Transcript: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s opening statement on the nomination of John Brennan as the next CIA Director

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of opening statement by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) 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:

The committee meets today in open session to consider the nomination of John Brennan to be the 21st Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the first director to have risen through the agency’s ranks since Bob Gates…

Mr. Brennan, congratulations on your nominations. As you can see, it’s going to be lively. I’d like to welcome your family as well and hope you’ll introduce them so the committee can give them its thanks…

The Director of the CIA is among the most critical national security positions in the United States government both because of the role the CIA plays in collecting and analyzing intelligence relevant to every national security challenge we face and because of the added importance of having steady leadership at an organization that conducts most of its business outside of the public arena.

Intelligence is critical to the successful drawdown in Afghanistan, to the brutal war going on within Syria’s borders, across North Africa where the attacks in Benghazi and hostage situation in Algeria threaten to spread into the next front against Al Qaeda and its affiliated roots, where counter-terrorism operations around the world, and the efforts by the United States and others to prevent the gain and spread of weapons of mass destruction in Iran, North Korea, and other states, and in addressing emerging threats in space, cyberspace, and elsewhere around the globe.

To confront these challenges and to lead the CIA through a difficult budgetary period after a decade of major budget increases, President Obama nominated John Brennan – his closest adviser on intelligence and counter-terrorism matters for the past 4 years.

Mr. Brennan is without a doubt qualified for this position. He served at the CIA for 25 years in analytic, operational, and managerial capacities. He’s seen the agency from just about every angle as a line analyst, as a chief of station, as chief of staff to the Director, and as Deputy Executive Director among many others. People who have worked
closely with him regularly cite his work ethic, his integrity, and his determination.

In nominating John Brennan, President Obama spoke of his “commitment to the values that define us as Americans.” DNI [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, in a letter of support, noted his “impeccable integrity and his dedication to country is second to none”.

…John Brennan, by all accounts, will be a strong leader, guided firmly by the law and his strong ethical code. He has assured the committee in his response to pre-hearing questions that he will be independent of political influence. He will seek only to provide the President, the Congress, and other leaders with his best analysis and advice…

Also of interest will be Mr. Brennan’s views on the use of targeted lethal force in counter-terrorism operations. Mr. Brennan has been one of the few administration officials able to speak publicly about such issues. Members will certainly want to understand his views on this to include the importance of Congress receiving all of the relevant legal analyses from the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice.

While the disclosure earlier this week of a 16-page unclassified white paper on the government’s legal analysis of the use of targeted force against the United States citizen who was a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda, there’s finally more information available to the public. I’ve been calling and others have been calling – the Vice Chairman and I – for increased transparency on the use of targeted force for over a year, including the circumstances in which such force is directed against U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.

I’ve also been attempting to speak publicly about the very low number of civilian casualties that result from such strikes. I’ve been limited in my ability to do so. But for the past several years, this committee has done significant oversight of the government’s conduct of targeted strikes and the figures we have obtained from the
executive branch which we have done our utmost to verify confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits. When I 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, and I’m going to talk to you in my questions a little bit about that because I think it’s very important that we share this data with people.

This committee will continue to perform significant oversight of targeted strikes. We received this morning an Office of Legal Counsel opinion on this topic. Actually, we received a short one and a long one…

I also intend to review proposals for legislation to ensure that drone strikes are carried out in a manner consistent with our values and a proposal to create an analogue of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the conduct of such strikes.

Finally, I would want to know how the nominee intends to lead an agency that’s had 4 Directors since DCI Tenet resigned in July of 2004, now in a budget downturn, and what he sees as major challenges before the CIA…

Again, this time, the transition between CIA Directors have been managed by Acting Director Michael Morell. I’d like to thank Mr. Morell for keeping the agency on firm footing and for his agreement to remain as Deputy Director after the confirmation process. He continues to be a top notch CIA officer, a friend of the committee, and I’m sure he will be an excellent deputy, Mr. Brennan.

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