Brennan insists there’s no correlation between increase in drone strikes & termination of CIA’s detention program

A BQM-74E drone launches from the flight deck of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Underwood (FFG 36) during a live-fire drone exercise. SOURCE: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stuart Phillips

John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser and nominee for CIA Director, refuted claims that the termination of the CIA’s detention program has resulted in a “huge increase in the number of lethal strikes” during the Obama administration.

During Brennan’s confirmation hearing on Feb. 7, 2012, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) suggested that there’s a connection between the President’s 2009 order to shut down the CIA’s detention facilities and the spike in drone strikes in recent years.

“A study by the New America Foundation as well as numerous press reports indicate that in the first two years of President Obama’s administration, there were four times the number of targeted killings than in 8 years of President Bush’s administration,” said Collins. “Are you saying today that it is totally unconnected to the Obama administration’s shift in its detainee policy?”

Brennan responded, “I can say unequivocally, Senator, that there’s not been an occasion I’m aware of where we had the opportunity to capture a terrorist and we didn’t and we decided to take a lethal strike…Certainly, there’s no correlation there as far as any type of termination of the CIA’s detention interrogation program and that increase in strikes.”

The CIA veteran and White House Counter-terrorism Adviser explained that the increase in drone strikes can be attributed to 3 factors:

  • The growth of Al Qaeda in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen where parts of the country are “ungoverned and beyond the reach of the Yemeni government’s security… and intelligence services”;
  • “Maturation” of drone capabilities to improve flexibility and precision of attacks;
  • and better intelligence collected on Al Qaeda plots and operations.

Rubio asked Brennan if the CIA has an incentive to kill suspected terrorists rather than to take them into custody because the CIA is no longer allowed to run a detention program.

“It’s never an incentive to kill them,” Brennan responded. He insisted that the CIA uses drone strikes only as a “last resort” and that the agency’s primary objective is to arrest the suspect “to be interrogated, debriefed, as well as prosecuted.” Capturing suspected terrorists alive for questioning could provide valuable intelligence on potential plots against the United States, Brennan explained.

“I never believed 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 can disrupt…terrorist attacks,” said Brennan. “So I’m a strong proponent of doing everything possible short of killing a terrorist, bringing them to justice and getting that intelligence from them.”

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