Drone Czar John Brennan CIA confirmation hearing interrupted by protesters

February 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Commentary

THIS IS LIVE REPORTING – AS OF 2.7.13 (Scroll down for protestor info)

Brennan speaks very quickly. He feels a step ahead of every question. The hearing so far feels very comfortable. The senators are perfunctorily setting up a ski course for him to navigate, and he is effortlessly swishing around the gates.

Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, asks Brennan to promise that he will comply with all future committee requests for intelligence documents.

Brennan drops some Government 101. “An impasse between the executive branch and the legislative branch on issues of such importance is not in the national interest,” he says. Then he says the separation of powers grants the legislature oversight power.

“They also gave us the power of the purse,” Burr says. Snap!

Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, is talking about a 6,000-page report produced by the committee about CIA rendition and torture during the Bush years. The report concluded that the program did not produce valuable intelligence.

Rockefeller is not shy about how good he thinks the report is: “It’s a magnificent piece of work, I think it will go down in history,” he says.

Rockefeller says it’s disturbing that Brennan, who once said torture “saved lives,” was surprised by the report’s findings.

The senator asks Brennan if he will make the report required reading for senior personnel.

Brennan very diplomatically replies: “I am looking forward to taking advantage of whatever lessons come out of this chapter of history, and this committee’s report.”

Brennan hedges view that torture brought intelligence

Chambliss asks Brennan about his statement that EITs – torture – “saved lives.”

“I never believe it’s better to kill a terrorist, than to detain him,” Brennan says. “We want to detain as many terrorists as possible, so we can interrogate them…”

Brennan said he previously “had the impression that there was valuable intelligence” from torture, but now he has “serious questions about information that I was given at the time…. the impression that I had at the time… now I have to determine what the truth is, and at this point in time I do not know what the truth is.”

Updated

Chambliss asks Brennan whether he objected to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, which the committee calls EITs and most people call torture.

Brennan says he expressed his objections in “a number of conversations… with colleagues,” Brennan said.

Chambliss asks Brennan about reports that he had oversight of the development of techniques used on Abu Zubaydah, the Saudi militant captured in Pakistan in 2002 and currently held in Guantanamo.

Brennan denies he had anything to do with devising how Abu Zubaydah was interrogated.

Protest pictures

Anti-drone protesters hold signs before the start of the Senate intelligence committee hearing on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA directorl.
Anti-drone protesters hold signs before the start of the Senate intelligence committee hearing on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA
Police remove an anti-war protester as John Brennan, US President Barack Obama's pick to lead the CIA, arrives to testify before a full committee hearing on his nomination to be CIA director.
Police remove an anti-war protester as John Brennan, US President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the CIA, arrives to testify before a full committee hearing on his nomination to be CIA director. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Drone strikes: Feinstein asks Brennan how he sees his role as CIA director.

She’s trying to get a sense of whether the drones program would be a bigger part of the CIA shop under Brennan.

Brennan dodges the questions, saying the president “has insisted that any actions we take will be legally grounded, will be thoroughly anchored in intelligence…” He doesn’t address the jurisdiction question.

Feinstein is up.

She says Congressional staff have been banned from seeing the OLC memo laying out the justification for targeted killing of US citizens abroad.

Brennan says it’s necessary to keep certain documents in a closed circle but it’s possible they will be made available to staff.

Feinstein says the staff has asked for eight additional opinions from the OLC. Brennan says he would be an advocate for the committee to “have the documentation that it needs” to perform its oversight role.

Updated

Brennan explains to the senators how important they are to the work of the CIA, in their oversight role. Flattery gets you everywhere.

He says that, if confirmed, he will “keep this committee fully informed not only because it is required by law… but because you cannot perform your function… if you are kept in the dark.”

Brennan says it will be one of his “highest priorities” to review with Congress a report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program and the use of “now-banned techniques.” Brennan calls these “very serious issues.”

“I publicly acknowledge [the fight against al-Qaida] has sometimes involved the use of force outside the hot battlefield of Afghanistan,” he says.

He completes his opening statement.

My colleague Adam Gabbatt turns on the TV to catch the Brennan hearing… and has to channel-surf to find it:

The Senate hearing to appoint Brennan is apparently not interesting enough for some news channels. While MSNBC and Fox News carried the hearing live, CNN ignored it to focus on a news conference about the ex-police officer suspected of shooting dead former colleagues in California.

Even as protesters were being ejected from the Senate hearing CNN stayed with the California press conference. Police named Christopher Jordan Dorner as a suspect in a double killing on Sunday, and he is suspected of shooting three officers this morning.

The hearing proceeds.

“As I appear before you today, I especially would like to extend a special salute to David Petraeus,” Brennan says. He then thanks Morrell and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

“Jim is a person of longstanding and deep experience and integrity,” Brennan says.

Protesters disrupt the start of the hearing.
Protesters disrupt the start of the hearing. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Feinstein clears the room

“The next time, we’re going to clear the chamber, and bring people back one by one,” Feinstein says.

Another protester immediately begins shouting.

Feinstein clears the room. Hearing is recessed.

Updated

Brennan starts speaking and is immediately shouted down. A protester is removed.

Feinstein issues warning No. 2:

“I’m going to say once again, that we welcome everyone here, that we …expect no hissing, that we expect no demonstration in this room. This is a very serious hearing. I will stop the hearing, and I will ask for the room to be cleared.”

Now another protester.

“Would you pause Mr. Brennan?” Feinstein says. “If you would remove that individual if you please, as quickly as you can.”

The protester is removed.

Brennan resumes, “I’d like to thank my wife Kathy…”

A third protester. This one is much louder.

Feinstein: “If you could please expedite the removal.”

An anti-war protester is removed by police.
An anti-war protester is removed by police. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Viriginia Sen. Mark Warner introduces Brennan, whom he calls “an advocate for greater transparency in our counter-terror policy.”

Did he bring more white papers?

Updated

Brennan takes his seat.

Brennan confronts protesters at the Senate.
Protesters greet John O Brennan as he arrives for his confirmation hearing to be CIA director. Photograph: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Vice chairman Saxby Chambliss, the retiring Republican senator from Georgia, reads his statement. He thanks Michael J. Morrell, the acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency since the resignation of Gen. David Petraeus last year in a scandal over an affair with his biographer.

Feinstein seeks to assuage concerns that the drone program is being run without oversight. She says her committee has conducted “significant oversight of the government’s conduct of targeted strikes …”

Feinstein says she can “confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits.”

That clashes with the BIJ count in Pakistan, 475-891 civilians dead; in Yemen, with 72-178 dead; and in Somalia, with 11-57 civilians killed.

Select Committee on Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, is making an opening statement.

Protesters catcalled Brennan when he entered the room. She warned them to be quiet.

MUCH MORE Here – minute by minute reporting

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