Despite President-elect Donald Trump’s vocal and repeated doubts about the abilities and veracity of intelligence gathering operations in the United States, outgoing CIA Director John Brennan on Thursday said he remains hopeful that Trump will soon grow to appreciate the work of his organization.
“I’m going to give the President-elect the benefit of the doubt,” Brennan said.
Taking part in a discussion organized by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, Brennan spoke from the intelligence community’s perspective on topics ranging from Russia’s interference with the presidential election, counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East and narcotics trafficking in South and Central America.
Brennan said that he’s worked for different types of leaders and, despite differences in style, the job of the CIA remains the same.
“The president, obviously, is the first customer for the intelligence community,” Brennan said to the several hundred audience members attending the discussion moderated by political science professor Robert Pape.
“I’ve had a great privilege since  to have a lot of opportunities to engage with different presidents and they all have different styles, different ways of absorbing information, different perspectives, different experiences.”
Brennan added that, given Trump’s lack of public service experience, he may be unfamiliar with the capabilities of intelligence gathering operations.
Brennan, who will be meeting Trump for the first time in New York Friday, has advised his officers to look at the Trump presidency as an opportunity to show just what the organization is capable of.
The Russian government’s interference in the presidential election was discussed several times throughout the evening and, during the question-and-answer portion, Brennan was asked how Russia’s interference differed from other instances of electoral meddling.
“The intensity, the scope, the scale of this is something that I think is different than what we saw in previous elections,” he said in the auditorium of the International House.
Last month, the Washington Post reported that the CIA found the Russian government to be trying to help Trump win the election, which Trump has denied several times.
Tuesday Trump tweeted: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
A recent graduate asked Brennan: “How do you feel about the irony that the CIA has a history in interfering in foreign elections, such as in Central and South America, and now it is the United States that has had a foreign state interfere in our democratic process?”
Brennan said that past actions by the organization should not define it today.
“The CIA is not a rogue organization that decides to bump around in foreign lands, in terms of covert action,” he said. “I can confidently say, when I look back of the past several decades … that the United States government, and the CIA as part of that government, recognize that there are some things that would be inappropriate for the United States to engage in. I very much appreciate the fact that we have evolved.”