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

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. Mark Udall’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. Mark Udall (D-Colo.):
…You’ve said that President Obama believes that done carefully, deliberately, and responsibly we can be more transparent and still ensure our nation’s security — I absolutely agree. The American people have the right to know what their government does on their behalf, consistent with our national security, the presumption that transparency should be the rule not the exception, and the government should make as much information available to the American public as possible…

I’ve long believed that our government also has an obligation to the American people to face its mistakes transparently, help the public understand the nature of those mistakes and correct them. The next Director of the CIA has an important task ahead in this regard.

Mr. Brennan, I know you’re familiar with the mistakes I’m referring to. We’ve already discussed those here today to some extent. They’re outlined in the committee’s 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program based on a documentary review of 6 million pages of CIA and other records and including 35,000 footnotes.

I believe that this program was severely flawed. It was mismanaged. Enhanced interrogation techniques were brutal and perhaps most importantly it did not work. Nonetheless, it was portrayed to the White House, the Department of Justice, to Congress, and the media as a program that resulted in unique information that saved lives. And I appreciate the comments you made earlier about the misinformation that may have flowed from those who were in charge of this program to people like yourself.

Acknowledging the flaws of this program is essential for the CIA’s long-term institutional integrity as well as the legitimacy of ongoing sensitive programs. The findings of this report directly relate to how other CIA programs are managed today. As you said in your opening remarks when you so powerfully referenced that Memorial Wall, all CIA employees should be proud of where they work and of all the CIA’s activities. I think the best way to ensure they’re proud is for you to lead in correcting the false record and institute the necessary reforms that will restore the CIA’s reputation for integrity and analytical rigor. The CIA cannot be its best until the leadership faces the serious and gravest mistakes of this program.

So if I might, let me turn to my first question. Inaccurate information on the management operation effectiveness of the CIA’s detention interrogation program was provided by the CIA to the White House, the DOJ, Congress, and the public. Some of this information is regularly and publicly repeated today by former CIA officials, either knowingly or unknowingly. And although we now know this information is incorrect, the accurate information remains classified while inaccurate information has been de-classified and regularly repeated. The committee will take up the matter of this report’s de-classification separately. But there’s an important role, I think, the CIA can play in the interim. The CIA has a responsibility to correct any inaccurate information that was provided at the previous White House, Department of Justice, Congress, and the public regarding the detention and interrogation programs. Here’s my question: Do you agree that the CIA has this responsibility? And I’d appreciate a yes
or no answer.

John Brennan:
Yes, sir.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.):
Thank you for that. Again yes or no. Will you commit to working with the committee to correct the public and internal record regarding the detention and interrogation program within the next 90 days?

John Brennan:
Senator, I think it’s only fair to say I’m looking forward to CIA’s response to that report so that we’re assured that we have both the committee’s report as well as CIA’s comments on it, and I would be getting back to you, yes.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.):
I can understand you want to make sure you have accurate time. I understand as well that CIA will finish their analysis by the middle of February, so I hope we can work within that timeframe. And I know that your answers to the committee preparing for this hearing, you wrote “The CIA in all instances should convey accurate information to Congress. When an inaccurate statement is made and the CIA is aware of the inaccuracy, it must immediately correct the record. And certainly, I would do so if I were director.” So I take your answer on the spirit of the written testimony you provided the committee.

Let me turn to the report and its eventual de-classification, if I might. I don’t think it has to be difficult – that is the de-classification – for these reasons. The identities of the most important detainees have already been de-classified. The interrogation techniques themselves have been de-classified. The application of techniques to detainees has been de-classified to some extent with the partial de-classification of the Inspector General report. And the intelligence was de-classified to a significant extent when the Bush administration described plots it claimed were thwarted as a result of the program. So long as the report does not identify any undercover officers or perhaps the names of certain countries, can you think of any reason why the report could not be de-classified with the appropriate number of redactions? Can you answer yes or no to that question?

John Brennan:
I would have to take that de-classification request under serious consideration. Obviously, that’s a very weighty decision in terms of de-classifying that report and I would give it due consideration but there are a lot of considerations that go into such decisions.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.):
I want to again underline that I think this would strengthen the CIA, which would strengthen our standing in the world. America’s at its best, as we’ve discussed earlier today, when it acknowledges its mistakes and learns from those mistakes.

I want to quote Howard Baker, who I think we all admire in this room. He spoke about the Church Committee, which you know was an important effort on the part of this Congress and there was much criticism of the CIA in that Church Committee process. The CIA came out of that stronger and more poised to do what it’s supposed to do. So I want to quote Howard Baker. He wrote, “In all candor, however one must recognize that an investigation such as this one” – he’s referring to the Church Committee, but I think it could apply to what this committee has done as well – “of necessity will cause some short-term damage to our intelligence efforts… A responsible inquiry as this has been will in the long-run result in a stronger and more efficient intelligence community. Such short-term inquiry will be outweighed by the long-term benefits gained from restructuring of the intelligence community with more efficient utilization of our intelligence resources.”

So, again, Mr. Brennan, I look forward to working with you to complete these tasks we’ve outlined here today. In the long-run, I have faith in the CIA like you have faith in the CIA that it will come out of this study stronger and poised to meet the 21st century intelligence challenges that are in front of us. Thank you again for your willingness to serve.

John Brennan:
Thank you.

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