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U.S. Representative Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, discussed intelligence oversight and national security issues during a Harvard Institute of Politics Forum Monday evening.
The JFK Jr. Forum discussion was co-sponsored by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and moderated by Paul R. Kolbe, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center and the former director of the center’s Intelligence Project.
At the start of Monday’s forum, Schiff said the Intelligence Committee is a “unique oversight challenge” due to the classified hearings, which is why the committee is “normally so protective of whistleblowers.”
Schiff’s talk touched on major moments in which intelligence played a role in U.S. foreign relations.
During the 2016 election, Schiff said, Russia hacked into Democratic Party emails and released them through intermediaries to influence the campaign. In addition, Schiff said Russia “embarked on a clandestine social media campaign out of St. Petersburg” to divide the American public, suppress votes for then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and assist the Trump campaign.
Schiff also discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, noting that U.S. intelligence observed Russian movements at the time to be inconsistent with a military drill.
“Some of our allies didn’t believe us,” he said. “Indeed, President Zelenskyy expressed his own skepticism about our intelligence and what the Russian plans were.”
The stakes of the Russia-Ukraine war are “enormously high for the Ukrainian people, for their democracy, but also for the whole international rules-based order,” Schiff said.
Moving to the topic of U.S.-China relations, Schiff said China is making a dramatic transition from an inward-looking nation to an international player. He cited Taiwan as a flashpoint between the U.S. and China, stating, “to the degree that we can assist Taiwan in strengthening its defenses, that may be among the most important ways of deterring a military intervention.”
In response to a question about the capabilities of open-source intelligence, Schiff said the U.S. doesn’t need covert methods of collecting intelligence, such as a spy, satellite, or a wiretap.
“It’s just all out in the open,” he said. “You just need to know where to look for it.”
China’s surveillance strategy also presents a “profound challenge” to the U.S., Schiff said, because the country uses AI to amalgamate data that it has collected from foreign databases.
He concluded Monday’s talk by expressing admiration for the individuals working in foreign relations and intelligence.
“Probably the most inspiring, interesting work that we get to do as members of Congress is visit our service members, visit our diplomats and visit our intelligence committee professionals around the world,” he said.
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