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Establishing the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC


Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, later on this afternoon the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to vote out the nomination of Matt Olsen to be the next Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. I rise today in support of the nomination of Matthew Olsen to be the next Director of NCTC.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, we did a lot of self-examination as a government and, putting it simply, realized that pieces of intelligence that should have been connected had not been or, in other words, the dots had not been connected. Congress understood we could not afford another lapse like 9/11, so it created the National Counterterrorism Center to analyze and integrate counterterrorism information across the government.

While we have not suffered another 9/11, our record is not perfect. From the Christmas Day bombing attempt, to Fort Hood, Times Square, and the New York subway plot, the threats to our homeland are very real. At the same time, changing political landscapes and challenges from adverse nations require constant attention. In this environment, it is essential for NCTC to perform its mission beyond reproach.

After the Christmas Day near-bombing aboard flight 253, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a review to determine where the intelligence community could have done a better job of anticipating this attempted attack. Unfortunately, the committee's review showed that NCTC had not lived up to its statutory responsibilities. The then-Director, Mike Leiter, to his credit, took criticism in a very positive way and made the right kinds of changes at NCTC to move us in the right direction.

While I am encouraged by the progress NCTC has made since then to repair those shortcomings, there is much work that still needs to be done. I believe Matt Olsen has the right background to take the helm of this important intelligence center at this very critical point in our history. He is no stranger either to the Senate Intelligence Committee or to the serious threats that face our Nation. Members and staff have worked with him on several high-profile issues over the last few years.

As a Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division, he was responsible for ensuring that our intelligence professionals had all the legal authority they needed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to continue this country's safety. Let me just say this was no easy task and the stakes were high, especially given the political wrangling over FISA and the USA PATRIOT Act in recent years. Matt spent countless hours briefing our staff and other committees on many highly sensitive FISA issues. In large part because of his willingness to stick to the facts and not play political games, he has earned the respect of Members on both sides of the political aisle.

For the last year, Matt has served in a very professional way as the General Counsel for the National Security Agency, a position that has also put him in close contact, again, with the Intelligence Committees.

GEN Keith Alexander, who heads up NSA, provided a letter of support for Matt's nomination. I have also spoken personally with General Alexander about Matt. I have a great deal of respect for the general, and it speaks volumes to me that he has such high, unequivocal praise for Matt, both as a leader and as a person.

Matt's other job--not an enviable one--which brought him in close contact with the committee was his service as the Executive Director of the Guantanamo Review Task Force. I have had numerous conversations with Matt about some of the recommendations made by the task force on transferring what I believe continue to be potentially dangerous detainees.

I appreciate that the task force was following a deadline set by Executive order to close Guantanamo Bay. But I believe we have accepted too great a risk to our national security by transferring many of these detainees to other host countries. The recidivism rate continues to climb. It is today somewhere in the range of 26 percent. We have no reason to expect it will stop climbing anytime soon. Our first obligation must always be to ensure the safety of the American people, not to transfer dangerous detainees to meet an arbitrary political deadline.

Of particular concern to me are the transfers of a number of Yemeni detainees during 2009, when the intelligence community was already warning about the dangerous security situation in Yemen. Of course, we all know that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula makes its home in Yemen and that several former GITMO detainees now hold high positions in AQAP. AQAP was directly responsible for the Christmas Day bombing attempt, and their efforts will continue to inflict harm on our Nation.

Matt acknowledges the difficulties presented by the Yemeni transfers, and he has acknowledged that the task force did not get every recommendation right, just as the previous administration did not get every recommendation right. He also shares my personal view that Guantanamo should remain open so that we are not transferring any more detainees as the recidivism rate continues to grow.

I appreciate the many conversations and briefings he has had with my staff on those transfer issues. I appreciate his willingness to continue to discuss these issues and the need for a long-term detention policy even after taking on his new position as NCTC Director.

Ironically, in his new position, he will be responsible for tracking former detainees, including detainees whose transfer the task force may have recommended who slipped into their old ways, before they can strike us again. It was in this capacity that Matt had an issue with a colleague, and I have vetted this with Matt and with most of those who were in the room on the occasion the issue arose. While better judgment could have been used, the issue is now behind us. I have impressed upon Matt that if he is confirmed as the Director of NCTC, his credibility must be unquestionable. He has confirmed to me that he will always communicate with Members of Congress fully and openly without political censorship. He also is committed to being totally open and will have an ongoing dialog with members of the respective House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

My good friend Senator Kent Conrad, who is actually the home Senator for Matt since he is originally from North Dakota, spoke extensively about Matt's reputation and commitment to public service during his confirmation hearing. Many intelligence professionals on both sides of the political lines wrote letters of recommendation on Matt's behalf.

I believe Matt when he tells me he is committed to working closely with Congress and the Intelligence Committees to do the job needed to keep this country safe. I will be supporting his nomination when it comes to the floor, and I look forward to working with him.


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