John Brennan, Unplugged

As a special service to emptywheel readers, I am going to provide an abridged version of John Brennan’s answers to Additional Prehearing Questions in advance of his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Q1 Bullet 3: 7 CIA officers died in Khost in a suicide bombing that was direct retaliation for our drone attack on a funeral, and then another drone attack on a thuggish enemy of Pakistan and his young wife. Let’s discuss this event as a counterintelligence event, shall we?

A: I have been impressed with CIA’s counterintelligence briefings.

Q6 Bullet 1: What principles should determine whether we conduct covert action under Title 50, where they’re legally supposed to be, or Title 10, where we’ve been hiding them?

A: Whatever works. But tell Congress!

Q6 Bullet 3: Should we reevaluate this?

A: Only if the President decides he wants to stop this shell game.

Q7: Should CIA be a paramilitary agency?

A: See answer to question 6.1.

Q9: We missed the Arab Spring. Shouldn’t we expect better?

A: The liaison relationships with Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia that failed us before won’t fail us again.

Q10: Rather than asking whether you set up the CIA-on-the-Hudson, can you just answer whether you knew about this attempt to bypass restrictions on CIA operating in the US?

A: Yes, I did. CIA likes providing “key support” to local entities under the guise of Joint Terrorism Task Forces.

Q12: How would you manage CIA?

A: Moral rectitude.

Q13: You have lied about things like the Osama bin Laden raid to boost President Obama’s political fortunes. How will you ensure independence from the White House?

A: I will provide him with objective intelligence but I won’t necessarily provide such objective intelligence to anyone else.

Q15: How will you work with your buddies in the Saudi and similar intelligence agencies?

A: I will be the gatekeeper to all US intelligence community elements, but I promise to keep the Chief of Mission informed. At least about what the US side of that relationship is doing.

Q16: How will you staff the agency?

A: Moral rectitude.

Q17: How will you ensure accountability?

A: As CIA did when it was torturing, we’ll refer allegations of criminal wrongdoing to DOJ.

Q20: What is the proper relationship between Director of CIA and Director of National Intelligence?

A: James Clapper and I are buds, so it doesn’t really matter what the proper relationship is supposed to be.

Q22 Bullet 1: How’s our information sharing going?

A: Great! We’re sharing with DOD, DHS, state, local, tribal, private sector, and international  partners! But don’t worry about Americans’ privacy because I think we shared this much information with these many counter-parties responsibly.

Q22 Bullet 4: What information won’t you share with the Intelligence Communities?

A: Instead of answering that let me cite statute and say I’ll inform you of “significant” developments.

Q23: We haven’t been getting information from the secretive Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning. Are you responsible for that?

A: You’re only allowed to get that information after we’ve made up our mind.

Q24: Did you write Susan Rice’s talking points?

A: No.

Q25: Will you give us information? Will you let the President refuse to give us information?

A: Let me cite statute again. Flexibility! Gang of Four! 12 year old Memoranda of Notification as transparency!

You see, the Executive Branch decides how much oversight the Executive Branch needs.

Q26: Will you give us OLC memos?

A: Probably not.

Q27: Does the CIA have to admit when it has lied to Congressional intelligence committees?

A: Yes. But only to the committees.

Q28: What will you do to cut down on leaks?

A: In January 2012, CIA Inspector General audited “CIA’s Process for Investigating Leaks of Classified Information.” I commit to read that report and its recommendations and might even consider some of the recommendations.

Q29: Can people with security clearance — including contractors — share classified information with the media and Hollywood?

A: When high level executive branch officials leak, it is considered, “acknowledg[ing] classified information to a member of the media or [] declassify[ing] information for the very purpose of limiting damage to national security by protecting sources and methods or stemming the flow of additional classified information.” But only senior Agency officials have the power to save the classified info by leaking it.

Q30: The Public Interest Declassification Board says the classification system is outdated. Do you agree?

A: Let me answer after I’m confirmed.

Q31: Is the CIA transparent enough?

A: Sensitive intelligence sources and methods should not be sacrificed in an effort to increase transparency.

Q32: Tell us how much you have leaked.

A: Yes.

Q34 Bullet 1: You claim you opposed torture. Prove it.

A: That’s a sensitive intelligence source and method.

Q34 Bullet 2: What role should the CIA play in detention, interrogation, and rendition?

A: The CIA’s subject matter expertise should be leveraged in interrogation.

Q35: Have you read the torture report?

A: If confirmed I promise to read it.

Q36: Where should terrorists be indefinitely detained?

A: I don’t get to decide but if needed we would find some place.

Q37 Bullet 1: Define imminent as used before you decide to kill someone.

A: I know it when I see it.

Q37 Bullet 3: Is the US at war with terrorist organizations besides al Qaeda?

A: No, but we’re using intelligence and military resources against them anyway.

Q38: Do you support legislation to use drone strikes outside of “hot” battlefields?

A: Jeh Johnson has already said the world is the battlefield.

Q39: Is there a drone rulebook?

A: Not so much a rulebook as little scraps of paper strewn around I sometimes lose.

Q40: Did you lie about civilian casualties?

A: Harness Tragedy Myriad Regrettably Dialogue … Sorry, what was the question again?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    tour de force!

    + in congress these days it seems very difficult for any individual to ask a series of follow-up questions without

    – being harrassed by his/her political opponents

    – being given insufficient time to conduct a meaningful inquiry due to time-sharing.

    what happened to having committe chair or counsel ask the questions?

    will brennan be under oath?

  2. Peterr says:

    In the spirit of the previous post, I suspect most journalists will also mis-report Brennan’s responses to these questions. You, however, have translated them quite well from the original Brennanese.

    OT: I suspect Marcy wrote Cliff Notes in an earlier life. I haven’t yet figured out what pen names she used, but this post clearly demonstrates substantial facility in taking sometimes impenetrable language and recasting it for easy reading.

  3. Peterr says:

    @orionATL: Somewhere post-Iran/Contra, committee members figured out that by giving the committee counsel too much of a role, it kept the People That Matter out of the spotlight. Thus, they opted not for competent questioning in an organized manner, but for equal time for all members so everyone had a shot at getting on the evening news.

    The Help can just stay in the cheap seats and pass their notes forward. It looks better for the cameras that way.

  4. Peterr says:

    I particularly like Q&A #17.

    Q: “What is your assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the accountability system that has been in place at the CIA . . . ?”

    A: “I am not familiar enough with the CIA’s accountability system . . . to assess its strengths and weaknesses. . . .”

    Brennan really could have just stopped there. He’s been nominated, after all, so of course he’s not familiar with any systems of accountability.

  5. orionATL says:

    if, as noted downstream by ew, the saudi station was involved in the execution of american citizen anwar al-awlacki,

    then the entire defense of execution mounted by the obama admin, certainly deeply involving brennen,was intended to shield brennen from legal consequences.

    seen this way, the entire awlski execution memos controversy can be considered as john brennen using the presidency to cover his illegal and unconstitutional behavior in killing an american citizen, and the presidency acquiesing in being used this way to protect brennen.

    so the question arises, at what point will obama jettison brennen?

  6. What Constitution? says:

    Thank you, EW, for all you have done in advance of the Brennan hearing. It’s hard to imagine that the rather basic disclosures of the past couple of days would have ever happened without the kind of illumination you and others have been providing, and maybe just maybe we may get an actually meaningful hearing and not a shameless congressional rubber-stamping of the nomination of John Brennan.

    On the off chance that somebody involved in those hearings — a staffer, a Senator, John Brennan, Obama or even a “reporter” — looks at this site in anticipation of the hearing (they should), here are a couple of quotes that might be taken into the room:

    1. “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the
    law.” {from the Supreme Court majority opinion in Boumediene v. Bush}

    2. “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;” [From the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution]; and

    3. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I … will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” [The Presidential Oath of Office, from the U.S. Constitution]

    Congress now has a chance to do something to “check” unbridled aggregation of power. And while the interwebs are abuzz with spirited arguments over whether Bush was the bad guy or Obama is the bad guy, what is really going on is that both Bush and Obama have done exactly what the Founders feared the executive might do if (1) the executive didn’t feel constrained by that silly oath and (2) the executive’s actions were not checked and balanced by the legislature or the courts – seek to aggregate power to the exclusion of the other branches. The silliness reflected in the persistent refusal to identify or provide any purported justification for unilateral presidential assassinations (and in the Orwellian efforts to call rationales for actions facially incompatible with fundamental constitutional provisions a “secret”) has been accompanied, facilitated and abetted by shameless abdications of constitutional responsibilities by both the Congress and the courts, and without those bodies growing a spine there is little likelihood of that changing.

    But one thing is absolutely clear: John Brennan has been packaged for a no-substance dog walk before a subservient media and congress. Only in the past week or so has there been much notice taken of just how vapidly his candidacy has depended on not actually asking what he’s been doing and why, and in favor of glowing adulation unmoored to any concept of constitutionally-derived governance. There has been a shift in that willful ignorance in just the last few days. It is up to Congress, at this juncture, to do its job. Good will to them.

    And if not, here’s hoping that the Federal judges who have so dutifully been heeling to the DOJ’s specious arguments about secrecy, waivers and constitutional interpretation are mightily pissed off right about now with the realization they’ve been getting publicly played for fools by the Obama administration.

  7. Jeff Kaye says:

    Q41: Do you respect us as we perform our sacred Constitutional role, and fear that we may not approve your nomination?

    A: No, you are a national joke, respected by no one. And, it follows, no to the second. However, because it would cause quite a stir among the People to simply forego the empty pomp, we all must grin and bear it. Perhaps when all the newspapers are finally gone, then we can stop this charade. Only some dirty, fucking hippie bloggers will still complain.

  8. joanneleon says:

    @What Constitution?: I second this:
    “Thank you, EW, for all you have done in advance of the Brennan hearing. It’s hard to imagine that the rather basic disclosures of the past couple of days would have ever happened without the kind of illumination you and others have been providing, and maybe just maybe we may get an actually meaningful hearing and not a shameless congressional rubber-stamping of the nomination of John Brennan.”

    If not for Marcy, I would not know half of what I know about Brennan. For the past few weeks I’ve been doing a Google news search for stories about Brennan in advance of this hearing and there really has not been much out there in MSM other than the now well known propaganda they’ve been drumming. The Mighty Wurlitzer lives.

  9. joanneleon says:

    @joanneleon: Also, I forget if I mentioned this before or not but that hilarious propaganda piece on DailyBeast — near the top of the article they talk about liberal and civil libertarians. I think that piece was written almost solely because of the reporting of Marcy and Glenn Greenwald.

    Heck, it was in the first sentence.

    John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism chief and now his nominee to head the CIA, has spent his career in the darkest corners of the terror wars—and he has a grim public reputation to match. A massively built man with a labored gait and deep-set eyes that can appear menacing, Brennan has time and again been assailed by liberals and civil libertarians. They accuse him of having supported torture at the Bush-era CIA and, more recently, of having orchestrated Obama’s legally dubious war of drone strikes and targeted killings. They point out that, in his current job, Brennan presides over a process so secretive that the public knows little about how many people have been killed, let alone how many of them have been innocent civilians.
    [Emphasis added]

    I’m still kind of gobsmacked about that article. The choice of photos was interesting too. They talk about how he is a “massively built man” and yet notice the proportions in the photo (small head swimming in a large black background). They talk about “deep-set eyes that can appear menacing” and then choose a profile shot that obscures the deep-set eyes.

  10. klynn says:

    Q37 Bullet 1: Define imminent as used before you decide to kill someone.

    A: I know it when I see it.

    This answer stopped me cold. Now, imagine someone who has been raised to believe they are God’s “chosen” giving that answer. This. Is. Serious.

    I think we need a whole post on this question response. Perhaps bmaz?

    I spent three hours last night reading definitions and write ups on the word “imminent.” This question is one of the most important ones you pulled out EW.

    EW, you are AMAZING. I can tell when MSM is reading you and pulling from your posts. You are driving the key insights needed.

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