Transcript: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Q&A on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Q&A on the nomination of White House Counter-Terrorism Adviser John Brennan as the next CIA Director. The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was held on Feb. 7, 2013:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

…Do you agree to appear before the committee…here or in other venues when invited?

John Brennan:

Yes.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

Do you agree to send officials from the CIA and designated staff when invited?

John Brennan:

Yes.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

Do you agree to provide documents or any other materials requested by the committee in order for it to carry out its oversight and legislative responsibilities?

John Brennan:

Yes, all documents that come under my authority as Director of CIA – absolutely.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

We’ll talk to you more about that in a minute. Will you ensure that the CIA and its officials provide such materials to the committee when requested?

John Brennan:

Yes.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

Do you agree to inform and fully brief to the fullest extent possible all members of this committee of intelligence activities and covert actions rather than only the Chairman and Vice Chairman?

John Brennan:
Yes, I will endeavor to do that.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

Thank you…I want to talk about…the provision of documents. Sen. Wyden and others have had much to do about this. But our job is to provide oversight to try to see the CIA, the intelligence community, operate legally. In order to do that it is really necessary to understand what the official legal interpretation is so the Office of Legal Counsel opinions become very important. We began during the Bush administration – Mr. Bradbury – to ask OLC for opinions.

Up until last night, when the President called the Vice Chairman, Sen. Wyden, myself said that they were providing the OLC opinions, we have not been able to get them. It makes our job to interpret what is legal or not legal much more difficult if we do not have those opinions.

The staff has asked for 8 additional opinions. What I want to know is will you become our advocate with the administration so that we can obtain those opinions?

John Brennan:

The National Security Act as amended requires that the intelligence agencies provide the committee with the appropriate legal documentation to support covert actions. 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.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

I take that as a yes, and I’m counting on you to provide any OLC opinions. Second question is when the opinion came over, our staff were banned from seeing it this morning. We have lawyers. We have very good staff. This is upsetting a number of members. We depend on our staff because you can’t take material home, you can’t take notes with you, so the staff becomes very important. Do you happen to know the reason why staff are not permitted when we are permitted to see an OLC?

John Brennan:

I understand fully your interest in having your staff have access to this documentation. Fully understandable. The reason for providing information just to only members at time is to ensure that it is kept on a limited basis. It is rather exceptional, which I think you know, that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion or advice would be shared with… you. I think it was determined because of the rather exceptional nature of the issue and the genuine efforts to try to meet the committee’s requirements. I understand your interest in having staff access…

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

Would you relay the request?

John Brennan:
Absolutely.

<b>Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

We’d appreciate it very much. Second thing, when I spoke with you at my office, we talked about our report on detention and interrogation – the 6,000-page report you mentioned. I asked if you would please read it. You said you would. You said you would for sure read the 300-page summary. Have you done so?

John Brennan:

Yes, Chairman. I have read the first volume, which is the 300 pages.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

Then let me ask you this question: Were the EITs [enhance interrogation techniques] key to the takedown of Osama bin Laden?

John Brennan:

Chairman, the report right now still remains classified and the report has been provided to the agency, executive branch for comments. There clearly were a number of things – many things that I read in that report that were very concerning and disturbing to me. And ones that I want to look into immediately, if I were to be confirmed as CIA Director: It talked about the mismanagement of the program, misrepresentation of information, providing inaccurate information. And it was rather damning in a lot of its language as far as the nature of these activities were carried out. I am eager to see the agency’s response to that report. I read those 300 pages. I look forward to – if confirmed – to reading the entire 6,000-page volume because it is of such gravity and importance. But Chairman, I do not yet have nor has the CIA finished its review of this information. That committee’s report was done obviously with – over an extended period of time, tremendous amount of work has gone into it. Based on the review of the documentary information that was available – the documents – there were not interviews conducted with CIA officers. I very much look forward to hearing from the CIA on that and then coming back to this committee and giving you my full and honest views.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

Well, thank you. You will have that opportunity I assure you. I’d like to ask you about the status of the administration’s efforts to institutionalize rules and procedures for the conduct of drone strikes, in particular how you see your role as CIA Director in that approval process?

John Brennan:

Chairman, as this committee knows and I’m sure wants to continue to protect certain covert action activities. But let me talk generally about the counter-terrorism program and role of the CIA and this effort to try to institutionalize and to ensure that we have as rigorous of a process as possible and that we feel that we’re taking the appropriate actions at the appropriate times. The President has insisted that any action we take will be legally grounded, will be thoroughly anchored in intelligence, will have the appropriate review process – approval process before any action is contemplated, including those actions that might involve the use of lethal force. The different parts of the government that are involved in this process are involved in inter-agency and my role as the President’s counter-terrorism adviser was to help to orchestrate this effort over the past 4 years to ensure again that any action we take fully comport with our law and meet the standards that I think this committee and the American people expect of us as far as taking actions we need to protect the American people but at the same time ensuring that we do everything possible before we need to resort to lethal force.

Round 2 Q&A:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
I think one of the problems is now that the drone program is so public and one American citizen is caught up, people don’t know much about this one American citizen – so-called. They don’t know what he’s been doing. They don’t know what he’s connected to. They don’t know the incitement that he has stirred up, and I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about Mr. [Anwar] Al-Awlaki and what he had been doing.

John Brennan:
Well, Senator, I’m not going to talk about any particular operation or responsibility on the part of the U.S. government…

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
See, that’s the problem. That’s the problem. I think when people hear American citizen, they think somebody who’s upstanding, and this man was not upstanding by a long shot. And now, maybe you cannot discuss it here, but I’ve read enough to know that he was a real problem.

John Brennan:
Well, I can talk about Mr. Awlaki. And before he died, he was intimately involved in activities that were designed to kill innocent men, women, and children and mostly Americans. He was determined to do
that. He was not just a propagandist. He was, in fact, part of the operational effort that was known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] and had key responsibilities in that regard.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
…Did he have a connection to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who attempted to explode a device on one of our planes over Detroit?

John Brennan:
Yes, he did.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
Can you tell us what that connection was?

John Brennan:
I would prefer not to at this time. I’m not prepared to.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
Did he have a connection to the Fort Hood attack?

John Brennan:
Al Qaeda in the Peninsula has a variety of means of communicating and inciting individuals, whether that be websites or emails or other types of things, and so there are a number of occasions where individuals, including Mr. Awlaki, has been in touch with individuals. So Senator, again, I’m not prepared to address the specifics of these but suffice it to say…

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
I’ll just ask you a couple of questions. Did Faisal Shahzad, who pled guilty to the 2010 Time Square car bombing attempt, tell interrogators in 2010 that he was inspired by Al Awlaki?

John Brennan:
I believe that’s correct, yes.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
Last October, Awlaki – did he have a direct role in supervising and directing AQAP’s failed attempt to 2 United States cargo aircrafts by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages? As a matter of fact, inside a computer printer cartridge?

John Brennan:
Mr. Awlaki was involved in overseeing a number of these activities. Yes, there was a relationship there.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
And was it true that they were so concealed that the first attempt to find them did not reveal them? It took an asset coming back, said “Go again. Look at this.” to find it?

John Brennan:
Yes, the concealment measure that was used in that was one of the best that we’ve ever encountered.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
So Mr. Awlaki is not by far an American citizen of whom anyone in America would be proud.

John Brennan:
Mr. Awlaki was part of Al Qaeda, and we’re at war with Al Qaeda. And it was his strong determination to kill Americans on behalf of Al Qaeda.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
Is it true in the last 4 years the FBI has arrested 100 people either planning, conspiring, or trying to commit a terrorist attack on this nation?

John Brennan:
I don’t know the exact number, but yes they have arrested a lot of people.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):
It’s over 100 but they’ve arrested a lot of people and that’s because of good, sound intelligence…

I think what people forget is that they will kill us if they can, and it’s extraordinarily difficult if you can’t get into where they were hiding. Would it have been possible to have arrested Mr. Awlaki where
he was in Yemen?

John Brennan:
There are parts of Yemen that are ungoverned and beyond the reach of the Yemeni government’s security, intelligence, and services. And we work very closely with the Yemenis to see if we can arrest, detain
individuals whenever we can. We want to do that because it’s very valuable for us. Any actions that are taken in concert with the Yemeni government are done in terms of the types of strikes that we might engage there with them – are done only because we don’t have the ability to bring those individuals into custody.

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