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Cotton Questions CIA Director about Twitter, Dataminr, and the Open Skies Treaty

June 16, 2016

Contact: Caroline Rabbitt (202) 224-2353

Washington, D.C.-- Today, during an open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) questioned CIA Director John Brennan about Twitter, Dataminr, and the Open Skies Treaty. A full transcript of their exchange can be found below. Click here to watch the full video. 

Q: Thank you. Director Brennan, it's good to have you here again. I apologize I have not been present in person, I have been in the Intelligence Committee's equivalent of a makeshift daycare - but I have been listening intently. Chairman Burr and I discussed letting him babysit my son so I could come out and ask questions, but we were afraid it would land both of us in child protective services. I did, however, hear his opening statements and many of the other statements of members of this committee thanking you on behalf of all the men and women who serve at the CIA and I want to associate myself with those comments. In many cases, they face even more hardships and risks than do our troops. And while our troops get recognition appropriately at ball games or when they walk through airports and people buy them beers or meals, obviously your officers do not and they deserve all the recognition that our troops get as well.

I want to discuss cooperation with our Intelligence Community from Silicon Valley, specifically Twitter and a company called Dataminr. According to the Wall Street Journal from May 8th, as well as some other media reports, Dataminr which is owned in part by Twitter and is the only company authorized to access the full real-time stream of public tweets that Twitter has, recently cooperated with the CIA. But just a few weeks ago ended that cooperation. So our Intelligence Community no longer has access to Dataminr's information, could you comment on these reports?

A: It appears as though Dataminr was directed to not provide its service to the CIA Intelligence Community and so therefore, we need to be able to leverage other capabilities in order to make sure that we have the insight we need to protect this country.

Q: So those reports are correct?

A: I am not going to dispute them.

Q: The Wall Street Journal also reported that the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, directed Dataminr to stop the contract because he was worried about the "optics" of helping intelligence agencies. Do you believe that to be accurate?

A: I do not know his motivation for any corporate decision he may have made, but I have no basis to dispute that.

Q: The Wall Street Journal also reports that among customers of Dataminr remains RT, Russia Today, a propaganda outlet of Vladimir Putin's government, which Putin has said is "trying to break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on global information streams." To your knowledge, is Russia Today a client of Dataminr?

A: I believe so, I'm not certain of that. But I don't have any information that they have been excluded from their services.

Q: Is it disappointing to you that an American company would sell its product to Russia Today, a propaganda arm of the government of Russia, yet not cooperate with the United States Intelligence Community?

A: I'm disappointed that there is not more active cooperation consistent with our legal authorities that may be available from the U.S. private sector.

Q: I want to turn now to the Open Skies Treaty. The STRATCOM Commander, Admiral Haney, has testified that the Open Skies Treaty "has become a critical component of Russia's intelligence collection capability directed at the United States". Do you agree with that statement from Admiral Haney?

A: Admiral Haney would be best positioned to make a public comment like that, but I would be happy to look into it and get back to you, separately.

Q: DIA Director, General Stewart, has testified "the Open Skies construct was designed for a different era and I'm very concerned on how it is applied today." He further said "the things that you can see, the amount of data you can collect, the things you can do with post-processing allows Russia in my opinion to get incredible foundational intelligence on critical infrastructure, bases, ports, all of our facilities. So, from my perspective, it gives them a significant advantage." Can Russia use post-processing analysis to enhance their open skies collection, as General Stewart has suggested?

A: There have been tremendous technological advancements since Open Skies was first established and therefore I'm sure that Russia and others take advantage of those technological developments in order to advance their intelligence collection capabilities.

Q: Do you believe that these processes and procedures on digital images and the advances in technology might allow Russia to exceed the limits imposed by the Open Skies Treaty.

A: I would have to take a look into how those capabilities could be used to exceed those limits.