John O. Brennan kept his cool as members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence criticized his beloved CIA for lack of transparency with lawmakers and questioned the drone strike program he orchestrates. The panel’s top Republican tried to paint Brennan as an opportunist for distancing himself from EITs – the “enhanced interrogation techniques” applied to terror suspects during Brennan’s years at CIA under the Bush administration. The Feb. 7 hearing was a key test for Brennan’s nomination to become director of CIA.
Brennan defends his record. Credit: C-SPAN
Excerpts by topic >>
Drone strategy >>
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: “I also intend to review proposals...[including one] to create an analog of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the conduct of such strikes.”
Brennan in a terse exchange with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga: “Well I respectfully disagree senator….I never believe it’s better to kill a terrorist than to detain him. We want to detain as many terrorists as possible so we can elicit the intelligence from them in the appropriate manner so that we disrupt follow-on terrorist attacks.”
Drone transparency >>
Feinstein: “…civilian casualties that have resulted from such (drone) strikes each year has typically been in the single digits. When I’ve asked to give out the actual numbers, I’m told: You can’t. And I said why not? Because it’s classified. It’s a covert program. For the public it doesn’t exist. Well, I think that rationale, Mr. Brennan, is long gone.”
Brennan: “…it is understandable that there is great interest in the legal basis as well as the thresholds, criteria, processes, procedures, approvals and reviews of such actions. I have strongly promoted such public discussion with the Congress, and with the American people. As I believe that our system of government and our commitment to transparency demands nothing less.”
Drone memos >>
Feinstein: “Up to last night, when the president called the vice chairman; Sen. Wyden and myself (to say) that they were providing the OLC (Dept. of Justice Office of Legal Counsel) opinions, we had not been able to get them.”
Brennan: “I would certainly be an advocate of making sure that this committee has the documentation it needs in order to perform its oversight functions. I have been an advocate of that position. I will continue to be.”
Feinstein: “…I’m counting on you to provide eight (additional) OLC opinions.”
Reporting drone strikes >>
Brennan: "...if I were to go to CIA, and the CIA was involved in any type of lethal activity, I would damn well make sure that this committee had that information. Absolutely."
Staff frustrations >>
Feinstein: “When the (Office of Legal Counsel) opinion came over, our staff were banned from seeing it this morning….This is upsetting to a number of members. We depend on our staff because you can’t take material home. You can’t take notes with you.”
Detention and interrogation >>
Chambliss: “We know that the 2009 executive order removed the CIA from the detention business, but the current framework is simply not working to get real time access to intelligence from terrorist detainees.”
Committee alleges mismanaged interrogations>>
Brennan: “The report right now still remains classified…There clearly were a number of things, many things…that I would want to look into immediately if I were to be confirmed as CIA director. (The report) talked about mismanagement of the program, misrepresentations of information, providing inaccurate information...I look forward, if confirmed, to reading the entire 6,000 page volume because it is of such gravity and importance.”
Accusation of opportunism>>
Chambliss: “What steps did you take to stop CIA from moving to these (enhanced interrogation) techniques you now say you found objectionable at the time?
Brennan: I had expressed my personal objections and views to my, some agency colleagues, about certain of those EITs, such as waterboarding, nudity and others, where I professed my personal objections to it, but I did not try to stop it because it was…something that was being done in a different part of the agency under the authority of others, and it was something that was directed by the administration at the time.”
Chambliss: “….We just (have) not seen anybody who has come forward and said they ever heard any objections from you with respect to these programs…Mr. (Buzzy) Krongard, your boss at CIA, told the Wall Street Journal that you had a role in setting parameters of the program…”
Brennan: “I respectfully disagree with my former colleague, Buzzy Krongard. I was not involved in the establishing the parameters of that program.”
Chambliss: “In a November 2007 interview you said that information from the interrogation techniques saved lives, closed quotes.”
Brennan: “I must tell you senator that reading this report from the committee raises serious questions about the information that I was given at the time…at this point, senator, I do not know what the truth is.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.V.: "There never can be that kind of situation again -- where we have to tell you what’s going wrong in your agency..."
Waterboarding Abu Zubaydah>>
Brennan: “…I had awareness that the agency was going forward on it, I had some visibility into some of the activities there, but I was not part of any type of management structure or aware of most of the details.
Chambliss: That being the case, why would you be the recipient of a minimum of 50 emails Mr. Brennan on the progress of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, including the techniques used in that interrogation?
Brennan: Senator, as part of a standard email distribution, I was on thousand upon thousands of email distributions as deputy executive director. I think I was just cc’d on them.”
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich: Do you have a personal opinion as to whether waterboarding is torture?
Brennan: I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and it’s something that should not be done. And again, I am not a lawyer senator, and I can’t address that question.
Thumbs-down for 1998 Bin Laden capture try >>
Brennan to Chambliss: (The proposed mission) “was not well grounded in intelligence, and its chance of success were minimal….Senator, I have no second thoughts whatsoever about my advice, which was to look carefully at this operation because the chance of success were minimal.”
Defense Clandestine Service vs. CIA's National Clandestine Service >>
Brennan: "I want to make sure that these efforts are not going to be redundant whatsoever. And I’ve had conversations with Mike Morell as well as with Gen. Flynn over at DIA, to make sure that these efforts are truly going to be integrated and complementary..."
A nod to Petraeus >>
“As I appear before you today, I would additionally like to extend a special salute to David Petraeus, a patriot who remains, as do all former directors, one of the staunchest advocates of the agency’s mission and workforce.”
Jersey roots >>
“I have a reputation for speaking my mind, and at times doing so in a rather direct manner, which some attribute to my New Jersey roots.”