Brennan Hearing and the Future of the CIA

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Brennan Hearing and the Future of the CIA

John Brennan’s confirmation hearing as CIA Director comes as the Agency faces central questions about its role and missions: has the pendulum swung too far toward its paramilitary and counter-terrorism activities?

Mission of the CIA
Late last year, former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin summed up the challenges facing the intelligence community for Wired Magazine: “Nearly every major international security concern facing Petraeus’ successors is, in essence, a question of intelligence: What is Iran’s nuclear capability, really? Which way will the Syrian civil war go? Why is China building up its Navy so fast? What the hell is Kim Jong-Un up to? ‘Those are things that you’re not going to learn through diplomacy or through press reporting. And that takes you to intelligence,’ notes John E. McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director. He doesn’t believe the counterterrorism necessarily needs to be pared back. There are just all these other jobs that the nation’s spy agencies have to handle. ‘The biggest challenge may be the sheer volume of problems that require intelligence input.’”

What should the agency’s top priorities be? How would you balance them with the resources committed to counter-terrorism?

Balance between the CIA and Military
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes that over the past few years “the CIA’s traditional mission of stealing secrets was morphing into a wider role that increasingly stressed paramilitary covert action.” Ignatius adds, “the Petraeus-era CIA had a hidden defect, quite apart from any errant e-mails, which was that the paramilitary covert-action function was swallowing alive the old-fashioned intelligence-gathering side of the house… The CIA inevitably will continue to mount some paramilitary operations… But one resolution for the post-Petraeus CIA should be to put intelligence collection back in the driver’s seat at the agency.” The Washington Post reports that John Brennan has led “efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency,” arguing “that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency.”

What should be the balance between intelligence gathering/analysis and paramilitary/covert actions? What paramilitary capabilities should the CIA retain? How will Congress and the public know that these reforms are taking place?

Preventing return of past abuses
Just last week, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel of Brennan’s Bush-era CIA colleagues defending the use of so called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Brennan himself has said flatly that torture is illegal and does not work. Colonel (USAF, ret.) Morris Davis who formerly served as the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo has called for the Senate Intelligence Committee to declassify its  report on Bush-era enhanced interrogation practices. However, much about the history of what happened, including the report, remains classified and there are many who continue to advocate for the use of such techniques.

What do you see as the role of CIA leadership in ensuring that torture is never again sanctioned by the U.S. government? Do you agree with the conclusion of this committee’s report that torture produced no useful intelligence? Would declassification of this committee’s report serve the purposes of transparency and your stated aim that torture “should not and will not happen again?”

Transparency and legality of the targeted killing program
Members of Congress, journalists, civil libertarians and counter-terrorism experts have raised concerns about the Administration’s targeted killing program, and the leaked Department of Justice white paper on targeting U.S. citizens has returned the issue to the headlines. A number of possible solutions have been proposed, and the hearings provide an opportunity to explore Administration and Congressional views:

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have repeatedly requested the legal memo with underlying justifications for the program, saying “The operations … they need to be confidential. Laws in our country and their interpretation are not supposed to be confidential.” Will you support this request, and if not, why not?

Jack Goldsmith, who served in the Justice Department under President Bush, has called on Congress and the administration to pass new rules of engagement that would address controversial questions such as where the U.S. may conduct military operations, what the grounds for targeting would be, and how oversight would be provided. Do you agree that those rules of engagement should be formalized in law?

Dan Byman, 9/11 Commission staff member and Georgetown professor, has proposed an independent review court modeled on existing intelligence “FISA” courts as well as a mandatory executive-legislative review process. Would you support those forms of oversight and due process?

Byman and other CT experts have raised the concern that we don’t in fact know whether the targeted killing program is having the effects we want, or whether its collateral effects outweigh its benefits. How would your call for transparency result in making that analysis more available?

What We’re Reading

At least five people are reported dead as a tsunami hit the Solomon Islands, after a powerful quake that sparked warnings across the Pacific.

Japan’s Prime Minister calls the move by a Chinese frigate to put a radar lock on a Japanese navy ship a “dangerous act,” as the U.S. warns against any escalation.

China expressed serious concern after North Korea stepped up its bellicose rhetoric and threatened to go beyond a third nuclear test in response to what it sees as “hostile” sanctions imposed after a December rocket launch.

The U.S. Federal Reserve confirmed data was stolen from its systems by hackers, but does not confirm if the incident was that claimed by Anonymous.

French forces are embroiled in a “real war” with “terrorists” around the Malian town of Gao, the defense minister says.

Tunisian opposition politician Chokri Belaid was shot dead outside his home in the capital, Tunis, prompting protests in towns around the country.

The U.S. media revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency has been operating a secret airbase in Saudi Arabia for unmanned drones for the past two years.

Security guards seized a man who tried to hit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a shoe as he visited a mosque in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said world leaders should declare Hezbollah a terrorist entity as the U.S. also urged the EU to designate the group a terrorist organization, hours after Bulgaria blamed the Lebanese group for a deadly bus bomb.

The Falkland Islands, disputed between Argentina and the UK, will be back under Argentine control within “20 years,” the country’s foreign minister Hector Timerman said on a visit to London.

Commentary of the Day

Ali Nader analyzes who Teheran fears – and how Iran’s leaders view Senator Hagel.

Sulome Anderson analyzes the influence of a group of soccer fans in the Egyptian revolution in 2011 and the recent protests.

Eryn Sepp proposes improvements to the Family and Medical Leave Act as a way to truly honor our troops.

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