Return to Transcripts main page
Segment of Brennan Confirmation Hearing Aired
Aired February 7, 2013 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(SEGMENT OF BRENNAN CONFIRMATION HEARING AIRING, IN PROGRESS)
SENATOR JOHN ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Now, in the enhanced interrogation techniques matter, a handful of former, senior CIA officials who were personally invested and are personally invested in defending the CIA's detention and interrogation program, largely because their professional reputations depend on it -- depend on it.
It's important to speak for the CIA and its workforce on this issue and I think it does all a great disservice.
In my office, you and I discussed the committee's landmark report on this program. You do understand that this took six years to write. Not just 6,000 pages, but six years to write, perhaps longer, 23,000, 30,000 footnotes.
Why did we do this? We did this because we heard nothing from the intelligence agency. We had no way of being briefed. They would not tell us what was going on, so we had did do our own and we're pretty good at it.
And, when you read the -- those first 350 pages, you told me that you were shocked at some of what you read. You did not know that.
And that to me is shocking, but not to condemn anybody, simply said that that has to be fixed and changed forever. There can never be that kind of situation again where there is -- where we have to tell you what's going wrong in your agency and, thus, demoralizing some of the people in your agency who want to be relieved of the burden and the taint of bad techniques and interrogation.
They suffer from that, and yet nobody would talk with us about that. We had to get that information on our own.
It's a magnificent piece of work. I think it's a piece of history. It will go down in history because it will define the separation of powers as between the intelligence committees of the House and Senate and the agency and others that relate to it.
I'm also very aware that this is all crucial to the president's authority, not just on the more modern question of the day about drones, but, you know, the -- that determination is made by one person and one person alone.
And, if there is a breakdown in protocol, if there is a breakdown in line of command in reacting, therefore, into something which is not good where there's too much collateral advantage, I think for the most part I would agree with the chairwoman. I believe she said this, that the work of the drone had been fairly safe.
However, any collateral damage is unacceptable and that has to be the purpose of the agency.
And, therefore this detention interrogation program, I've got to say, it was the people who ran it were ignorant of the topic, executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to details, and corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.
It was sold to the policy-makers (INAUDIBLE) in The White House and the Department of Justice and Congress with grossly inflated claims of professionalism and effectiveness, so-called "lives saved."
It was a low point in our history and this document, this book, should change that forever. I would hope very much that you would -- if you are confirmed which I hope you will be, that you will make parts of this at your discretion required reading for your senior personnel so they can go through the same experience that you went through.
Are you willing to do that?
JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Yes, Senator, I am looking forward to taking advantage of whatever lessons come out of this chapter in our history and this committee's report.
ROCKEFELLER: How do you cross-reference -- and tell me when I'm out of time. I've got ...
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Eight seconds. No, a minute and eight seconds.
ROCKEFELLER: A minute and eight seconds.
FEINSTEIN: A long time.
ROCKEFELLER: The cross-referencing of the EIT disaster and the future of the drone and the decisions that only the president, of course, can authorize that, but the decision sometimes is passed down and has to be passed down in a very accurate manner.
And there have to be a protocol which is exact, more exact even than the interrogation techniques because I think that's probably put to bed just a bit. It's beginning to get straightened out.
But the drones are going to grow. There's going to be more and more of that warfare, not just by us, but by other countries, including perhaps by people from within our own country.
So, the protocol of that, in so far as it would refer to a particular agency, is going to have to be exact and directed and of particular excellence and exactitude. How will that happen?
BRENNAN: Senator, you make an excellent point and that's what I'm most interested in is finding out what went wrong if this report is, as stated, accurate.
What went wrong where there were systemic failures, where there was mismanagement or inaccurate information that was put forward because there are covert action activities that are taking place today under the direction and management of the CIA.
And I would have the obligation to make sure I could say to this committee that all those covert action programs are being run effectively, they're being well-managed, they're being overseen and that the measures of effectiveness, the results of those programs, are an accurate and fair representation of what actually is happening.
This report raises serious questions about whether or not there are serious systemic issues that are at play here. I would need to get my arms around that and that would be one of my highest priorities if I were to go to the agency.
ROCKEFELLER: I thank you. Thank you, Chair.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Senator Rockefeller.
SENATOR RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Chair.
Mr. Brennan, welcome. Thank you for your long history of public service and, more importantly, to your family, thank you for your willingness to put up with his hobby.
Most if not all the intelligence that our committee receives is the finished analysis that's derived from source reports and other raw, intelligence materials that we don't see. And I might say, we don't need to see all of.
In order to ensure that we can perform our oversight duties of the intelligence committee, would you agree that the committee should be able to review all analytical product, if requested?
BRENNAN: On the face of that question, yes. My answer would be yes.
However, I would have to take a look at the issues involved in terms of -- you know, what are we talking about in terms of access to that analytic product? Is it all staff, all committee members, whatever? I just can't make a commitment to that.
But your intention and what I think your objective is, I fully support in terms of making sure this committee has the breadth of analytic expertise available from the agency.
BURR: As we go forward, there may be times that the committee will need the raw intelligence to judge the accuracy of analytical product that we're provided.
If confirmed, will you provide the raw intelligence on those occasions when the committee requests it? BRENNAN: Senator, I would give every request from this committee for access to that information full consideration. That's my commitment to you.
BURR: Do you agree that it's a function of this committee's oversight that occasionally we would need to look at it?
BRENNAN: I would agree that it's probably a function of your oversight that you would have interest in doing that and it would be my obligation, I think, as the director of the CIA to try to be as accommodating as possible to that interest while at the same time trying to respect whatever considerations need to be taken into account as we do that.
BURR: Mr. Brennan, as you know, the committee's conducting a thorough inquiry into the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. In the course of this investigation, the CIA has repeatedly delayed and, in some cases, flatly refused to provide documents to this committee.
If confirmed, will you assure this committee that this refusal will never happen again?
BRENNAN: I can commit to you, Senator, that I would do everything in my ability and my authority to be able to reach an accommodation with this committee that requests documents because an impasse between the executive branch and the legislative branch on issues of such importance is not in the interests of the United States government.
And, so, it would be my objective to see if we could meet those interests. At the same time our Founding Fathers did sort of separate the branches of government, judicial. legislative and executive. And, so, I want to be mindful of that separation, but at the same time, meet your legitimate interests.
BURR: They also gave us the power of the purse.
BRENNAN: They certainly did, Senator. I'm fully aware of that.
BURR: And I would suggest that that's the only tool and it's one we hate to use.
BURR: Do you think that there is any situation where it's legal to disclose to the media or the public these tales of covert action programs?
BRENNAN: I do not think it is ever appropriate to improperly disclose classified information to anybody who does not have legitimate access to it and has the clearances for it.
BURR: Let me clarify. I didn't ask for classified information. I specifically said covert action programs.
BRENNAN: By definition, covert action programs are classified, Senator. BURR: I realize that.
BRENNAN: Right. So, I do not believe it is appropriate to improperly disclose any of those details related to covert action programs.
BURR: Let me point out that, in the committee pre-hearing questions, you didn't really answer a question that dealt with specific instances in -- where you were authorized to disclose classified information to reporters.
So, could you provide for the committee any times that you were given the authority to release classified information?
BRENNAN: I was -- I would never provide classified information to reporters
I engaged in discussions with reporters about classified issues that they might have had access to because of unfortunate leaks of classified information and I frequently work with reporters if not editors of newspapers to keep out of the public domain some of this country's most important secrets.
And, so, I engage with them on those issues, but after working in the intelligence profession for 30 years and being at the CIA for 25 years, I know the importance of keeping those secrets secret.
BURR: Have any of the conversations with the reporters or media consultants about intelligence matters been recorded or were there transcriptions of it?
BRENNAN: I believe there have been. I've been on news network shows and I have been engaged in conversations on the telephone and other things that I presume and I know that they have been recorded on occasion.
BURR: Have you specifically asked not to be recorded?
BRENNAN: Whenever I talk to reporters, I do so at the White House press office and there are ground rules that are established there. And I'm not the one to establish those ground rules about whether or not they would be recorded or not.
BURR: You said in your responses to pre-hearing questions that in exceptional circumstances it may be necessary to acknowledge classified information to a member of the media.
Did you tell media commentators that the United States had, and I quote, "inside control" or "inside information" on the AQAP bomb plot in May of last year?
BRENNAN: I think what you're referring to, Senator, is when I had a teleconference with some individuals, former government officials from previous administrations who were going to be out on talk shows on the night, that an IED was intercepted and, so, I discussed with them the -- some of the aspects of that because I was going on the news network shows the following day. I wanted to make sure they understood the nature of the threat and what it was and what it wasn't. And, so, what I said at the time -- because I said I couldn't talk about any operational details and this was shortly after the anniversary of the bin Laden takedown.
I said it was never a threat to the American public, as we had said so publicly, because we had inside control of the plot and the device was never a threat to the American public.
BURR: Did you think that that comment actually exposed sources or methods?
BRENNAN: No, Senator, I did not. And there is an ongoing investigation, I must say, right now, about the unfortunate leak of information that was very, very damaging and I have voluntarily cooperated with the Department of Justice on that and have been interviewed on it.
BURR: Well, let me just say, as one that was overseas shortly after that, I certainly had, on numerous occasions, U.S. officials who expressed to me the challenges they've gone through to try to make apologies to our partners.
And I personally sat down in London to have that apology conversation and it was very disruptive.
Very quickly, did you provide classified or otherwise sensitive information to reporters or media consultants regarding the details of the Abbottabad raid?
BRENNAN: No, I did not, Senator.
BURR: Then do you know who disclosed information that prompted the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, to advise the White House to tell people to shut up?
BRENNAN: You would have to ask Senator Gates what he was referring to at that time because I don't know.
BURR: In conclusion, let me just go back to the initial questions that the chair referred to and, in that, I think you might have taken her request on documents to be the documents that we've got outstanding right now. I think she was referring to the future.
But let me just say I hope that you take the opportunity, if you haven't already, to send back to the administration it is absolutely essential that the documents this committee has requested on Benghazi be supplied before the confirmation moves forward.
I realize -- I'm not saying that you were part of it, but it is absolutely essential that we get those documents before we begin a new administration at CIA and I hope you will deliver that message.
I thank you.
BRENNAN: Thank you, Senator. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Senator.
SENATOR RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Brennan, thank you for our discussions and for the joint meeting that you had with several of us on the committee last week.
As we discussed then, I believe the issues before us really have nothing to do with political party and have everything to do with the checks and balances that make our system of government so special.
Taking the fight to al Qaeda is something every member in the committee feels strongly about. It's the idea of giving any president unfettered power to kill an American without checks and balances that's so troubling.
Every American has the right to know when their government believes it's allowed to kill them, and ensuring that the Congress has the documents and information it needs to conduct robust oversight is central to our democracy.
In fact, the committee was actually created in large part in response to the lax oversight of programs that involved targeted killings.
So, it was encouraging last night when the president called and indicated that, effective immediately, he would release the documents necessary for senators to understand the full legal analysis of the president's authority to conduct the targeted killing of an American.
What the president said is a good first step towards ensuring the openness and accountability that's important and you heard that reaffirmed in the chair's strong words right now.
Since last night, however, I have become concerned that the Department of Justice is not following through with the president's commitment just yet. Eleven United States Senators asked to see any and all legal opinions, but when I went to read the opinions this morning, it is not clear that that is what was provided.
And, moreover on this point, with respect to lawyers, I think what the concern is, is there's a double standard? As the national security adviser -- you volunteered, to your credit, you aren't a lawyer -- you asked your lawyers and your experts to help you and we're trying to figure out how to wade through all these documents.
One of the reasons I'm concerned that it's not yet clear that what the president committed to has actually been provided.
And, finally, on this point, the committee has been just stonewalled on several other requests, particularly with respect to secret law. And I'm going to leave this point simply by saying I hope you will go back to the White House and convey to them the message that the Justice Department is not yet following through on the president's commitment. Will you convey that message?
BRENNAN: Yes, I will, Senator.
WYDEN: Very good.
Let me now move to the public side of oversight, making sure that the public's right to know is respected.
One part of oversight is congressional oversight, our doing our work here. The other is making sure that the American people are brought into these debates just like James Madison said. This is what you need to preserve a republic.
And I want to start with the drone issue. In a speech last year, the president instructed you to be more open with the public about the use of drones to conduct targeted killings of al Qaeda members.
So, my question is, what should be done next to ensure that public conversation about drones so that the American people are brought into this debate and have a full understanding of what rules the government is going to observe when it conducts targeted killings?
BRENNAN: Well, I think this hearing is one of the things that can be done because I think this type of discourse between the executive and legislative branch is critically important.
I believe that there need to be continued speeches that are going to be given by the executive branch to explain our counterterrorism programs.
I think there is a misimpression on the part of some American people who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We only take such actions as a last resort to save live when is there is no other alternative to taking an action that's going to mitigate that threat.
So, we need to make sure that there is an understanding and, the people that were standing up here today, I think they really have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government and the care that we take and the agony to make sure that we do not have any collateral injuries or deaths.
As the chairman said earlier, you need to be able to go out and say that publicly and openly, I think is critically important because people are reacting to a lot of falsehoods that are out there and I do see it as part of my obligation and I think it's the obligation of this committee to make sure the truth is known to the American public and to the world.
WYDEN: Mr. Brennan, I'm also convinced there parts of drone policy that can be declassified consistent with national security and I hope that you will work with me on that if you are confirmed. Let me ask you several other questions with regard to the president's authority to kill Americans. I've asked you how much evidence the president needs to decide that a particular American can be lawfully killed and whether the administration believes that the president can use this authority inside the United States.
In my judgment, both the Congress and the public need to understand the answers to these kind of fundamental questions.
What do you think needs to be done to make sure that members of the public understand more about when the government thinks it's allowed to kill them, particularly with respect to those two issues, the question of evidence and the authority to use this power within the United States?
BRENNAN: I have been a strong proponent of trying to be as open as possible with these programs as far as our explaining what we're doing.
What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security.
I don't think that it's one or the other. It's trying to optimize both of them.
And, so. what we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what are the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews?
The Office of Legal Counsel Advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate. It doesn't mean that we operate at those out of boundaries. And, in fact, I think the American people would be quite pleased to know that we've been very disciplined, very judicious and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.
WYDEN: One other point with respect to public oversight, if the executive branch makes a mistake and kills the wrong person or a group of the wrong people, how should the government acknowledge that?
BRENNAN: I believe we need to acknowledge it. I believe we need to acknowledge it to our foreign partners. We need to acknowledge it publicly.
There are certain circumstances where there are considerations to be taken into account. But as far as I'm concerned, if there is this type of action that takes place, in the interest of transparency, I believe the United States government should acknowledge it.
WYDEN: And acknowledge it publicly?
BRENNAN: That is -- that would be the ideal and that would be the objective of the program.
WYDEN: One last question, if I might, in my letter to you three weeks ago, I noted that I've been asking for over a year to receive the names of any and all countries where the intelligence community has used its lethal authorities.
If confirmed, would you provide the full list of countries to the member of this committee and to our staff?
BRENNAN: I know that this is an outstanding request on your part. During our courtesy call, we discussed it.
If I were to be confirmed as director of CIA, I would get back to you and it would be my intention to do everything possible to meet this committee's legitimate interests and requests.
WYDEN: Well, I'm going to wrap up with just one sentence on this point, Chair Feinstein.
It's a matter of public record, Mr. Brennan, that the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was carried out under the authority of CIA Director Leon Panetta, so that tells you right there that the intelligence community lethal authority's been used in at least one country.
I want to hear you say that, if these authorities have been used in any other countries, you'll provide this committee with the full list.
Now, will you give us that assurance?
BRENNAN: You're talking about an historical list, are you not, Senator Wyden? As far as any time, anywhere that the CIA was involved in such a lethal operation?
BRENNAN: I would have to go back and take a look at that request. Certainly anything that -- if I were to go to the CIA and the CIA was involved in any type of legal activity, I would damn well make sure that this committee has that list. Absolutely.
WYDEN: That's a good start.
BRENNAN: Thank you, Senator.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Senator Wyden.
BROOKE BALDWIN, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": John Brennan in the hot seat today as the Senate intelligence committee members, chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein, asking some fiery questions.
Most recently, that was a Democrat from Oregon, Democrat Ron Wyden, and bringing up an issue that we anticipated, that being U.S. drones.
It's been very much so in the bloodstream this week because of this memo that NBC News obtained here from the Department of Justice talking a little bit about the legal justification from the White House. And, so, he was peppering John Brennan with questions, who, by the way -- John Brennan is up to be the next CIA chief, formally working under the president and his chief counterterrorism advisers.
So, asked questions about the transparency of the U.S. drone program, the legal justifications. He was saying to John Brennan, look, if you are confirmed, please pass the memo to the White House that the DOJ needs to get us the information, members of the Senate intelligence committee, when it comes to why target certain Americans overseas and that justification.
So, those are the kinds of questions that they're getting. You also heard earlier questions about enhanced interrogation techniques, i.e., waterboarding and from a Senator in North Carolina, asking very specific questions about what John Brennan said to which members of the media when it came to certain bits of classified information because there have been leaks, sensitive leaks, from the administration.
So, some of the topics being tackled here during this John Brennan confirmation hearing.
But I just want to play some video. This is what we tried to get to earlier. At the top of this committee hearing, there were some protesters who popped out.
Take a look at this with me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN (voiceover): And, so, the chairman, Chairman Feinstein, had to hit the gavel. Do you hear her?
FEINSTEIN: If I might ask -- please clear the room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: You hear her asking these protesters. You see security clearing the protesters out of there.
So, the confirmation hearings were in recess for a couple of minutes.
I can promise you, you need to see with CNN, Wolf Blitzer will be all over these confirmation hearings of John Brennan.
And I will be right back.
BALDWIN: Want to keep you posted, also, as to the horror and the fear that has been palpable in Southern California here.
The police are searching for this ex-cop suspected in the shooting deaths of three people, including a fellow police officer today.
Take a look here. This is 33-year-old Christopher Jordan Dorner. He wants revenge to hear it from the police chief in Los Angeles.
This guy has a vendetta against all police in Southern California, apparently families, families as well.
Here, the Riverside chief, Sergio Diaz talked a little while ago at a news conference and he was asked about the suspect and he said, quote, "My opinion of the suspect is unprintable."
Dorner is considered by police armed and extremely dangerous and, should you see him, do not approach him. Do not approach that car. Police say, pick up the phone and dial 911.
Lots of questions over this manifesto that he apparently left and the police chief in L.A. saying, he will not be clearing this man's name, even though that is precisely what Christopher Jordan Dorner wants.
Let's go to Wolf Blitzer in Washington now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Brooke.