WASHINGTON (CN) – Findings that Russia influenced the presidential election took center stage Thursday at a hearing where James Clapper announced his official resignation as director of national intelligence.
“Our nation is facing most diverse array of threats that I’ve seen in my 53-plus years in the intelligence space,” Clapper said, making his last appearance before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Clapper and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had told the committee last month that Russia’s top officials authorized interference in the U.S. election, which Donald Trump won last week, despite losing the popular vote
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and the committee’s ranking member, asked Clapper if he thought the Russians would continue hacking and dumping documents, barring a “rapprochement” between President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Clapper offered little optimism.
“I don’t anticipate a significant change in Russian behavior,” Clapper responded. “We gave considerable thought to diming-out Russia with that statement. We waited until we thought we had a sufficient basis for it and we did both from a forensic, and as well as other sources of intelligence that led us to that statement.”
Clapper said the country is already seeing the advantages of having dropped that “dime” – slang that comes from the cost of a call a police informant might make from a payphone.
“It may have had the desired effect since after the issuance of the statement, and the communication that I know took place between our government and the Russian government, it seemed to have curtailed the cyberactivity that the Russians were previously engaged in,” he added.
Clapper described the Russian capability to conduct information operations, or hybrid warfare, as “active and aggressive,” and as a long-standing Russian practice he traced back to the Soviet era.
“I anticipate that it will continue,” he said.
Schiff, who has represented Los Angeles in Congress since 2001, pushed on whether the dumping of documents to Wikileaks might have continued after Clapper and Johnson issued their statement – suggesting that the statement had merely avoided an escalation in election interference.
Clapper said that Russian cyber-reconnaissance had been curtailed, but he noted that the evidence in connection to Wikileaks is not as strong.
“We don’t have good insight into the sequencing of the releases or when the data may have been provided,” he said.
Clapper declined the opportunity to forecast what impact the incoming administration will have on Russian behavior.
“That’s kind of speculative,” he said. “I just don’t know.”
Clapper was a little more forthcoming, however, about Russian behavior in Syria following a phone call Tuesday between President-elect Trump and Putin. After a three-week cease-fire, Russia launched a major air offensive in Aleppo Tuesday, the day after they spoke.
“I can tell you right now the Russians are sustaining their behavior,” Clapper said. “They are increasingly putting more pressure oppositionists in Aleppo – indiscriminately bombing women, children, hospitals – that sort of thing,” he continued.
“And that will continue. That is having a negative effect on the oppositionists in terms of morale and willingness to continue to fight.”
Clapper told the committee this plays into Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s objective to achieve a military victory. Assad is not as interested in negotiations, he said.
The retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general offered up a dire diagnosis of the threats against America, which the incoming administration will inherit.
“We should expect new terrorist entities to arise, and a cycle of violent extremism to continue for the foreseeable future, while our more traditional issues like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea will continue to challenge us,” he added.
When Rep. Schiff joked about whether he wanted to stay on for another four years, Clapper demurred.
“I submitted my letter of resignation last night, which felt pretty good,” Clapper said.
“I have 64 days left and I would have a hard time with my wife for anything past that,” he added.
Clapper’s resignation, which was expected, leaves a key intelligence vacancy for President-elect Trump to fill. Trump has yet to name any members of his national-security team. He did, however, name the chairman of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, to his transition team as an adviser.
Nunes, a California Republican, succeeded the committee’s last chair, Rep. Mike Rogers. A Michigan Republican and former FBI agent, Rogers did not seek re-election after his term expired in 2015.
Rogers found a seat on the Trump transition committee earlier this year, thanks to its then-chair New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
After the election, however, Trump ousted both men from that transition committee.
The Washington Post reported that Rogers had been a possible pick for director of national intelligence or the CIA before his ouster.
A bipartisan 2014 committee report under Rogers’ chairmanship of the committee had cleared Hillary Clinton of personal wrongdoing in the 2012 Benghazi incident, which angered GOP hardliners, the Post reported.
Nunes, who is more partisan than Rogers, is now being floated as a top pick for CIA director.