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Former CIA director criticizes Trump's Twitter feud on hacks

Leon Panetta hopes the president-elect will keep his quibbles with the intelligence community off social media.

Former CIA director Leon Panetta wants Donald Trump to stop his Twitter feud with the intelligence community.
Alex Wong, Getty Images

As the US intelligence community prepares to brief Donald Trump on Russia's 2016 election hacks, former CIA director Leon Panetta wants the president-elect to finally end his Twitter feud.

Trump very publicly expressed skepticism toward the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security after intelligence officials agreed that Russia was behind hacks tied to the US presidential election.

In those breaches, Russian hackers infiltrated Democratic Party officials' email accounts using sophisticated spear-phishing tactics, with messages leaked from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, according to a joint report from the FBI and Homeland Security.

The president-elect challenged these reports on Twitter, aligning with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange over the issue. He tweeted about it as recently as Thursday night, just hours before he was scheduled to receive an intelligence briefing on Russia's election meddling. On Tuesday, he called out the intelligence community for "delaying" the briefing, which officials said did not happen.

Panetta is urging Trump to end his Twitter beef, insisting that a president needs to trust and work with intelligence officials to be successful.

"I have never seen anything like this in our lifetime," the 78-year-old said on the Today show. "The fact that the president-elect is tweeting on this issue and taking it to the public... this is just unheard of and unprecedented."

If Trump isn't willing to make peace with intelligence officials, he should at least keep things within the confines of the Oval Office, Panetta said.

So far, Trump hasn't slowed his roll. On Thursday night, he criticized the Obama administration for NBC's broadcast on a secret briefing the president received, arguing that it was driven by "politics."

WikiLeaks, the organization that posted the hacked emails, echoed Trump's outcry, accusing the White House of "illegally funneling" top secret documents to NBC for "political reasons."

Panetta insisted that Russia's hacking was an attack on the US and its election systems, but stopped short of calling it an act of war. There has yet to be a standard for what constitutes an act of war in a cyberattack.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Democrat, asked the same question on Thursday's Senate hearing onforeign cyberthreats to the US.