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CNN "The Situation Room" Trancript: Counterterrorism and Intellegence

Interview

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BLITZER: U.S. citizens dying overseas with other Americans pulling the trigger and using drones to take them out. That's just one reason President Obama's pick to be the next CIA director has been on the hot seat at his confirmation hearings today.

Let's break this down policy with Representative Peter King of New York. He serves in the House Permanent Select on Intelligence. He's chairman of the House Homeland Security, a subcommittee of that committee. Is that -- did I get that right, Congressman?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes, the subcommittee on counterterrorism.

BLITZER: On counterterrorism.

You used to be the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. You were term-limited.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: So, now, you were on the intelligence.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: What do you think about this policy that we now see in these memorandums that have been revealed that the president can simply order an American citizen to be killed by a drone without any judicial review?

KING: Wolf, from everything I've seen over the last several years, including everything that's come out in the last several days, I think the president is acting according to the law, according to the Constitution. The president's main job, his main obligation is to protect the security of the American people.

And the fact that the enemy may happen to be an American citizen should not give that enemy any immunity. And to me there are sufficient procedures in place, there are protocols in place. And to say that someone who's on the battlefield, who is a high-ranking member of an enemy force, is somehow entitled to due process -- listen, if we can capture that person, if we could somehow bring him to justice, otherwise, fine.

But you take someone like Awlaki, there's no other way we could get him, and he really was one of the most dangerous people in the world, more dangerous than bin Laden.

BLITZER: Was he simply a propagandist, though, who inspired killings, inspired al Qaeda operatives to try to go out and kill Americans and others, or was he involved in actual operational planning?

KING: I can tell you -- I guess as far as I can go, is that Awlaki was much more of a propagandist. He was much more than a recruiter. He was extremely high up in AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. I really can't go beyond that, other than to say that from the classified briefings I received over the years, I have absolutely no doubt that Awlaki was a high-ranking terrorist, a man who was responsible for murder, and orchestrated and planner of many of the operations.

So, to me, there's no doubt that he would fit into any definition at all of who should be taken out if the occasion arose.

BLITZER: Can you say the same thing about Adam Gadahn, that California man who has now become an al Qaeda operative, if you will, or a propagandist out there on the Internet?

KING: Again, I would have to see all of the information on him. He would be at a different level than Awlaki. My personal feelings are, I would have no problem with him being killed, to be honest with you. To me, it's like Tokyo Rose, if you will.

But having said that, I would have to see all of the documentation. These are decisions that are made very carefully at high levels of our government. And again, they set the restrictions. They've set the guidelines. I have no doubt Awlaki was within those guidelines. I would have to see more on Gadahn.

I can tell you, morally, it wouldn't bother me at all. But whether or not he fits in to those guidelines, I really can't say right now.

BLITZER: Here's what is in that leaked Justice Department memo that's come out. "The condition that an operational leader presents an imminent threat of violent threats against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future."

Here's the question: what's the difference between an imminent attack and immediate future? It sounds like there's a contradiction in that line.

KING: I don't see it. I think in the world in which we live, someone like bin Laden, someone like Awlaki, these are long-term plans they have. For instance, the 9/11 plan was a long time putting together and being carried out. If we could have stopped it three months before, six months before by killing bin Laden or killing one of the operatives in that plan, to me, that's imminent enough.

And we know that Awlaki, for instance, in December 2009, he was one of the architects of the attempted Christmas Day bombing. We know there were others he was involved in. So, we have to assume if he's on the run and if he's operating in Yemen, and he's put together previous attacks, that he would be planning another one out.

So, to me, the presumption has to be that he's engaged in an imminent attack and he's attempting to plan it.

BLITZER: Peter King is supporting the president on this sensitive issue.

Congressman, thanks very much.

KING: Yes, I am. Thank you, Wolf.


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