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SEN. FEINSTEIN: Because we have a voting coming up at 2:40, which is about seven minutes from now, I'm going to begin the hearing, and try to keep it going during the vote, and have members spell each other. And I know the vice chairman is on his way, we have 300 members here, so I think I'll begin and I'll begin with my statement.
The committee meets today to receive testimony to consider two nominations: Mr. Robert Litt, nominated to be the general counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Mr. Stephen Preston, nominated to be general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency. And I welcome both of them.
If you have family with you that you would to introduce right now I think that would be very nice. So why don't -- I know you both do, so Mr. Litt, why don't we begin with you and let everybody meet your two daughters, your wife, your mother-in-law --
ROBERT S. LITT: Thank you, Madame Chairman. Directly behind me is my oldest daughter, Rebecca, who spent three-and-a-half years working as a legislative assistant for Senator Mikulski. Next to her is my wife Deborah who is one of the most patient women in the world. Then my youngest daughter, Rachel --
SEN. FEINSTEIN: And I asked who's the boss in the family, and Rachel immediately said she was, so.
MR. LITT: Immediately and correctly -- (laughter). My mother Edith Litt and mother-in-law Joan Gordon. My middle daughter Miriam is not here today because she's on her honeymoon -- she got married 10 days ago, and so I'm probably the rare nominee that comes before you and can't say for sure that this is the most stressful thing he's done this week.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Mr. Preston.
STEPHEN W. PRESTON: Thank you, Madame Chairman. I am very pleased to introduce to the panel my wife Mary Manaman (sp) Preston, and our daughter Julia and our son Collet.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, I hope the family should know they are very much welcomed. Both nominees have provided written responses to background questions and to questions about legal issues they will confront if confirmed. Their answers will be posted today on the committee's Web site. I have met with both nominees and came away from both meetings duly impressed.
It is crystal clear that the intelligence community and perhaps the CIA more than the other 15 agencies needs absolutely clear, authoritative, and accurate legal advice. The intelligence community and the nation have struggled with questions about the legality of counterterrorism operations. Notably rendition, detention and interrogation over the past few years.
There have been similar doubts about the legality of the warrant less surveillance program conducted outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I expect members will have questions about many intelligence activities, and we look forward to your responses, gentlemen.
To me, the key questions are: will these two nominees, if confirmed, provide sound and careful legal advice? And also, their best counsel and judgment to the director of national intelligence and -- (inaudible) -- of the CIA.
If necessary, will they do everything within their power to prevent any activity that they believe to be unlawful and unwise? And I would add this: Will they ensure that there is appropriate oversight within all three branches of the federal government to ensure that programs only go forward after all relevant and required views are obtained and followed.
Let me say a few words about each nominee and the position to which they are nominated.
Mr. Robert Litt is a graduate of Harvard University, and Yale Law School. He clerked for Judge Edward Weinfeld of the Southern District of New York and Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court. He served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York for six years. He later became a partner at the law firm of Williams & Connolly, and then from '93 to '99 served in the State Department and at the Department of Justice, where he rose to be principal deputy attorney general, with responsibilities including FISA application, covert action reviews and other national security matters.
He has been a partner with the law firm of Arnold and Porter since 1999. If confirmed, Mr. Litt would be the second counsel general -- excuse me, general counsel -- in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The first person to hold the position, Ben Powell, appeared regularly before this committee and should be commended for his straightforward and helpful testimony and advice.
The general counsel is the chief legal officer of the Office of Director of National Intelligence. In providing legal advice to the DNI, he must have insight into activities throughout the intelligence community including those of the general counsel offices in the various intelligence community elements.
The committee expects that Mr. Litt will be aware of and have an opportunity to evaluate all of the significant legal decisions made throughout the intelligence community. As the committee recently discussed with Director Blair, the general counsel will also represent the executive branch in proposing and negotiating legislative provisions for our annual intelligence authorization bill which is coming up, and other legislation that effects the equities of the intelligence community.
Stephen Preston is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. He clerked for Judge Phyllis A. Kravitch, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, and joined Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering, where he became a partner. From '93 to 2000, Mr. Preston served in the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice.
He was principal deputy attorney general in the Department of Defense, deputy assistant attorney general, civil division, in the Department of Justice and general counsel, Department of the Navy.
He has been a partner at WilmerHale since 2001. The position of CIA general counsel has been vacant since July of 2004. Frankly, I can't think of an agency in the United States government that is in stronger need of a Senate-confirmed general counsel than the CIA.
This is an agency that operates outside of the law around the world but is required to operate in strict compliance with the United States law. This is an extremely challenging legal position, and one that requires a strong and principled general counsel. The CIA Office of General Counsel played a key role in the creation of the detention and interrogation program.
It provided significant information to the office of legal counsel at the Department of Justice. It participated in most of the briefings to the National Security Council and to Congress. And it was in charge of interpreting and implementing the office of legal counsel's guidance to CIA interrogators in the field.
As I said before, the CIA and the nation need a strong general counsel of unimpeachable integrity and an unwavering commitment to the constitution and laws of the United States and I cannot say that too strongly.
I am pleased that the two nominees before us are both highly qualified, highly respected in their field, and well suited to provide this advice to both the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA.
I now turn to the voice chairman. Before I do, I would just like members to know that we would like to have a brief classified session on some recent happenings in --
MR. : I've got 219 -- is 219?
SEN. FEINSTEIN: We can go to 211 directly following this and hopefully these hearings because they are so qualified will go quickly. Mr. Vice Chairmen.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER S. BOND (R-MO): Madame Chair, thank you, I think that's a good idea, I think I can fire off all my questions in one round or submit them for the record. And I agree with you its time that we had that meeting. But I welcome Mr. Litt and Mr. Preston and their families to the committee.
To Mr. Litt to be the general counsel for ODNI, Mr. Preston to be general counsel to the CIA. Madame Chair, I think both men come to this meeting with impressive credentials, considerable experience and a modest recognition that they still have to learn much about national security law. Fortunately there are many talented lawyers at the ODNI and CIA offices of the general counsel who will assist them in getting up to speed on the national security learning curve.
These are extremely important positions and nominations as you've pointed out, Madame Chair. Many people don't understand the crucial role that the lawyers plan within the intelligence community.
National security lawyers routinely review operational activities to ensure that they are conducted within the bounds of the law. Sometimes they have to deliver bad news and disapprove certain operations. And that is very important -- to say no when it has to be said.
At the same time, they serve as problem solvers who ought to be able to find a way to comply with the law, to satisfy the legal requirements and still accomplish the intelligence objectives for which their agencies are charged.
In addition to the important oversight role, national security lawyers are often called up on provide Congress with necessary technical assistance to ensure that relevant legislation does not adversely impact intelligence equities and having worked extremely closely with the lawyers during FISINT, I know how valuable their assistance is with respect to national security legislation.
We've relied on them in the past years and we will again in the USA Patriot Act, the Patriot Improvement Reauthorization Act, implementing and implementing further recommendations of the 9/11 Commissions act. I think it's safe to say that the two men now sitting before us will play an important role in future legislation.
I have met privately with each of the nominees and was very favorable impressed. I think both men are talented lawyers who are capable of being effective leaders and managers -- their perspective offices and have the necessary character quality, experience and knowledge to do the job.
I congratulate you on your nominations, I look forward to your testimony, and assuming you are confirmed, which I think you will be, I look forward to working with you to ensure that the ODNI and the CIA offices of the general counsel continue to provide outstanding legal support to the intelligence community and to Congress. Thank you, Madame Chair.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: And I thank you, Mr. Vice Chairman. Members should know that Mr. Litt's remarks are under tab C, and Mr. Preston's under tab D, and they are both concise and short. Mr. Litt, would you care to make a brief statement to the committee and then we'll follow with Mr. Preston, and then a few questions.
MR. LITT: Thank you, Madame Chairman. My oral remarks will be even shorter.
Madame Chairman, Vice Chairman Bond and members of the committee, I want to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you here today. I also have appreciated the opportunity to meet privately with a number of you to hear what's on your mind and what your concerns are about the law and the intelligence community.
I am deeply honored that President Obama has nominated me to be the general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The past few years, as you know, have been trying ones for the Intelligence Community. It has been accused of a wide variety of failures, and accused of errors of omission and of commission, been accused of excessive passivity and of over-aggressiveness. And it is still dealing with the restructuring that Congress ordered with the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which is the most substantial reorganization of the intelligence community since the passage of the National Security Act in 1947.
Our nation needs a strong and vital intelligence community in order to protect itself from its enemies; but the intelligence community equally needs clear legal rules that define what it can and cannot do. These twin needs are reflected in the twin statutory responsibilities of the Director of National Intelligence: one, to ensure that the president, the executive branch and the Congress are provided intelligence that is, quote, "timely, objective, independent of political considerations, and based upon all sources available to the intelligence community and other appropriate entities," and; two, to ensure that the activities of the intelligence community are carried out in, quote, "compliance with the Constitution and laws of the United States." If I am confirmed as general counsel, I look forward to assisting Director Blair in carrying out these responsibilities.
I know, from talking with some of you, that the members of this committee with whether the Director of National Intelligence has the proper authorities to carry out these important responsibilities. And if confirmed, I will pay close attention to how those authorities work in practice, and if there are any deficiencies in them, I will bring them to the attention of this committee and work with the committee to try to remedy them.
I will also be mindful of the need for Congress to exercise effective oversight of the activities of the intelligence community. I believe that congressional oversight is particularly important in the area of intelligence because of the central role that intelligence plays in protecting national security, because of the power of the tools that are given to the intelligence community, and their potential risks to privacy and civil liberty of their reviews.
And because of the necessarily secret nature of much of what the intelligence community does.
Director Blair has emphasize to the entire intelligence community the important of keeping the intelligence committee fully and currently informed about intelligence activities -- and if confirmed I will fully support him in that and will work with you to try to ensure that you are able to exercise this oversight function in the manner in which it needs to be exercised.
In addition, there are a wide range of important and challenging legal issues affecting the intelligence community, some of which I discuss in my written statement. If confirmed, I will not only provide Director Blair my best views on the law based on the through understanding of the facts and the law -- whatever those views may be -- but also my counsel and judgment on the wisdom and propriety of particular courses of conduct.
Madame Chairman, in the course of my professional career, I have been privileged to get to know many individuals who work as part of the intelligence community, both lawyers and non lawyers. They are dedicated professionals, many of whom gave up a potentially lucrative career in the private sector for the privilege and protecting its people. If I am confirmed, I look forward to the great privilege of assisting them in that vital task. Thank you for your consideration of my nomination.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Litt. Mr. Preston?
MR. PRESTON: Thank you, Madame Chairman, Mr. Vice Chairman and members of the committee. I'm greatly honored to appear before you as the president's nominee to be general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency. Madame Chairman, you were kind enough to let me introduce my wife and children a moment ago. I should point out that today is our wedding anniversary and so I ought to thank the committee for this occasion to get together.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Congratulations! (Laughter.) Which one is it?
MR. PRESTON: It's our 15th.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Congratulations!
MR. PRESTON: It is our 15th anniversary and I thank you for being us together on this occasion. In all seriousness, these are the most important people in my life. And it is because of them that I am here today, prepared to undertake what I expect will be the most meaningful, and likely the most difficult job in my professional life.
I want to thank President Obama and Director Panetta for their trust and confidence in me. If confirmed, I look forward to working with you, the director and the fine men and women of the CIA to confront the ongoing threats to our national security, and ultimately, to protect families like mine all over this country. Given the scarcity of time and the abundance of business before you, I'd like to submit the remainder of my statement for the record. Let me say, I appreciate this opportunity to appear before the committee today, and I would be happy to answer any questions.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much. I'll begin the questions and I want to ask one question of -- pardon me? -- There is a standard of initial questions for all nominees and I will quickly read this and if you will say yes or no:
Do you both agree to appear before the committee here or in other venues when invited?
MR. LITT: Yes.
MR. PRESTON: Yes.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Do you both agree to send officials from your respective offices to appear before the committee and designate its staff when requested?
MR. LITT: Yes.
MR. PRESTON: Yes.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Do you agree to provide documents or any other material requested by the committee in order for it to carry out its oversight and legislative responsibilities?
MR. LITT: Yes.
MR. PRESTON: Yes.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Will you ensure that your respective offices provide such material to the committee when requested?
MR. LITT: Yes.
MR. PRESTON: Yes.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much. In its short history, the Director of National Intelligence has used intelligence community directives to set out guidance and regulation across the entire intelligence community -- much like the director of the CIA issued DCI directives before the DNI position was created.
Three recent examples of these ICDs are: ICD 101 -- intelligence community policy system, January 16th of this year; ICD 501 -- discovery and dissemination or retrieval of information within the intelligence community, January 21st; and ICD 402 -- director of national intelligence representatives, May 19th, 2009. Do you believe that the DNI has the authority to issue directives to agencies of the intelligence community? Mr. Litt?
MR. LITT: Yes, I do.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Mr. Preston.
MR. PRESTON: Yes, ma'am.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Do you believe that these intelligence community directives are binding on individual agencies of the intelligence community? Mr. Litt?
MR. LITT: Yes, I do.
MR. PRESTON: Yes, I believe a properly issued and final ICD is binding on agencies in the community.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much. And just one other question -- on page six of the written questions and answers, Mr. Preston, I'd like to ask you to clarify one answer, and here it is: "By virtue of its relationship with the entire intelligence community, the General Counsel's Office is well-positioned to identify conflicting legal interpretations within the Community. Because the general counsel does not have decisional authority to resolve such conflicts, if there are conflicting legal views on an issue, I would bring the relevant general counsels together to discuss the issues and attempt to resolve any differing opinions."
This is your writing. How do you mean this?
MR. PRESTON: I believe that comes from Mr. Litt's questionnaire, although I'd be happy to address -- (inaudible, cross talk).
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Oh, I beg your pardon.
MR. LITT: I was going to say, I thought it was my writing, Madame Chairman.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, that's what peaked my interest in the question -- I thought it was his.
MR. LITT: No, no.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: But I think -
MR. LITT: Is the answer clearer when you -- (inaudible, cross talk).
SEN. FEINSTEIN: The answer is much clearer when it comes from you because I think the point that I wanted to make clear in my first question, and with this, is the fact that we passed legislation to create an overarching head of the 16 intelligence agencies. And that is the Director of National Intelligence. And he is the boss. And as a matter of fact, we had Mr. Panetta here at his hearing, and we asked him, and he verified, yes, the DNI is my boss. And I want to be sure that that is the impression of the new legal counsel for the CIA.
MR. PRESTON: Understood.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Okay. And Mr. Vice Chairman?
SEN. BOND: Madame Chair, you are going to go vote, I understand -
SEN. FEINSTEIN: (Inaudible, cross talk.)
SEN. BOND: -- and I will ask questions and hope you get back speedily because I will probably have to go vote and if Senator Snowe wants to stay around and ask questions after I run, I will be happy to turn it over. Otherwise I will exercise the gavel an apparently untrammeled manner, here, for a couple of minutes -- as long as I think I can get away with it and still vote on time. Gentlemen, one of the questions I ought to ask everybody, and I will ask again to get your views on the record -- and we've essentially practiced it before, I'm sure you can be brief and to the point: For all national security lawyers, I like to ask -- and I'll first ask Mr. Litt and then Mr. Preston -- if the president of the United States has inherent authority under Article II of the Constitution to engage in warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance or physical searches or, in your opinion, does FISA trump Article II? Mr. Litt?
MR. LITT: Mr. Vice Chairman, I think the answer to that is that there is a very express exclusivity provision in FISA that says that it's the sole means for executing electronic surveillance that comes within its terms, and I think that this administration has indicated it intends to abide by that exclusivity. Obviously to the extent that there are matters that are entirely outside the scope of FISA -- the president, I think, does have inherent Article II authority to conduct activities that are necessary to the defense of the nation.
SEN. BOND: So you're saying he doesn't have the authority if it's within the scope of FISA.
MR. LITT: I think that this administration has indicated that it will abide by the exclusivity provision -- which is obviously, as you know, one of the constitutional questions that scholars of considerable more wisdom than I have been debating for years and years -
SEN. BOND: I'll let you get by with that.
MR. LITT: Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. PRESTON: In that case, I'd like to associate myself with -- (inaudible, cross talk).
SEN. BOND: I want to see if you can do a better job.
MR. LITT: I'm sure he can.
MR. PRESTON: I think Bob has accurately describe the state of the play and where the difficulty lies. I haven't an answer perhaps not satisfactory to constitutional scholars and a little more simple- minded but I don't think the president is above the law and the FISA amendment to establish procedures that the president has acknowledged he intends to follow. And if there remains, under Article II, powers for him to choose differently in special circumstances, I would have to defer to the constitutional scholars on that.
SEN. BOND: Well, heaven forbid we get into that situation where it's needed, but I'll be interested in hearing what you have to say should that occasion arise. Mr. Litt?
MR. LITT: If I could just add on that -- I'm quite confident that if that situation ever arose, you would be hearing from us about it.
SEN. BOND: I used to be a constitutional lawyer, not a scholar, but I'll be happy to talk with you about it. Mr. Litt, I'm very much concerned -- and I've asked the DNI and these lawyers many times if they had the authority they need to do the job. Some representatives of the DNI and the DNI's representatives indicated they might not. I think that question continues to arise. We talked about it -- have you had a chance to study it any further since our initial discussion.
MR. LITT: Not really. In my mind, Mr. Vice Chairman, what's going to be most important is to have an opportunity to actually see how the authorities operate in practice. I can read the words of the statute, but until I actually have an opportunity to be in place and watch how they're used and see if there are any gaps, I'd be cautious in forming any judgments about whether any additional authority is needed.
SEN. BOND: There may be an opportunity fairly shortly. I have questions about -- that we've discussed before; I'll submit them for the record. Mr. Preston, the committee's begun a review of the CIA detention interrogation program. Do you think the Department of Justice should conduct criminal investigations on those individuals involved in detention interrogation of al Qaeda terrorists in accordance with procedures approved by the OLC and if authorized by the president?
MR. PRESTON: Sir, I would note that the president, as well as the attorney general, the DNI, the DCIA have decided -- and the others have agreed -- that the people who, in good faith, sought and followed what was believed to be authoritative legal guidance with respect to the interrogation program ought not be subject to prosecution -- as Director Panetta said -- ought not be subject to investigation and prosecution. The fact of the matter is that there has been in place at CIA an investigatory mechanism in the form of the IG, which has been, since the time that the interrogation program was in place, investigating allegations of abuse. So it's not as if there isn't already in place investigation efforts and I just would echo the concept that those who acted in good faith, in reliance on that authoritative legal authority, ought not be punished for it.
SEN. BOND: Do you think the DOJ should conduct criminal investigation if the lawyers who wrote the CIA opinions -- the senior Executive Branch officials who authorized the program; our congressional members who were aware of the program's details and chose to fail to exercise their congressional oversight to stop them?
MR. PRESTON: Senator, my focus has been principally on the agency and its role and, frankly, its role going forward. With respect to people at the Justice Department and elsewhere, I really haven't formulated a conclusion. I will tell you, broadly I believe that public servants who act in good faith and in reasonable belief that they're acting lawfully in defense of our country, ought not be punished for that. I would prefer not to comment on other agency - (inaudible, cross talk)
SEN. BOND: Mr. Litt, any further expansion?
MR. LITT: Mr. Vice Chairman, I certainly believe that it is essential to the operation of government that people be able to rely on opinions from the Justice Department without fear that those opinions will later be pulled back from them, and leaving them exposed to criminal liability. I think that --
SEN. BOND: But if somebody -- I'm asking about if a lawyer gives an opinion you think is bad, should they be prosecuted for it?
MR. LITT: I'm not aware of any such case, Mr. Vice Chairman.
SEN. BOND: I am concerned that we're moving back to a pre-9/11 mentality, where international terrorists are considered as ordinary criminals that should be afforded all the due-process rights of our criminal courts. Mr. Preston, what are your views on this issue?
MR. PRESTON: I haven't conceived of the situation in those terms, but my thinking on it is that our government, the past administration and the current administration, have recognized radical jihadist terrorist organizations as posing a serious, real and enduring threat to our national security, and have been committed to applying the full panoply of tools at our disposal in combating that threat.
SEN. BOND: Mr. Litt, quick answer?
MR. LITT: Mr. Vice Chairman, I would simply point to the president's speech this morning, in which he indicated that there are some terrorists who we have who are amenable and properly tried in normal criminal courts; there are some who ought to be tried in military commissions for acts against the law of war; and that there may be some who cannot be tried, but will need to be detained under some legal framework worked out cooperatively among the executive branch and the legislative branch.
SEN. BOND: Gentlemen, I'll suspend the hearing. It will resume at such time as the chair returns.
SENATOR RON WYDEN (D-OR): I want to thank both our nominees, and I'm sorry that it's so hectic on the floor, and you'll have a shoveling back and forth here for a period of time. Let me start with you, if I could, Mr. Preston. As I indicated to you in the office, I think your position is one of extraordinary importance. When you're the general counsel of the CIA, your clients are the men and women of the agency, and it's your job to protect your clients by ensuring that intelligence activities comply with the law.
The dedicated people who work at the agency take big risks to protect their country and uphold American values and they deserve to have confidence that they're never going to end up in trouble because they were asked to participate in a program that did not have a strong legal foundation. And as you know, Mr. Preston, I've taken a great interest in this position in the past and I will continue to do so, and that's why I have a few specific questions for you.
If you're confirmed as the CIA general counsel, and the Department of Justice hands you a poorly-reasoned legal opinion -- like the Bybee memo -- and tells you to use it as the legal basis for a sensitive intelligence program, what would you do?
MR. PRESTON: Senator, I strongly believe that as the chief legal officer of the agency, by statute, I have a responsibility to exercise independent judgment in matters of law affecting the agency. I recognize that LOC opinions are treated, and properly treated, as binding, if you will, within the executive branch. But if I were confronted with a circumstance of the sort you described, and I had a strong disagreement with the opinion, I would make my disagreement known. I would make it known to the director, who is my principal, and, as appropriate, make it known to the leadership of the Justice Department and elsewhere, as appropriate.
SEN. WYDEN: So you would bring it up specifically with the Department of Justice and you would say, this memo doesn't cut it and you don't believe it's an adequate foundation for a significant program?
MR. PRESTON: I think that's a fair statement.
SEN. WYDEN: Okay. One other question I had for you -- and this was just something that struck me; I'd like to get your thoughts with respect to what it was you were trying to convey. In response to one of the pre-hearing written questions to Peru, you stated that CIA general counsel attorneys might somehow advise their clients not to create discoverable documents in situations that might involve litigation. My question is, would you agree that government employees have an obligation to make accurate records of their actions and not try to cover up anything by refusing to write it down?
MR. PRESTON: I would agree with that, Senator. Let me say, as I hope I made clear in my written response, I'm not familiar with the circumstances of the Peru incident -- have not reviewed the IG report. From my private practice experience, I know it's not at all uncommon to advise clients to take care in what they put in writing; take care with the use of e-mail, what have you, when you're in a circumstance of civil litigation or possible civil liability. I consider that worlds apart from telling people not to make proper records or to, in any way, falsify or destroy records, or anything of the sort.
SEN. WYDEN: I appreciate that because it seemed to me that the Peru issue certainly is hard to get all the facts in terms of your situation at this time, but I just wanted to get on the record that you did not mean that the office of the general counsel should somehow advise CIA employees to not keep records.
MR. PRESTON: That is a correct understanding and I should've been clearer.
SEN. WYDEN: Very good. Let me ask you just one question, Mr. Litt, if I might. When we met in my office, we discussed the statutory requirements of the executive branch to keep the committee fully and currently informed about intelligence activities about intelligence activities, and you actually called afterwards to clarify your answer. I'm encouraged that there is a lawyer who cares that much about making sure that they get the question right.
And, for the record, just tell us, if you would, your views on the flaw and specifically address the practice of notifying only the chairman and the vice chairman rather than the full membership of the committee.
MR. LITT: Senator, I understand that this is a question of great importance to the committee, and I think it's of great importance to the intelligence community as well because of the importance of oversight that I mentioned in my opening statement.
Section 502 of the National Security Act requires that the intelligence committees be kept fully and currently informed of all significant intelligence activities. And Director Blair, a couple of months ago, as I mentioned, sent around a memorandum to the entire intelligence community, emphasizing this.
And as I believe he said recently, this notification should be to the full committee in all but the most extraordinary circumstances when there are compelling national interests. Director Blair has also, I think, promised this committee that if there are such extraordinary circumstances, he will discuss with the chair and the vice chairman how and when the full committee should be briefed.
If confirmed, I look forward to assisting him in the overall process of ensuring that this committee is kept fully and currently informed.
SEN. WYDEN: Is there any basis in law for limiting notification of any intelligence activities other than covert actions to just the chairman and the vice chairman?
MR. LITT: Section 502 says that the -- begins with a clause that says that the notification is to the extent consistent with due regard for the protections from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.
I think that this is at least arguable recognition that there may be extraordinary circumstances in which a more limited notification is appropriate, but I would emphasize that in my view this should be done only rarely, only when it's essential because of a vital interest and extraordinary circumstances, and should only be done in consultation with the chairman and vice chairman.
SEN. WYDEN: My time has expired, but what would be an example of an extraordinary circumstance? I mean, part of the reason I'm asking you this is for the reasons that we talked about.
Most of this committee was kept in the dark for years and years on the interrogation issue, and not just one or two years, but you're hearing all this discussion now about how everybody on this committee was kept in the loop over the years on the interrogation question.
That's just a position that's disconnected from reality. I mean, I was on the committee starting in 2001 and even the agency's records indicate that we weren't briefed until 2006. So this is an issue I feel strongly about. I think others do.
So let me close my questioning. I'm over my time, Madame Chair.
Are there -- give me an example of an extraordinary circumstance where you wouldn't see notification to the committee?
MR. LITT: I'm hampered in that by not having actually been on the ground and seen many of the circumstances in which notification actually occurs. It would seem to me that it would -- that one example might be where there is exceptionally grave and immediate risk to the lives of American agents. That's a situation where you might consider it. But it's difficult for me to give specifics on that without having been in the job and seeing how it operates.
SEN. WYDEN: Well, the law to me seems to be that it really is an exception only covert activities. I know we're going to talk about this further. Both of you bring, in my view, a great professionalism to these positions. I look forward to talking -- I look forward to voting for you.
Thank you, ma'am.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Senator Wyden. Senator Feingold, I think you're next, and then Senator Whitehouse.
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D-WI): I thank the chair and congratulate both the nominees on your nomination.
I do need to pursue what Senator Wyden very appropriately began, and that is the issue of the Gang of Eight statute. I heard the language fully and completely inform the committee, and the senator went through what the statute says.
The statute applies only -- the exception only applies to covert action, not to collection programs or activities, and I'm just trying to figure out what the legal basis is for this circumstance that you're imagining of grave risk and so on. What is the legal basis or where is the language that allows that kind of an independent interpretation of the plain statute?
MR. LITT: Senator, Section 502 begins, "To the extent consistent with due regard to the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters, the director of National Intelligence and the heads of all departments, agencies and other entities of the United States government involved in intelligence activities shall keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed," and so on.
So there clearly is a qualification. In my view, that qualification -- and let me make it very clear -- I do not think that that qualification is a limitation on whether the intelligence committees should be kept informed. I think it does afford some wiggle room on how the intelligence committees are kept fully informed.
And as I said, in my view this is something that should be done only in the most extraordinary of circumstances and only in consultation with the chairman and vice chairman of the committee.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I appreciate the reference to that language. First of all, the notion that a committee can be fully informed when just two members are notified to me is illogical, but I understand the argument you're trying to make.
But do you agree that the provision which allows for a presidential determination that limited access is essential, quote, "to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States," unquote, was not intended of course to authorize hiding matters from the full committee because they are politically sensitive or legally controversial?
MR. LITT: Not on those bases alone, no, sir.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Mr. Preston, your answer to this area, please.
MR. PRESTON: I would agree on that, certainly.
SEN. FEINGOLD: And what is your general position with regard to the explicit language of the statute and the very narrow exception that's provided?
MR. PRESTON: I think I would agree with Mr. Litt's construction of the statute to the extent that that opening language justified a qualification on the obligation. However, I would emphasize, with equal or greater weight, the point he has made that it should be truly exceptional circumstances and that the legal requirement here is for complete and timely provision of information to the full committee. The law admits exceptions only on an extraordinary basis.
I am keenly aware of the concern on this committee, and I know that Director Panetta is aware of the concern, about the use, or many would say overuse, of restricted briefings. He is committed to addressing that. I will join him in working to improve effective communication between the agency and the committee and to get notification and reporting done right.
SEN. FEINGOLD: I believe both of you are sincere in wanting to get this right, but let me just underscore what it means if, after what was frankly a rogue administration's approach to this, somehow the approach is ratified by a second administration that did not take such a cavalier attitude but sort of says, well, actually there are these independent things you can do despite the statute, how serious that would be for this. But I've heard your words and I look forward to working with you on it.
Mr. Litt, you have informed the committee that you represent several current and former CIA employees who had some role in rendition of detention and interrogation. Have you indicated that to avoid conflicts of interest you will not participate in any decisions affecting the outcome of any prosecutions or investigation of these or similarly situated individuals, nor will you offer opinions with regard to particular interrogation procedures that may have been employed in the past and that, quote, "relate to the subject of my representation," unquote?
Given that we can't predict how current and future policy deliberations might ultimately affect your clients, should we proceed under the assumption that any opinions you offer on detention, interrogation and rendition could present an appearance of a conflict of interest?
MR. LITT: Senator, well, obviously, as you know, I'm keenly aware of this issue. I did send a letter to the committee about it. And I will consult regularly with the designated agency ethics official about what is and is not appropriate for me to participate in.
My approach to the law is generally that I try to apply the law to a specific set of facts, and it's my current judgment that if I am presented with a set of facts in the future where somebody asks me, can we use this interrogation technique in this circumstance, that I would be able to offer an opinion or my best legal judgment on that without affecting the interests of my clients. But obviously I would be constantly consulting with the ethics officer on that.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Finally, Mr. Preston, the president said today that he disagreed with the legal analysis and the OLC memos on torture. Do you as well, and do you consider the interrogation techniques described in the OLC memos to be torture?
MR. PRESTON: Sir, you said Mr. Preston --
SEN. FEINGOLD: Yes.
MR. PRESTON: -- but you seem to be looking at Mr. Litt.
SEN. FEINGOLD: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
MR. PRESTON: Shall I answer?
SEN. FEINGOLD: Please, Mr. Preston, yes.
MR. PRESTON: Senator, I believe that the four OLC memos at issue are flawed. I look to the Justice Department's own actions in reaching that conclusion. The Justice Department, during the last administration, repudiated publicly the legal reasoning of the unclassified August 2nd, 2002 memo from which the classified August 2nd, 2002 memo formally withdrew the former and later superceded the latter in May 2005.
More recently the Department of Justice has indicated the flawed nature of all four memos, having now withdrawn all four, such that they are now dead letters.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Do you consider the interrogation techniques described in the OLC memos to be torture?
MR. PRESTON: I have not reached that conclusion. I've very studiously focused on the four opinions as they are relevant to the task that will lie ahead of me. My view is that by virtue of the fact that the practices outlined in those memos have now ended. The law has changed since 2002 and 2005 in significant fashion. And, as I pointed out, the letters have been withdrawn.
SEN. FEINGOLD: You've not reached a contrary conclusion either, right?
MR. PRESTON: I have not.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Okay. I apologize for going over my time.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much Senator.
SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Thank you, Madame Chair. Welcome to the minefield, gentlemen. (Laughter.)
Two issues. One, we urgently need a new cyber policy. The trajectory of what the Bush administration left us is not sustainable. Indeed, I think you've been left in a bit of a trap. It's all too classified to discuss further, but I would point it out publicly as a very big mine in the minefield.
Two is torture. This is a question that has three components. The first is what we did. And I could not advise you more strongly to acquaint yourself with the details, to drill down to the cables, to bring people in and ask hard questions, and to not be fobbed off with sanitized summaries. Do it yourself or assure that it's done by someone now tainted by the program, independent, and who you can trust.
Ask about conditions, hygiene, humanity and dignity, medical care. Ask about the intensity, duration and multiplicity of techniques. Find out if they complied with the limits and the predicates -- and the predicates of the OLC opinions. How bad is it? You need to know in order to advise your principals well.
Second is how this happened. Institutions were damaged to make this happen. Most profoundly, the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice. But how is it that no lawyer with in the intelligence community found United States versus Lee on waterboarding, or our history of military prosecutions. Evan Wallach's Law Review article I would commend to you on the availability of that information. What went wrong? Why didn't they ask about it?
And, third, this is a problem with a long history of false and misleading information, from the president saying it's not torture when we've prosecuted it as torture -- as not only a crime but as a war crime in our history. We were told it was clearly lawful and the OLC opinions were likely phonied up. Objections to them from within the administration were not answered but rather were suppressed. CIA appears to have turned a blind eye to it. "Clearly lawful" seems to exaggerate a good deal.
It's the same as the SERE training, we were told. We do it to our troops. CIA's own IG report and the OMS section of that belies that. And if you've answered the first question you know it's false, the first question being about what was actually done.
We were told that we need to back our brave CIA agents who did all this, and now we find out that the worst of the program was actually led by private contractors. We were led to believe that waterboarding was irresistible and immediately effective. Then we find out that KSM was waterboarded 183 times and another detainee 83 times. We were told that KSM lasted only seconds on the waterboard, it was that irresistible and it never had to be done again. That was plainly false.
We were told that it produced actionable data. I have not yet seen evidence of that, and the things that suggest that that's true are carefully worded, I think to mislead. Certainly Director Mueller has said he's seen no evidence of it also. Look carefully. Is there actually real evidence of actionable intelligence on the waterboard?
Finally, military and FBI interrogators have been derided as amateurish and ineffective with the opposite argument being that it's the expert and experienced folks at the CIA who don't need the Army field manual, sort of like it's training wheels on a bicycle, in order to do their jobs. In fact, the opposite is true.
The FBI and the military and some career CIA folks were the real experts. The people who came in improvised a program. There was no previous expertise in that area, and the people who did it had no previous experience in interrogation. There is a strong record of that at this point.
This whole question of the false and misleading information raises the question whether this is just a giant collective misunderstanding or whether there has been a calculated plan to deceive, and whichever, it feeds into a consistent storyline that is, by all the evidence we've seen so far, false, and yet was maintained as early as today.
Do not be taken in, I urge you, and do not allow your principals to be taken in. We know too much right now that is false. Your reactions?
MR. PRESTON: Well, Senator, I appreciate the admonition and the guidance. You clearly have followed this closely and are taking an active interest in it, which I and others at the agency I'm sure appreciate. And I think your observations and admonitions will be useful to me if I have the privilege of serving.
MR. LITT: Senator, I agree with what Steve said. I would also just comment that I think -- I know that this committee is undertaking a review of the past interrogation practices, and I think that this committee is particularly well situated to do that in an appropriate manner by virtue of the bipartisan tradition of the committee and the expertise that it has in intelligence. And if I'm confirmed I look forward to doing what I can in working with you in that area.
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: If I may add one final point in reaction to that, I could not be more proud of what Chairman Feinstein is doing. I could not be more confident in her leadership. But there are limitations to what a congressional committee can do in terms of the access that we're allowed to information, in terms of the consequences if we are misled, in terms of the boundary of executive privilege that protects certain things, or can be asserted to protect certain things.
I very much hope that the executive branch of government is not relying on this committee to sort out the mess that was made. For whatever we're doing, you have an independent responsibility as lawyers and as occupants of the offices you -- I hope soon -- will hold to conduct your own independent, equally rigorous review of this so that you and the principles that you represent are not fooled; are not misled; and have a full understanding of what took place.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Senator Whitehouse. Senator Levin?
SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI): Madame Chairman, thank you very much and welcome to our witnesses and their families. I want to get back at the answer that you gave, Mr. Preston, I understand to Senator Feingold about whether or not specific techniques represented torture or not, and I think your answer was you haven't reached that conclusion, or something like that?
MR. PRESTON: That's right, he -
SEN. LEVIN: Have you reached the opposite conclusion?
MR. PRESTON: No, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: Have you given some thought to the question?
MR. PRESTON: I have indeed.
SEN. LEVIN: And why haven't you reached a conclusion? If you have given thought to it.
MR. PRESTON: Well, it's difficult to answer the question with reference to -- with general reference -- to the techniques referenced in the opinions --
SEN. LEVIN: How about waterboarding 183 times?
MR. PRESTON: I'll answer that. I just want to say -- the point I was making with Senator Feingold was that my focus has principally been on the issues I'm likely to face going forward, and to the extent that practices have ended by order of the president and the law changed after 2005, we have a process in space to try to identify permissible practices.
I have been focused -- you know -- in that direction, and not so much on the judgments or misjudgments that were made in the past.
SEN. LEVIN: The attorney general is in the same position you are, if you are confirmed.
MR. PRESTON: Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: The president had said he's no longer going to use waterboarding. The attorney general was very forthright. In his judgment, waterboarding is torture. He didn't say what you just said -- hey, the president said he's not going to use it. So now let me ask you: is waterboarding torture?
MR. PRESTON: Well, as you point out, it has been determined at the highest level of our government, by the president, by the chief legal officer of the country that waterboarding is torture and that the United States will not engage in that practice going forward. That's a decisions made and I support the decision. Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: You support that conclusion?
MR. PRESTON: Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: Are you familiar with SERE techniques?
MR. PRESTON: I am generally familiar with them. Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: Have you read the opinions that describe what those techniques are and how we use those to help train our people under very carefully controlled conditions as to what they might expect from people who torture them?
MR. PRESTON: Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: Have you read the way in which those techniques were utilized not to help train our people to survive brutality but to inflict brutality. Have you read about techniques that were used?
MR. PRESTON: I have, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: And, in your judgment were the -- and you read the Bradbury opinion, for instance?
MR. PRESTON: I have.
SEN. LEVIN: And in your judgment, were the techniques that were utilized against detainees utilized in the same way that SERE techniques are used to help our own folks resist intimidation or abuse?
MR. PRESTON: Senator, my understanding is that there are some differences that one might consider substantial.
SEN. LEVIN: Do you consider them substantial?
MR. PRESTON: I would. Among them --
SEN. LEVIN: Does that mean I do?
MR. PRESTON: Yes, sir. Among the differences is that obviously one voluntarily enters into SERE training, and as I understand it, the participants are given a code word, if you will, the utterance of which will cause a cessation of the practice. Those strike me as significant differences.
SEN. LEVIN: The folks that run that program are called the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, JPRA. They're the ones who help to train our people in case they're captured and abused to try to survive that. A memo from that agency to the general counsel of the Department of Defense said the following -- that the use of coercive techniques in interrogation out in training under controlled circumstances, including the one that you've just given, you can end it at any moment, but that the use of coercive techniques in interrogation would, quote, "increase resistance, would create doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the information obtained, and could be used by enemies as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel." Do you agree with that assessment?
MR. PRESTON: I'm not familiar with the memo, Senator. And I certainly understand that those and other points have been made in support of the proposition that these coercive techniques are not effective and ill advised.
SEN. LEVIN: And you share those same doubts about --
MR. PRESTON: I share some of the same concerns. Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: Chairwoman, is my time up? I'm over my time. I'm sorry, Madame Chair.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: We thank you very much, Senator.
Senator Risch? Senator, would you like to ask another question?
SEN. LEVIN: Yes. But I could come back. I didn't realize that --
SEN. FEINSTEIN: He passed.
SEN. LEVIN: Oh, okay. Thank you. General Petraeus in May of 2007 said the following: some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they are also frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly extreme physical action can make someone talk. However, what the individual says may be of questionable value. Do you agree with General Petraeus?
MR. PRESTON: Senator, I'd like to respond as completely as I can, but I frankly am not expert in the efficacy of interrogation techniques, the spectrum of interrogation techniques.
SEN. LEVIN: Are you concerned that if torture is used that someone will say anything in order to stop the torture?
MR. PRESTON: I beg your pardon?
SEN. LEVIN: Are you concerned that if torture is used that somebody who was being tortured will say anything to end the torture?
MR. PRESTON: Certainly, that's an intuitively understandable proposition. I just don't have any experience base with interrogation methods. And I would say certainly with respect to torture, as the president's made clear, we will not engage in torture.
SEN. LEVIN: Thank you. Thank you, Madam.
MR. : I think Carl's finished.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yes. Thank you very much, Senator Levin.
I would like to -- let me ask my questions. My curiosity was piqued by something Mr. Preston wrote in the responses to pre-hearing questions about the unclassified conclusions of the CIA inspector general's report entitled "Procedures Used in Narcotics Airbridge Denial Program in Peru, 1995-2001.
On question 20(a), you state that the Office of General Counsel attorneys have a legitimate role to play in advising CIA personnel on mitigating potential civil liability, including advising their clients not to create discoverable documents during civil litigation or while facing the threat of civil litigation.
Let me read a press statement written by the vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on -- what is the date here? January 13th. The CIA inspector general also found that persons within the CIA mounted an extensive cover-up of the facts of this tragedy from the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress. The CIA lied to Congress and the executive branch about the downing of the Bowers' plane to shield its personnel from being held accountable and from possible prosecution.
Now, as you know, Mrs. Bowers was killed when the Peruvian Air Force shot at the plane and the bullet went through her into the brain of the baby she was holding in her lap and killed the baby as well. Who is the client of the CIA general counsel: the United States, the CIA, the CIA director, supervisors, the CIA personnel with accountability functions, or all individual CIA personnel? Who is your actual client?
MR. PRESTON: That is an excellent question and one that I've given thought to and I'll answer as directly as I can. Perhaps in your absence, Senator Wyden also asked me about this and gave me an opportunity to clarify that I am not familiar with the circumstances of the Peru incident, have not had access to the IG report, and am not in a position to comment on the particular observation or allegation about the making of discoverable documents. I was simply trying to make the point that it is not uncommon, certainly in private sector experience and I think increasingly in the public sector, that an attorney would properly advise a client or an agency personnel not to unnecessarily generate documents that would be discoverable in a civil litigation context.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, it's one thing to do that; it's another thing to inspire a direct cover up.
MR. PRESTON: And as I tried to clarify with Senator Wyden, I think what I'm describing is worlds apart from anything I would call a cover up or instructions not to create records that are regularly kept or to alter records, to destroy records or otherwise not cooperate in a, for example, a criminal investigation.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Let me ask you --
MR. PRESTON: I do want to answer your question.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: -- another question.
MR. PRESTON: Yes, ma'am.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Are there any circumstances under which the CIA should be permitted to lie to Congress?
MR. PRESTON: I don't believe -- I cannot think of any.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: And if you believed the CIA were in fact lying to Congress, what would you see it to be your duty to do?
MR. PRESTON: Well, I would -- I'd follow the lead of Director Panetta on this and he has said it is neither the policy nor the practice of the agency to lie or mislead Congress. I would view an instance of lying to Congress as being in direct tension and direct opposition with that stated policy and practice by the director. And I would, at a minimum, bring it to the director's attention so that we could discuss the appropriate response.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: I would very much hope you would not condone it.
MR. PRESTON: Oh, absolutely not.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: And that you would do more than bring it to his attention for a response.
MR. PRESTON: Well, by which I simply meant that I would engage with him and that we would decide -- he would decide with the benefit of my judgment how to rectify the situation. I don't mean to suggest it's merely a matter of letting him know about it.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, let me ask you, if you are confirmed that you do review the inspector general's report on this.
MR. PRESTON: I plan to. I do. And I do want to answer your question. I believe my client will be the agency and ultimately the United States. I take my direction from the director and in some very real ways the men and women who are the agency, we regard as our clients. But in, for example, a matter in which there's possible criminal misconduct, neither I nor the lawyers in my office have any business providing personal counsel to individuals who may have exposure. Our client is the agency, the United States, and the people of the United States.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.
Mr. Ranking Member, do you have a question?
SEN. BOND: I've heard enough.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Okay. Senator Whitehouse, do you have additional questions?
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: If I may.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Please, go ahead.
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: Thank you. Mr. Preston, you, in responding to Chairman Levin, indicated a tendency, if you will, to try to address the forward looking problems of the agency that with any luck you will soon be representing as opposed to the backward looking problems. As lawyers, as you know, when we come in, those old messes are still our problems. You don't get to say, well, that happened before I got here. It's not my problem. You have under American law the corpus delicti of a crime. Waterboarding under American law is a crime established by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the United States versus Lee.
So now the question is, is anybody criminally liable for it? You found a body, doesn't necessarily mean somebody is criminally liable for it. You have to investigate further. You have at least one U.S. attorney investigating a related issue. I think that the notion that somehow this can be wished away or isn't going to be a very real and immediate part of your professional life is misguided.
I understand that there is something of a tension between the president's desire to look forward, which I think is both correct and commendable and appropriate for his office, and the problem that, frankly, this can't be wished away. And you will be at the junction point of the presidential desire to go forward, and yet the facts and the practicalities of really not being able to until this is resolved. And I'd be interested to hear how you would resolve that tension.
I'd also like you to comment on another tension. You will representing -- both of you actually -- principals, your bosses, the director of National Intelligence and the director of the CIA who are new to their positions and who rely to a very substantial degree on career staff to provide them advice. And in both cases, it is possible that within that staff chain of command, are people who are actually implicated in the decisions that led to the torture of detainees.
It seems to me that that creates a very significant management and legal problem for your principals if they have not, particularly on this issue, built a chain of command to advise them on it that is clear and independent of any taint of association with the program.
That's particularly complex in Mr. Litt's case because he has his own separate conflict issues related to this.
So how do you intend to balance the president's desire of the president of the United States to look forward with your responsibilities as agency counsel with a very significant and as yet unresolved problem in your past to resolve? And what is your responsibility for assuring that your principal has a clean and untainted chain of command that is informing him about this so that cover-ups aren't happening in that chain of command?
MR. PRESTON: Let me begin with the first question and underscore my agreement with you that one cannot wish away the issues arising from the past practices. And I don't mean to suggest anything of the sort. I recognize that those --
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: We all wish they never happened, but that's a different --
MR. PRESTON: Well, that may be. I recognize that these are real and present issues that the agency, the director, myself will need to deal responsibly with and I have every intention of doing that. My wish to looking ahead was really by way of explanation as to why as these issues come to me. I don't expect the dead letters of the OLC opinions to be providing guidance to me. I will be looking at the facts that are presented then and the guiding principles that now apply and apply my best judgment for the benefit of my client. But you --
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: And on the question of an untainted reporting chain?
MR. PRESTON: Pardon?
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: And on the question of an untainted reporting chain?
MR. PRESTON: On the question of reporting chain, it's an interesting point. I think more than an interesting point. It's an important point. I'd view one of the things I can do to help the agency and to help the director is to come in as someone who has no prior involvement with the matters under examination and starting with me provide guidance, advice, and counsel that is uninformed and to the outside observer untainted, to use your word, by prior involvement in that.
The agency and other members of the intelligence community don't wholesale change out the leadership when there's a change in administration, and that's a good thing. And I would expect that both the director and I will come to rely on the solid career people at the agency, senior staff and otherwise, that from administration to administration we've come to rely on.
I think you flag an issue that we need to be sensitive to as we navigate these shoals. But I do think and I have -- I know from my experience with the senior staff in the Office of General Counsel that I've worked with, know them to be dedicated and capable. And to the extent that people were there at the time the matters under examination were happening, that's something that we will simply have to factor into our actions and decision-making.
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: But you do recognize that it's a -- for all the wonderful work that the CIA career folks do and as the son of a former CIA employee and career federal employee, I think very, very highly of what they do. This is not a slam on them. This is just a fact that if you allow your chain of reporting to be only through people who are potentially implicated in an incident, it is not clear that your principal who you represent will be getting untainted information. And getting to your principal untainted and complete information I think is one of your highest duties.
Thank you, Chairman.
SEN. LEVIN: Just a couple of -- if you would, Madam Chairman. You said a few moments ago that if -- I think you were referring -- say director of CIA said something that was misleading. Is that who you were referring to that you would then talk to him about how to rectify the situation. Is that your --
MR. PRESTON: That wasn't how the question was presented to me.
SEN. LEVIN: Who was the question was referring to? Was it not the CIA director?
MR. PRESTON: Well, the chairman referred to the CIA -- if the CIA were to lie to Congress.
SEN. LEVIN: All right. So if the CIA director said something which was misleading or erroneous publicly, what would you do?
MR. PRESTON: I think my first responsibility would be to apprise him of my concerns about the accuracy of his statements.
SEN. LEVIN: And what would be the second thing if he continued.
MR. PRESTON: It may well depend on what his response is.
SEN. LEVIN: Well, you said "I'm not going to correct it. You're right. It's erroneous, but I'm not going to correct it."
MR. PRESTON: Well, I think one can suppose any number of circumstances where my client or the director would choose not to follow my advice or act against my counsel. That would present to me a dilemma in which depending on the issue and the strength of my disagreement, I might find myself compelled to seek employment elsewhere. I would certainly hope that with this director -- confidently predict that's not going to be a problem.
SEN. LEVIN: I'm sure that's our hope and our confident prediction, but we don't know how these things turn out. Director Tenet said some things publicly which were false. I don't know what is -- and by the way acknowledged later on in his book that they were erroneous. Top policymaker of the United States, the vice president, said some things which were false. Director Tenet said, gee, I should have -- looking back, I'm sure we should have done something to force a correction of that.
We went to war based on misleading, erroneous information that was passed on by our top policymakers based on intelligence, particularly alleging a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. These are serious matters involving a huge amount of lives. And it's important to me that I know what's in your gut about if and when that happened how serious you would take it.
MR. PRESTON: I think that it is a gravely serious matter. I think there's been a lot learned from that experience. I think this process by which Director Panetta was selected and confirmed, and to a lesser extent myself, is one in which hopefully we are capably communicating the gravity with which we would regard that and our every intention not to let it happen.
SEN. LEVIN: The chairman made reference to an IG report on the shoot down of a missionary family's plane in Peru, which was a Michigan missionary family, and made reference to the fact that the lawyers from the CIA Office of General Counsel advised CIA personnel to avoid putting anything in writing lest it be discoverable in legal proceedings. My understanding was that you indicated in a prehearing answer that such advice could be justified, but then I thought you said that you have clarified this with one of our colleagues. Is that correct?
MR. PRESTON: Well, there was a colloquy with Senator Wyden in which he just wished to make clear -- I wished to make clear that I wasn't commenting on the specific facts in the Peru incident because I'm not aware of those facts and I haven't seen the report -- that I had made the observation that is not uncommon and maybe entirely proper for counsel to advice client personnel not to generate unnecessary documents that might prejudice the agency's case in civil litigation. But beyond that, I really am not familiar with the Peru incident or what advice was given and don't want to express a judgment one way or the other on that.
SEN. LEVIN: But I think you should become familiar with that report so you can give us your opinion. Would you do that?
MR. PRESTON: I have every intention of -- (inaudible) --
SEN. LEVIN: Promptly.
MR. PRESTON: -- when I take office.
SEN. LEVIN: Well, no. I'd like you to do that promptly.
MR. PRESTON: Yes, sir.
SEN. LEVIN: If you do that in the next couple of days, we appreciate it.
MR. PRESTON: Well, it's classified and I'm not able to have access to it, but my plan was if I'm privileged to take office to make it one of my first priorities.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: If I may, I think what Sen. Levin and some of us are pointing out is that you are not just an attorney representing any client. You're representing an attorney that presents itself as a difficult client because of its mission. And our expectation is that the law will be followed and that we will not be lied to. And these are problems of war and peace, as Sen. Levin pointed out. And I think anything other than the truth, as somebody knows it at the time, is really unacceptable. And to some extent, the burden is going to be yours.
Now, you said if the question were of such magnitude and the director -- let's say -- I guess it is the director would not take your advice, that you would resign. And I think that's the appropriate thing. And I think there has to be a legal conscience for the agency and your office is going to be it.
MR. PRESTON: I appreciate your insights in that and I am in agreement with you. I am confident, as I told Sen. Levin, that with Director Panetta things would not get to that point, but I don't mention it lightly and I wouldn't take that step lightly. But I agree entirely with you in terms of the great importance of both adherence to the law and candor with the oversight committee.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Okay, at the conclusion of the hearing, the committee is going to have questions for the record that we will submit to the nominees in writing. I'd like to ask the members to submit their questions by noon on Tuesday and I'd like to ask both you, Mr. Preston and you, Mr. Litt, that you respond to them ASAP. As soon as we receive them, have an opportunity to review them, we will mark up your nomination and hopefully be able to move it out to the floor.
So at this time, once again, if the members could meet in room 211, that would be appreciated. And this hearing is adjourned.
MR. PRESTON: Thank you very much.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Litt. Thank you.