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

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. Martin Heinrich’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. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.):
…I want to start with you November 2007 interview with the CBS News where you said – and I quote – “There have been a lot of information that has come out of these interrogations and procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives.”

Other intelligence officials went a lot further than that in defending the use of so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques at the time. Some still do.

If your review of the committee’s study convinces you that these techniques did not, in fact, save lives, I’d like to ask will you be as public in condemning the program as you were in its defense? And in other words, would you set the record straight?

John Brennan:
I will do whatever possible to make sure that the record is straight and that I speak fully and honestly on it.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.):
I want to return to a question that Mr. Udall asked you. Would you object to – and if so, why – to a public release of a truly de-classified version of the committee’s report?

John Brennan:
Senator, I would give such a request for de-classification very due consideration. There is a lot of information, material in those volumes with a lot of potential consequences as far as its public release. And at the same time, we have a commitment to transparency. We also, though, have a tremendous commitment to making sure that we keep this country safe by protecting its secrets. There are a lot of equities as far as liaison partners, other types of things, operational activities, maybe source and methods. So it has to be looked at very, very carefully.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.):
I would just say I agree with you that sources and methods and many of the operational details absolutely should never be de-classified. But there’s some basic principles, I think, in that report that I think it’s going to be very important for history to be able to judge. And I would urge you to look closely at that.

Sen. Levin asked about waterboarding. Let me follow up a little bit. In November 2007 interview with CBS News, you were asked if waterboarding was torture and you said “I think it is certainly subjecting an individual to severe pain and suffering, which is the classic definition of torture. And I believe, quite frankly, it’s inconsistent with American values and it’s something that should be prohibited.” Is that still your view?

John Brennan:
Yes, Senator, it is.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.):
Thank you. Do you believe that all agency of the United States government should be held to the interrogation standards that are laid out in the Army Field Manual as currently required by Executive Order 13491? And do you support efforts to codify those requirements into law?

John Brennan:
The Army Field Manual certainly should govern the U.S. military detention and interrogation of individuals. The FBI has its own processes and procedures and laws that govern its activities. So what I want to do is to make sure that appropriate attention is paid to FBI as opposed to military.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.):
I understand. Back in 2006, you were part of an online discussion with the Washington Post. You suggested at that time that the Director of the CIA should have a set 5-year term like the FBI Director to guarantee “the absolute need for independence, integrity, and objectivity in the senior ranks of our intelligence community.” Given that you will, instead, serve at the pleasure of the President, how do you maintain your independence?

John Brennan:
Having grown up in the intelligence business for 25 years, I truly understand the importance and value of maintaining independence, objectivity, and integrity of the intelligence process. I know when I’ve sat in the White House situation room and when I’ve looked to the intelligence briefer that if they were to advocate in any way a policy preference, it really calls into question the independence of the activity and basis of that intelligence. I want them to give me the facts as it is, irrespective of what their policy leanings or preferences might be, because policymakers need to do that. So in order for me to maintain my integrity as an intelligence professional, as I would go to the President or the Secretaries of State or Defense or into the National Security Council meetings, I would need to make sure I can say it straight, give it straight, and let the policymakers determine exactly the best course of action.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.):
Thank you. One last question. I believe it was during that same online discussion with Washington Post you said “I think there’s an effort underway to get the CIA to adapt to the new realities of the intelligence community. The CIA has resisted many of these changes, which has been a problem. It’s time to move forward.” What exactly did you mean and has the CIA made progress in that direction?

John Brennan:
Well, Senator, a credit to you and your staff for following up that Post online interview because I had not read that or thought about that in a while. I must say that having grown up in the agency for 25 years and as I said in my testimony I have tremendous respect for that organization. It is exceptionally capable, competent. But almost by dint of the nature of its work, it’s also at times insular, and it has not interacted and interoperated the way it needs to with the rest of the intelligence community, the rest of the U.S. government. At times, that is to protect sources and methods and to protect the secrets that it has. But given the changes in the environment, given the changes in the nature of our government, CIA needs to play a part in this larger role.

And so now, the head of the CIA does not sit on top of the intelligence community; it is part of a larger intelligence community that is led by the Director of National Intelligence. So my objective would be to make sure that CIA’s capability are truly going to be leveraged and empower the responsibilities and missions of the rest of the government. Department of Homeland Security is a new creation – they need intelligence just like others do as well.

So what I think I was conveying there is that, you know, there was resistance at the time of the IRTPA [Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act], as we well know, that they didn’t want sort of to break some of the past practices. Well, I think a lot of that resistance is overcome and now I think CIA sees the benefits of having somebody sit on top of the community and not have to sit on top of the agency as well.

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