On Aug. 4, 2016, he was on the phone with Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the intelligence agency that succeeded the KGB.
The phone call was one of their regularly scheduled ones, the main subject once again the horrific civil war in Syria.
By this point, however, Brennan had had it with the Russian spy chief.
For the past few years, Brennan’s pleas for cooperation in defusing the Syrian crisis had gone nowhere.
And after they finished discussing Syria — again with no progress — Brennan brought up two other issues not on the official agenda.
First, Brennan raised the problem of Russia’s harassment of U.S. diplomats — an especially pressing matter at Langley after an undercover CIA officer had been beaten outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow two months earlier.
The continuing mistreatment of U.S. diplomats, Brennan told Bortnikov, was “irresponsible, reckless, intolerable and needed to stop.” And, he pointedly noted, it was Bortnikov’s own FSB “that has been most responsible for this outrageous behavior.”
Then Brennan turned to an even more sensitive issue: Russia’s interference in the American election. Brennan was now aware that at least a year earlier Russian hackers had begun their cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee.
We know you’re doing this, Brennan said to the Russian.
He pointed out that Americans would be enraged to find out Moscow was seeking to subvert the election — and that such an operation could backfire.
Brennan warned Bortnikov that if Russia continued this information warfare, there would be a price to pay. He did not specify the consequences.