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Member Of Senate Intelligence Committee On Election Security

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Chilling, shocking and terrifying - that's how Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut described a classified intelligence briefing from earlier this week. And now, this afternoon, the U.S. intelligence community is publicly warning that Russia, China and Iran are trying to interfere in the 2020 election. They say each country is pursuing a different goal - China trying to undermine President Trump, Russia attempting to undermine Joe Biden and Iran working to undermine U.S. democratic institutions and President Trump.

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine caucuses with the Democrats, and he sits on the intelligence committee that got that classified briefing.

Sen. King, I know you can't talk about the substance of classified briefings, but do you believe that the public statement from the intelligence community today paints a fair and thorough picture of what's happening with election interference this year?

ANGUS KING: I think it paints a fair picture. I think it's a very important step for the intelligence community to view the American people as one of their customers. The people pay for this intelligence, and they're entitled to the benefit of it, subject to protecting sources and then to not compromising how we got this information. But I think this is a very important announcement, and what may be even more important is that Bill Evanina, the director, said this is only the first. So they're going to keep us informed, and I hope that's the case.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well...

KING: But that prevents...

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you about some specifics because the statement does go into some detail of how the U.S. believes Russia is working to undermine Joe Biden but does not offer similar evidence of targeted efforts by China towards Trump. Is it your understanding that there is a specific threat from China, or is this statement just reflecting the administration's aggressive stance towards Beijing?

KING: I don't think the latter is accurate. I think they're trying to play it straight. And I really can't comment on the details of the briefing that I got this week, but as you point out, the information with regard to Russia is pretty specific. And the reason this is important is that the best way that we can defend ourselves against this kind of misinformation is to know what's happening and to know what the source is. And that's why I think this announcement today is so important.

SHAPIRO: And is it your understanding that the interference is limited to misinformation, or are there also attempts to, for example, hack into voting machines, which we know Russia attempted to do in 2016?

KING: I can't comment on that level of detail.

SHAPIRO: OK.

KING: I can just tell you that I know that they did it. We all know they did it in 2016. And as I've said many times, I don't think they were doing it for fun.

SHAPIRO: So if knowledge is power, what do we need to do with this knowledge?

KING: We need to know that foreign countries are trying to manipulate us and that we need to be - we need to take this kind of information, when we see it, with a grain of salt. And I hope the intelligence community will be more specific of pointing out the source of particular stories that are circulating on the Internet or in the media.

SHAPIRO: In your view, is it your understanding that the efforts by China, Russia and Iran are comparable, or is one playing a bigger role, trying to have a larger influence than the others?

KING: Well, again, you're putting me in an uncomfortable position to talk about a classified hearing, but I think history tells us that Russia are the pros at this. There's no question that other countries, like Iran and China, are working off Russia's playbook, but the Russians are the most advanced and the most aggressive.

SHAPIRO: That is independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats. He sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Thank you very much, Sen. King, for speaking with us today.

KING: Always a pleasure. Thanks for covering this story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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