5:55 pm: Weirdly, Senator Collins wonders whether Brennan will be Obama's representative to the CIA, or the CIA's representative to Obama. In other words, which side is he on? The CIA's side, or the president's? The answer, of course, is that the CIA director is the president's man. That said, Brennan says that he'd always bring the truth to the White House, not tell the White House what it wants to hear. (Unike George W. Bush's CIA directors, who shaped intelligence according to the desires of the White House. Thus, Iraq.)
Closing the hearing, but with a classified session scheduled for next week, Feinstein says that she'll want answers on Mali, Algeria, Libya and North Africa. Collins says she'll ask about Syria and Iran. In other words, everything that the senators didn't trouble themselves to ask today.
5:45 pm: Senator Wyden (D.-Ore.) asks whether the president should offer an American an opportunity to surrender before blowing that person to pieces. (It seems like a weird idea, but I guess he's trying to make the point that the president ought to do everything he can before ordering the extra-judicial kiling of an American.) Brennan says, well, an American who joins Al Qaeda knows that we are at war with the organization, so he's putting himself at risk. Wyden insists that we've got to see all of the legal opinions. "What it really goes to, Mr. Brennan, is the system of checks and balances." And Congressional oversight. Brennan says: "Any member of Al Qaeda … needs to know that they have the ability to surrender before we destroy that organization. And we will destroy that organization." (And Obama and Brennan get to decide, I guess, who's a member and who isn't. And then: Boom!)
5:35 pm: Another really stupid joke, this time from Senator Burr (R.-NC): "I will be brief, because I've noticed that you are on your fourth glass of water, and I don't want to be accused of waterboarding you." Yuck, yuck. Torture jokes.
5:30 pm: Once again, Brennan is asked whether the name of the courier for bin Laden was first discovered after a detainee was torrtured, i.s., subjected to "EITs." Againm Brennan defers. He says that he's read the Senate committee's report that disputes that notion, but he doesn't deny it outright. Senator Chambliss (R.-Ga.) aays that he hopes if and when Brennan does find out that the info came from a torured detainee, he'll say so. Chambliss notes that he disagreed with the Committee's report, which is strongly backed by Senators Feinstein and Levin.
5:20 pm: Dianne Feinstein makes the irrelevant point that Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a drone, was a bad guy. She says that the drone program is so public now that the American people need to understand how bad Awlaki was, even though he was an American citizen. Did he have connections with the Times Square bomb attempt, the Fort Hood shooting, the attempt to bomb an airliner, etc., she asks Brennan. So? Al Capone was a bad guy, too, but that doesnt mean that the police can assassinate him. "What people forget is that they will kill us if they can," says Feinstein. I guess her point is: We will kill them if we can. Brennan simply says that we had no alternative to blowing him up, but — like the memos that have been released — he doesn't bother to define the word "imminent," i.e., that the US had not alternative to the drone strike. But, of course, it's all Top Secret, so Brennan can't explain the facts. Whatever they are.
5:00 pm: For the first time, really, a senator raises the issue of "targeted killings." Susan Collins (R.-Maine) cites Gen. McChrystal's view that drone strikes cause rage and resentment. She mentions that killing low-level Al Qaeda types, rather than leaders, is creating a backlash in places such as Pakistan. Do you agree, Collins asks, about the backlash and collateral damage? Brennan says he would not agree with McChrystal, because local people are being held hostage by Al Qaeda and that local people welcome American efforts to rid them of the Al Qaeda presence. Collins doesn't follow up.
4:45 pm: Senator Rubio (R.-Fla.) seems determined to convince Brennan that the CIA needs black sites and more Guantanamos so that terrorists can be interrogated. Brennan patiently lectures Rubio that there are plenty of places where suspects can be interrogated, under the rule of law, without tarnishing America's image. Rubio appears utterly ignorant and ill-informed. He makes a big deal over the capture and subsequent release of a suspect in the Benghazi attack by Tunisia, and he can't seem to grasp Brennan's point that the suspect was released because (1) there was no legal basis for Tunisia to detain the person, under Tunisian law, and (2) that the United States didnt have a case against his individual. It's so clear that Rubio would have loved it if the United States cruised into Tunisia and kidnaped the guy, hauling him off to some "black site." Geez.
4:40 pm: Senator Mark Udall (D.-Colo.) cites the debate over the legal opinion and whether and when it's proper to kill Americans. But he quickly reverts to the EIT (enhanced interrogation techniques) program. Clearly, the Democrats have been given their marching orders: don't haul Obama and Brennan over the coals about the drone program. They're not gonna make a federal case about it. Far, far easier to talk about torture and all of that, a serious and very important issue but one that's mostly settled, at least as far as the Obama administration is concerned. Udall goes on and on about the "detention and interrogation" program. He wants answers "by the middle of February." Good idea. But he's not pressing Brennan about drones.
Oddly enough, Brennan hasn't been asked about Afghanistan either. (The same thing happened during the confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel, the nominee for secretary of defense.) Why is no one bothering to mention the actual shooting war that we're fighting? Here's a question for Brennan: Will the CIA try to figure out whether it's possible to make a deal with the Taliban? Can Pakistan help, or will Pakistan get in the way? Is the Taliban ready to talk? If not, why not?
Also, not a single mention of Iran so far.
4:20 pm: Maybe I've missed something, though i don't think so, but so far the senators haven't bothered to ask Brennan any of the tough questions suggested by, among others, The Nation, the New York Review of Books, and many others. It's as if the "kill list," the president's authority to order drone assassinations, the legal authority on which it's based, the efficacy of using drones all over the world, etc., aren't worth worrying about. The Republicans are obsessed with asking Brennan about "leaks" — as Dan Coats (R.-Ind.) is doing now — and the Democrats are obsessed with the malfeasance of the CIA in the George W. Bush administration. Senator Levin (D.-Mich.) went back to 2002, when the CIA have credence to Cheney's nonsense about secret meetings between Iraqi offiials and Mohammad Atta of the 9/11 Al Qaeda team.
4:05 pm: Senator Barbara Mikulski raises a good point, namely, that the CIA is increasingly caught up in paramilitary work, that there is ongoing "militarization" of the CIA in concert with the US Special Forces, and therefore the United States is more vulnerable to "strategic surprises" because it is not doing what it's supposed to, that is, collecting intelligence. Brennan seems to agree; at least, he doesn't challenge Mikulski's strong remarks.
3:55 pm: Senator Ron Wyden takes a run at Brennan, saying that the American people ought to know when and how the government can make a decision to "kill them." That seems reasonable.
3:40 pm: Senator Richard Burr (R.-NC) bothers Brennan about the Committee wanting to get its hands on "raw intelligence," not just CIA analysis. Really, that's none of the Senate's business, to bury itself in piles of raw intelligence. (In fact, it is easy to cherry-pick raw intelligence to prove any point you want to make. That's what Dick Cheney and Co. did in trying to "prove" that Al Qaeda had ties to Iraq back in 2002.) Brennan, politely, tells Burr to forget it.
3:30 pm: Senator Jay Rockefeller makes a really stupid joke comparing EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques) with EITCs (earned income tax credits). Please.
3:28 pm: Chambliss quotes Brennan saying that enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) — that is, torture — "saved lives." He admits that some of the intelligence gathered via EITs may indeed have been useful. But so what? Even if torture does produce useful information, it's wrong. I don't get the debate on this point. Sometimes torture works, and sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it produces false information. But it's illegal and morally wrong. Period. Brennan seems to agree.
3:25 pm: Chambliss, the Republican ranking member of the Committee, asks Brennan whether he recommended to former CIA Director Tenet that an operation to capture bin Laden soon after 9/11 be canceled. Brennan says that every senior CIA officer recommended that it be canceled, and that he, Brennan, though it was not "worthwhile." He says "the chances of success were minimal." An odd attempt by the GOP's top dog to make Brennan look "soft" on bin Laden, which seems silly.
Chambliss also asks "what steps" Brennan took to get the CIA to halt its waterboarding and other torture tactics. Brennan says he voiced personal objections, but that he wasn't in the chain of command involved in the interrogation program. Chambliss quotes a Wall Street Journal article saying that Brennan was "part and parcel" of the process, but Brennan says that the former CIA colleague who said he was involved is wrong.
3:15 pm: Feinstein asks Brennan if torture was helpful in finding Osama bin Laden, a la Zero Dark Thirty. Brennan says he's read a 300-page report on it, and he'll respond more completely to the Committee.
3:10 pm: Brennan, in his opening remarks, starts by emphasizing intelligence collection and analysis, by analysts, by covert operators, and by technical experts. But covert operations come up, too. Brennan befriended President Obama during the 2008 campaign, when he was in the private sector, after leaving the CIA in 2005.
He says, "We remain at war with Al Qaeda," talks about cyber attacks, and the threat of nukes and ICBMs from North Korea and Iran.
He says that he's read the 6,000-page report on torture and rendition, and he says that he's ttroubled by it and wants to discuss is with the Committee.
And he recognizes, he says, the controversy over drones and overseas targeting. If confirmed, he says, he will keep the Committee fully informed and not "kept in the dark."
3:00 pm: The hearing restarted at 2:56. Brennan thanks his wife and family and praises Devid Petraeus, the outgoing director of the CIA, whose tenure ended abruptly. Brennan, unlike General Petraeus, is a civilian, and that in itself is a step forward, because the militarization of the CIA over several decades has unsettled many analysts and intelligence professionals. It's also put the CIA to work as a servant of the Pentagon's field commanders.
2:55 pm: An editorial comment by me: I think that disruptions and tactics like this are foolish and counterproductive. They make the opposition to the drone program and the CIA's role in counterterrorism look childish and, worse, a fringe-like minority.
2:47 pm: As Brennan, begins his opening statement, another Code Pink intervention. Feinstein admonishes the audience, and again threatens to clear the room. Two more disruptions followed. "They won't even tell Congress what countries we are killing children in." Feinstein says, next time we're clearing the room. Another intervention, and the hearing stops, and the room is being cleared.
2:45 pm: introduced by Saxby Chambliss and Mark Warner in a bipartisan manner, it's all chummy so far. They introduced Brennan as a CIA "professional," which indeed he is. Warner, though, made a point strongly that the CIA's programs must cohere with American principles and that the CIA be held accountable.
2:30 pm: The confirmation hearing for John Brennan got off to an inauspicious start as Code Pink activists disrupted the hearing even before it began, and Senator Dianne Feinstein threatened to clear the entire room. But it began, with Feinstein saying that civilian casualties from drone strikes have been in "single digits" for years. But, she said, she's not allowed to release the numbers she has because they're classified. She urged Brennan, and President Obama, to declassify some or all of the program so that it can be discussed and analyzed in public.