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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, as a kind of predicate to this nomination, we have heard a 13-hour filibuster from Senators who desire an answer to the question that was proffered by Senator Paul. I have that answer. It is dated March 7. It is a letter from the Attorney General Eric Holder. It is to Senator Rand Paul. This is what it says:

It has come to my attention that you have asked an additional question. ``Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?''

The answer to that question is no.

I ask unanimous consent that letter be printed in the Record.


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. So, hopefully, the need to continue any of this will be vitiated, and we will be able to proceed with a vote. It is my understanding that I have a half hour on behalf of the majority of the Intelligence Committee to make a statement in support of Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Brennan's nomination was reported out of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday by a strong bipartisan vote of 12 to 3. I look forward to an equally strong vote by the Senate later today.

Let me begin with his qualifications, which are impressive and unquestioned. John Brennan began his career as an intelligence officer with the CIA in 1980. He worked as a CIA officer for 25 years in a variety of capacities, including as an analyst in the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis and as a top analyst in the CIA Counterterrorism Center from 1990 to 1992, both areas that remain very much a focus of the CIA today.

He was the daily intelligence briefer at the White House and served as George Tenet's executive assistant. Despite his background as an analyst, Mr. Brennan was selected to serve as Chief of Station, a post generally filled by a CIA operations officer. He served in Saudi Arabia, one of the most important and complex assignments, and then returned to Washington as then-DCI Tenet's Chief of Staff and the Deputy Executive Director of the CIA.

Mr. Brennan then served as the head of the Terrorist Threat Interrogation Center, the predecessor organization to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), where he also served as the Interim Director. After a short stint in the private sector, he returned to be President Obama's top counterterrorism and homeland security adviser. In that capacity, he has been involved in handling every major national and homeland security issue we have faced since 2009.

He has been involved in counterterrorism successes, including this administration's efforts to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and at least 105 arrests of terrorist operatives and supporters in the United States since 2009. He also helped implement the lessons learned from Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing of a jet over Detroit, the loss of CIA personnel in Khowst, Afghanistan, and the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. So he is qualified.

For the past 4 years, Mr. Brennan has been among the President's closest advisers. As Director of the CIA, he would lead this Nation's largest intelligence agency and will continue to provide information and advice on intelligence matters to the President, his national security team, and this Congress.

Throughout the past three decades, Mr. Brennan has observed every aspect of intelligence from analysis to collection to covert action, from inside government and the private sector, and from both the intelligence and policy sides.

I actually do not believe there is anyone who is more qualified to take over the CIA than John Brennan. So he cannot be denied this post, in my view, on the basis of qualification. I think even those who oppose his nomination recognize there is no question but that he is well qualified. From the time he walks into the CIA, he will be ready to go, up to speed on the numerous threats and challenges this country faces all over the globe.

Let me speak for a moment why that is important and why it is so important that we move to confirm John Brennan. As the Director of the CIA, he leads the most diverse and clandestine intelligence agency, the only agency to conduct covert actions, the largest all-source analytic workforce. And he sits in the principal committee meetings where the most sensitive national security decisions are made.

The past two CIA Directors, both Mr. Panetta and General Petraeus, have played significant roles in keeping the Senate and House Intelligence Committees informed of sensitive operations. They have provided an independent assessment of hot spots and strategic threats around the world. John Brennan will do the same.

By its nature, the CIA is among the parts of our government that receive the least oversight. Its activities are largely shielded from the view of the press, the public, the Government Accountability Office, and, indeed, most Members of Congress. The Director of the CIA must be both unimpeachable in his--or, hopefully, one day her--integrity, while guiding a workforce of people who operate in the shadows for the benefit of our Nation. This is important.

He must manage an independent and creative workforce, build and nurture relationships with foreign spy chiefs, and lead teams of scientists, technicians, lawyers, analysts, and operatives who are involved in clandestine work. In short, the CIA is capable of the very best of America, and, catastrophically at times, it is capable of great mistakes.

It follows that the position of CIA Director requires an uncommon nominee. That position should not remain vacant for long. For the past 5 months, the Deputy Director, Michael Morell, has served as the Acting Director.

Mr. Morell, like John Brennan, is a career CIA officer and a very gifted one. But as I discussed with him last Friday, he cannot single-handedly attend the White House principals meeting, the deputies meetings, direct the agency, meet with liaison partners, testify before Congress, implement sequestration, and do everything else the Director and Deputy Director must jointly do.

John Brennan and Michael Morell will be a great team in leading the CIA. I believe they compensate for one another. Michael Morell has these skills in analysis, and I think John Brennan has skills that make him a very strong and, yes, even tough leader.

We face continuing attack from terrorists. There is no question about that. I see the reports every day. Our posts overseas remain at risk, and terrorists still seek to attack us at home. As a matter of fact, there have been over 100 arrests in the last 4 years by the FBI in this country.

There is a massive and still growing humanitarian disaster underway in Syria with no end in sight and the prospect of an increasingly desperate regime with nothing to lose. Instability is going to continue to fester across North Africa, from Mali to Algeria, to Libya and beyond, breeding and harboring a new generation of extremist.

The North Korean regime is threatening to disavow the 1953 cease-fire with the South, and it has the nuclear and missile capability to cause massive destruction and instability.

Iran's nuclear program continues to grow and its Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah proxy are growing bolder and more capable.

China's foreign policy and military might are increasing. According to well-sourced recent unclassified reports, its cyber operations are bleeding our private sector dry.

The CIA has a role to play in all of these areas, as well as maintaining and expanding its global coverage. This is going to require prioritizing resources and producing better results from a very skilled CIA workforce. So the CIA Director position must be filled. Five months is too long to leave it vacant. John Brennan, I believe, and 12 members of our committee believe, is the right person to fill it.

On that question, whether we can depend on John Brennan to be straight with the committee, I believe he will be and that he will be someone with whom we can build a strong and trusting relationship.

Let me just say one thing that is important. It is very important that the Intelligence Committees in both of these Houses have that relationship with the Director of the CIA, so that with a bond of trust there can be a sharing of information which enables our oversight to be more complete. Without that, our oversight is not complete, and it certainly is not as rigorous as what is required.

In nominating John Brennan, President Obama spoke of his ``commitment to the values that define us as Americans.'' DNI Clapper, in a letter of support to the committee, noted John's ``impeccable integrity'' and that his ``dedication to country is second to none.'' He has been called the administration's ``conscience,'' and I believe he will be a straight shooter, which is extraordinarily important to me. I want the truth whether it is good or bad. I want the truth. I believe every member of my committee feels the same way.

Mr. Brennan has been straightforward with the committee throughout the confirmation process. He has pledged to be open with us if confirmed. We will take him up on that pledge. In his opening statement at the committee's public confirmation hearing, Mr. Brennan said: If confirmed, ``I would endeavor to keep this committee fully and currently informed, not only because it is required by law, but because you can neither perform your oversight function nor support the mission of the CIA if you are kept in the dark.''

He acknowledged that the ``trust deficit has at times existed'' between the Intelligence Committee and the CIA, and he pledged to make it his goal to strengthen the trust between our institutions. I look forward to giving him that opportunity. To be sure, I will hold him to these words.

I recognize that building a relationship and trust requires two willing partners. We are willing. I believe he will be willing. We will find out.

In fact, there is a broader issue on the interaction between the executive branch and the Congress on intelligence matters. It goes well beyond Mr. Brennan, and I wish to speak about it.

I have served on the Intelligence Committee for more than 12 years. This is actually a lot more unusual than it sounds. From the committee's establishment in 1976 to the end of 2004, there were term limits on committee membership. Senators rotated off the committee just when they had served for long enough to understand what the intelligence community is doing and, most important, how it operates.

Senators ROCKEFELLER, WYDEN, MIKULSKI, and I have all served on the committee for more than a decade, and Senators CHAMBLISS and BURR are near that total. Both served on the House committee before coming to the Senate.

So now we have veterans on the committee who have watched and listened. We spend a minimum of 2 hours in a committee meeting twice a week and often longer. We cannot take home notes. Notes go in the safe and we cannot take home classified information. It means a lot of reading whenever we are able to find the time to go to a SCIF to read the classified information which daily is quite voluminous. We see everything except the President's PDB; that is, the President's Daily Brief. All the other information from all the other agencies stream through this committee. It is vital we read it because this is where we find out where the threats are.

We have been able to truly understand the relationship between the Intelligence Committee, the intelligence community, and the importance of having the committee kept fully and currently informed of intelligence matters. That is not our wish. That is a requirement of the National Security Act. We have seen what happens when this is not the case, when the committee doesn't have access to full knowledge of intelligence, as with the weapons of mass destruction weapons before the war or with the CIA's detention and interdiction program through the past administration.

By contrast, when we are briefed, we can provide input and advice. We work to put an end to ill-advised plans, and we give the intelligence community a measure of support and defend its actions.

There is a very strong feeling on both sides of the aisle that the committee is not receiving the information it needs to conduct all oversight matters in the manner in which we should. There is the matter of Office of Legal Counsel opinions concerning the targeted killing of Americans. The committee needs to understand the legal underpinning of not only this program but of all clandestine programs, of all covert actions, so we may ensure the actions of the intelligence community operate according to law. Absent these opinions, we cannot conduct oversight that is as robust as it needs to be.

During the confirmation process, we were able to reach an agreement with the administration to receive these opinions, with staff access and without restrictions on note taking.

I want to thank the administration. I think increasingly they understand this problem of the need for us to access more information. It is not a diminishing one, it is a growing one, and it is spreading through this House--and I suspect the other House as well.

It needs to be this way. We need to know the legal basis for very serious actions taken in a secretive way by the intelligence community. Therefore, we can defend it. If we don't see it, we don't know.

I also wish to address the drone issue once more, mainly to discuss the hypothetical examples offered yesterday by the Senator from Kentucky. On Fox News this week, he mentioned--and I began with this ``what we are talking about is eating dinner in your house, you are eating in a cafe or walking down the road, and a drone strike can occur. It is not about people involved in combat, it is about people who they think might be.''

A drone strike against someone eating in a cafe or walking down the road will never happen in the United States of America. This is not permitted in the United States of America. The Attorney General, in his letter to Senator Paul, has said just that. It will not happen.

I hope this puts this issue to an end. It is one thing to target a terrorist in an isolated country where there are isolated mountains and valleys and where we cannot get to them to capture them, but we know terrorists and terrorist leaders are plotting against the United States.

The United States of America is a different place. There is access to the court system, access to police, access to FBI, access to warrants, access to arrests, access to be able to find and ferret out individual terrorists. Drones will never be used in the United States of America to kill innocent Americans, not if I have anything to do with it.

Yesterday, in the Judiciary Committee while I was present, Senator Cruz followed up on Senator Paul's concerns, asking Attorney General Holder if an American eating in a cafe--who doesn't pose an imminent threat--could be killed by a drone. I don't believe the Attorney General, at the time he heard the question or recognized the simplicity of the facts presented by the hypothetical. When he did, he said no. My view is the Attorney General's letter to Senator Paul is correct. The only case in which the use of lethal force against Americans in the United States could be contemplated or constitutional would be an extraordinary circumstance such as the attack on Pearl Harbor or the terrorist attacks on September 11, where four big commercial airliners were hijacked and flown into three large buildings, with the fourth crashing into a field in Pennsylvania.

Another issue, where the committee has sought documents, is related to the Benghazi terrorist attack.

I notice that the vice chairman is on the floor. He and I have worked to bring the additional documents his side wanted on the Benghazi attacks. We have a commitment from the administration that all those documents, if they haven't already been forthcoming--and it is my understanding from the Senator most have been forthcoming--the remaining ones will be forthcoming as well.

My view is the committee has received the information we need in order to render a judgment about what happened in Benghazi before the attacks of last September 11 and 12, during, after, and before. My view, quite simply stated, is there was strategic warning about the conditions in Eastern Libya. And based on the previous attacks in the area, it was likely this mission not it was not a consulate--but this mission could well be a site of attack. Members have asked legitimate intelligence questions within our jurisdictional lane about Benghazi, and they deserve answers to their questions.

Many Senators on both sides of the aisle in the committee see the need for a better relationship and a better appreciation of what we need in order to do our work. As I discussed previously, we are very different from other congressional bodies which do oversight. Our efforts aren't supplemented by the press, GAO or by nonprofit and advocacy groups in the same way they are in the other committees of the Congress. The Intelligence Committees in the House and the Senate need to receive information from the executive branch in order to exercise robust oversight.

I have spoken directly to the President, the President's Chief of Staff, the National Security Adviser, and the Director of National Intelligence about this. I believe they are truly beginning to understand what is at stake. I am told they have an open view and are discussing increased transparency with us at this time.

I strongly believe John Brennan will be part of the solution, and he will be someone with whom we may work closely. He is well qualified. His leadership and management are sorely needed, and he has strong bipartisan support in the committee.

I urge a ``yes'' vote.

I yield the floor to the distinguished vice chairman from Georgia, with whom it has been a great pleasure for me to work. We haven't disagreed on a lot--we have disagreed on a few things--but I want the Senator to know I wish to continue our relationship.

We need to put together another authorizing bill. I look forward to working with you, Mr. Vice Chairman, in that regard, and I thank you.


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