Executive Session

Floor Speech

By:  Saxby Chambliss
Date: March 7, 2013
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President, I rise to explain why I am opposing the nomination of John Brennan to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

First, I wish to say I thank the chairman for her kind comments. Let me state, as they had reiterated, we had 2 great years where we accomplished a great deal. She is one tough gentle lady, particularly when it comes to the national security of the United States.

It has been a pleasure to work with her. It is rare we ever disagree, because we both have the same end result in mind, which is to make sure America and Americans are safe, secure, and the intelligence community is doing its part to ensure that happens.

Her leadership has just been amazing. We have produced authorization bills over each of the last 2 years--we have actually done four in 2 years, which indicates there was a backlog of those authorization bills.

We have also reauthorized FISA and some other measures which equip our intelligence community as well as our law enforcement community with the tools they need to combat terrorism. It is because of her leadership we have been able to do that.

When we do disagree, it is kind of an unusual situation. We may have disagreements in a bipartisan way within our committee. This is good. It is healthy.

Sometimes Democrats will side with me or Republicans will side with the chairman on an issue. This shows us people are voting with their hearts and what they think is in the best interests of America, not from a partisan standpoint.

I attribute that to the leadership of Chairman Feinstein because of her openness and for allowing bipartisan participation in a fine way.

I expect Mr. Brennan is going to be confirmed by the Senate. I would have liked to have supported his nomination.

Unfortunately, I have significant concerns about several matters I simply cannot put aside. If confirmed, Mr. Brennan will interact extensively with the Senate Intelligence Committee and in particular with Chairman Feinstein and with myself as the vice chairman. He will have many opportunities over the next several years to alleviate my concerns, and I hope he does so. At this time, I cannot support placing him in a position so vital to our national security mission.

During the confirmation process, including during the open hearing, I, along with other members, asked Mr. Brennan questions about the leaks of classified information, issues involving congressional oversight, interrogation, and detention matters. His responses to many of these questions were very troubling and raised new concerns about Mr. Brennan's judgment, his reluctance to commit to transparency with Congress, and ultimately his candor. Let me describe these concerns more fully.

First, I am deeply disturbed by Mr. Brennan's responses to the committee regarding leaks of classified information, especially the disclosure relating to the AQAP underwear bomb plot thwarted in May of 2012. Mr. Brennan acknowledged to the committee he had told four media commentators we had ``inside control'' of this bomb plot but disputed assertions that this disclosure resulted in the outing of a source.

It is undeniable that the day after his disclosure, there were dozens of stories in the media stating the plot was foiled by a ``double agent'' or ``undercover agent'' who posed as a willing suicide bomber.

Mr. Brennan is poised to serve as the head of the Nation's leading spy agency where he will be privy to some of the most sensitive, if not all of the most sensitive, and highly classified operations being conducted by the intelligence community. That he apparently thinks he did nothing wrong in this disclosure is very troubling, to say the least.

We all know there is a big problem with leaks of classified information. We constantly deal with it in the committee and seek to eliminate it. We cannot effectively hold accountable those responsible for such leaks if a senior government official appears to shrug off his own damaging disclosure. I hope Mr. Brennan will reconsider his position on this case and convey to those he expects to lead, not just in words but by his own example, the importance and necessity of maintaining the secrecy he will be sworn to uphold.

Second, Mr. Brennan appears to be one of the architects of the administration's current detention policy--or better stated, lack thereof. Since the President signed the Executive orders in 2009 disbanding the CIA's detention and interrogation program and ordering the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, many of us have been asking the administration to tell us what their new detention policy is. Unfortunately, in the years since, we have seen a most unsatisfactory response play out in ways that I believe are detrimental to our collection of timely intelligence and, ultimately, to our national security.

We have seen a disturbing trend of returning to the pre-9/11 days when bringing criminal charges against terrorists was a preferred course rather than long-term detention, which allows for greater intelligence collection. Because of this preference, the 2009 Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was read his Miranda rights 50 short minutes after being pulled off the airplane that he had just tried to bomb. It took 5 weeks before he would again cooperate and no one knows what intelligence might have been lost during that delay.

Somali terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was held on a naval ship and interrogated for 60 days before being brought to a Federal Court, all because the administration refused to send any more detainees to Guantanamo Bay.

Even in the months before the Osama bin Laden raid, other than saying Guantanamo Bay was off the table, administration officials could not tell Congress where bin Laden would be held if he were captured.

Most recently, Ani al-Harzi, the only person held in connection with the September 11, 2013, attacks in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four Americans, was released by the Tunisians and is now roaming about free because this administration would not take custody of him unless criminal charges could be filed here in the United States.

Mr. Brennan is not merely a staunch and unapologetic advocate of this misguided policy, he is the driving force behind it.

By criminalizing the war on terrorism, this administration has tied the hands of our intelligence interrogators and appears to be avoiding opportunities to capture terrorists in favor of just killing them or relying on our foreign partners to do our intelligence collection for us. Mr. Brennan disputes this assertion and testified that he was not aware of any instance in which we had the opportunity to capture a terrorist but took a lethal strike instead. But his testimony on this point appears to be particularly incredible. While reasonable minds may differ as to whether bin Laden should have been taken alive, to argue that he could not have been taken alive and captured is not believable when his wives and children were left behind during the raid. The truth is the administration simply had no plan to capture him.

Now, while in this case of UBL, killing him probably was the best option, I believe that all options have to be on the table and utilized when appropriate; otherwise, we are potentially losing valuable intelligence. Yet Mr. Brennan's testimony before the Intelligence Committee made clear that he is fully satisfied with how detainees are currently being handled and he is insistent the CIA remain out of the detention business, even if it means we do not get direct or timely access to detainees.

Thirdly, Mr. Brennan continues to insist that he conveyed to colleagues at the CIA his personal objections to the CIA's interrogation program. Yet not a single person has come forward to validate that claim. And Mr. Brennan still refuses to identify those colleagues, in spite of several direct requests by the Intelligence Committee. During the time in question, Mr. Brennan served as the CIA's Deputy Executive Director. We know he was privy to information about the program, as we have seen numerous documents he received during and after the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.

It is not just reasonable, it is expected our intelligence professionals, especially those in leadership positions, will speak up when they see actions they believe are harmful to the agency or to others. Yet by Mr. Brennan's own account, he stood by and let the CIA proceed down a path that he says he believed to be morally wrong and likely to harm the long-term reputation of the CIA. This is not the moral courage we expect, especially from those who are in a position to influence policy and operations. Unfortunately, Mr. Brennan continues to insist that his official silence was entirely appropriate, and I could not disagree more.

I am also troubled by Mr. Brennan's apparent willingness to scuttle years of belief in the value of the information obtained from the CIA's interrogation program simply because the recent interrogation study conducted by the committee's majority staff found otherwise. In my view, the study is significantly flawed, not the least of which being that not a single intelligence community witness was interviewed. I am worried about the impact Mr. Brennan's reversal will have on the morale of those current CIA employees who were involved in the program and whose own judgment and reputations are called into question by this study. I expect when the CIA returns its comments to the Intelligence Committee about the accuracy of the report that Mr. Brennan will not let his personal views of the program interfere with the professional assessment and analysis of CIA employees.

Finally, underlying all of these issues are the principles of candor and transparency with Congress. Our Nation was founded with three coequal branches of government, each one providing checks and balances over the other in a manner specified in the Constitution. Federal law also imposes explicit obligations on the intelligence community, such as keeping Congress fully and currently informed of significant intelligence activities. Ordinarily, during confirmation hearings, nominees unequivocally pledge their cooperation to Congress. Yet during his confirmation process, Mr. Brennan refused to give affirmative answers when asked to commit to such cooperation.

For example, he pledged to only give ``full consideration'' to any request that the committee be provided with raw intelligence, even though the committee has been given such intelligence in the past. When asked about the inexcusable problems the committee has faced in trying to obtain documents about the Benghazi attacks, Mr. Brennan promised only to try to reach an accommodation with the committee if a similar situation should ever arise again. This is hardly encouraging. Some may say that Mr. Brennan was simply being honest and not overpromising. I might agree but for the fact this pattern of obstruction and lack of cooperation is becoming all too familiar to the committee, and Mr. Brennan has been involved in many of the decisions to withhold information from Congress.

For example, when the National Counterterrorism Center was created, Congress gave it specific responsibility to serve as the primary organization for strategic operational planning for counterterrorism. For too long the committee has been refused full access to the resulting counterterrorism strategies, a decision for which Mr. Brennan is directly responsible. Rather than give us the strategies, the administration has proposed an ``accommodation'' to simply brief the committee, but as of today we still have not been briefed, even though we are asked to fund the strategies as well as their implementation.

There are other examples, including the absurd restrictions that were recently placed by the White House on the review of the OLC opinions regarding lethal strikes on U.S. citizens. It is incomprehensible that Congress is being denied unfettered insight into matters concerning the intentional killing of U.S. citizens.

During the confirmation process, Mr. Brennan called on the Intelligence Committee to be the protector and defender of the CIA. That is not an accurate description of the committee's role. Given the classified nature of intelligence activities, the committee serves as the eyes and ears of the American people, and our responsibility lies first and foremost to them. That is not to say we will not defend the CIA or the rest of the intelligence community against unjust attacks. We will. But the committee's primary role is to conduct oversight, and we cannot do that effectively without full cooperation from the intelligence community as well as the administration. I hope and expect Mr. Brennan will now give us that cooperation rather than just what he views as an accommodation.

The Director of the CIA has extensive and direct interactions with Members of Congress, especially those of us on the Intelligence Committee. During sensitive operations or times of crisis, the Director is often one of the first to communicate with Members. There have been too many instances in the past--under administrations of both parties--in which facts were withheld from Members or information was painted in a particular light to suit messaging needs, as we saw with the Benghazi talking points. That is simply unacceptable.

If confirmed as the CIA Director, Mr. Brennan's credibility must be unquestionable. We expect our spy agencies to be very good at hiding the truth--but not with Congress. Here too Mr. Brennan will be an example that all CIA employees look to, and his own standards of honesty and credibility in dealing with Congress must be above and beyond all reproach.

In conclusion, let me say that I have great confidence in the men and women at the CIA. Each and every day they give this Nation their best, and for that we are most grateful. They are the most professional, best educated, and best operational intelligence agency in the world. They are unbelievable men and women. My vote today is not a message to them nor is it an indication of the faith I have in the CIA. My vote is not personal toward Mr. Brennan; rather, it simply reflects my belief that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is wrong regardless of whether you are on the front lines or you are an adviser to the President.

My vote also reflects my belief, especially at this time in our history, that the Director of the CIA should not support detention and interrogation policies that are returning us to the pre-Ð9/11 days of elevating criminal charges over intelligence collection. In my view, Mr. Brennan is on the wrong side of both of these issues.

I also believe Congress must be an equal branch of the government, and this growing trend of refusing to cooperate with Congress must end. The future and security of our country depends on all of us working together. To do that well, there must be transparency and honesty. If confirmed as the CIA Director, Mr. Brennan has a tough job ahead of him. If he abides by these principles, he will find his job will be much easier, as he will have earned the support and the trust of Congress, and the country will be better off for it. Assuming confirmation of Mr. Brennan, he will have my full cooperation and support, I expect nothing less from him, and I hope that all of my concerns will be put to rest.

With that, Madam President, I yield the floor.


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