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Ex-U.S. Intel Chiefs Criticize CIA For Entertaining Russian Hack Conspiracy

Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing: "Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election," in May.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A report that President Trump asked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to meet with a former NSA employee who denies Russian interference in the U.S. election has drawn fire from two ex-intelligence chiefs.

The claim that emails were "leaked" rather than "hacked" is at odds with the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, including Pompeo himself, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee as much in May.

(Later, Pompeo said that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that the Russian attempts to influence the elections were ultimately unsuccessful, although the CIA later walked that assertion back.)

The Intercept reports that Pompeo met last month with a former NSA officer, William Binney, who is described as a "whistleblower" and reportedly co-authored an analysis by a group of former intelligence officers that challenges the consensus that Russia was behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee's emails. The website reports that in an interview with Binney, the ex-NSA officer contends that he and other former officials "argue that the DNC data was 'leaked,' not hacked, 'by a person with physical access' to the DNC's computer system."

According to The Intercept:

"Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo 'want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,' Binney said."

"This episode, I think, adds to the image (perhaps unjustifiably) that Pompeo is a political activist, as a 'go-to' guy for Trump," retired Gen. James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence under President Obama tells CNN. He added that it is "not a good place for a director of the CIA to be."

Clapper, who also served as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, was echoed in a separate interview with CNN by Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who worked as the director of the National Security Agency and later the Central Intelligence Agency under three presidents.

"I suspect that this is something that Director Pompeo never wanted to do," Hayden tells the news channel.

"He had to have been pushed" to take the meeting, Hayden said.

"The President's insistence that he pursue such an obviously weak argument suggests a grasping at straws here," he concluded.

Clapper, in particular, has been a harsh critic of Trump. Late last month, he told Politico that the 2016 hacking was real and aimed at electing Trump and amounted to a major victory for a foreign adversary.

"The Russians," Clapper told Politico, have "succeeded beyond their wildest expectations."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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