will all get ironed out soon.
“I don’t think any of this is a really serious fight between him and the intelligence community. It’s an opening round of sparring a little bit , but I think they’ll get it sorted out. The stakes are just too high,” said Woolsey.
“What the American president sees as a result of intelligence collection and what judgments he makes after consulting with his senior officials in the government are the heart of our foreign policy,” said Woolsey.
Woolsey stepped down from the Trump transition after feeling uncomfortable going on television as a member of the transition but without being included in many discussions involving the incoming administration. Nonetheless, he’s happy to help Trump whenever called upon.
“I would still respond to Donald Trump if he got in touch and wanted me to write something up or wanted me to confer on something. I’d be delighted to do so,” said Woolsey.