One of the questions Dianne Feinstein asked John Brennan in his confirmation hearing last week pertained to the role in approving drone strikes he’ll have at CIA. He refused the answer the question directly because the program is classified.
Feinstein: I’d like to ask you about the status of the Administration’s efforts to institutionalize rules and procedures for the conduct of drone strikes. In particular, how do you see your role as CIA Director in that approval process?
Brennan: Chairman, as this committee knows and I’m sure wants to continue to protect certain covert action activities. But let me talk generally about the counterterrorism program and the role of CIA and this effort to try to institutionalize and to ensure we have as rigorous a process as possible that we feel that we’re taking the appropriate actions at the appropriate time. The President has insisted that any actions we take will be legally grounded, will be thoroughly anchored in intelligence, will have the appropriate review process, approval process before any action is contemplated, included those actions that might involve the use of lethal force.The different parts of the government that are involved in this process are involved in the interagency, and my role as the President’s counterterrorism advisor was to help to orchestrate this effort over the past four years to ensure again that any actions we take fully comport with our law and meet the standards that I think this committee and the American people fully expect of us as far as taking actions we need to protect the American people but at the same time ensuring we do everything possible to ensure we need to resort to lethal force.
Brennan was equally evasive to similar questions in the hearing, and did not really answer a very simple question in his questions for the committee, whether the drone rule book had been finalized (see question 39: Is there a drone rulebook? A: Not so much a rulebook as little scraps of paper strewn around I sometimes lose).
But let it be noted that when the Chairwoman of the committee purportedly overseeing this program asked him what his role would be, as CIA Director, under the new rule book — a topic which has been addressed in part in the press — he suggested he couldn’t answer because it was classified.
Less than three hours later, this exchange occurred.
Burr: On January 15th of this year, the President signed the 2012 Intelligence Authorization Act, which requires congressional notification of any authorized disclosure of national intelligence. Now, we’ve not received any notification of authorized disclosures. Have there been any authorized disclosures to your knowledge?
Brennan: I would like to say that since you haven’t received any notification there haven’t been.
Burr: Would you consider the information reported in the press about the counterterrorism playbook unauthorized disclosure?
Brennan: Um, I don’t know which piece you’re talking about. There’s been a lot of discussion out there in the media and in the newspapers about this, so I don’t know specifically about any classified information — the fact that the Administration may be going through a process to try to institutionalize, codify, make as rigorous as possible our processes and procedures in and of itself is not a classified issue. So those details that are classified — I don’t know of any that came out in some of those reports.
Burr: If there are classified information that’s out there, and it’s not authorized, was there a crime report filed relative to the playbook?
Brennan: Um, presumably there was, Senator. Those decisions as far as initiating criminal investigations are done by those departments and agencies that have stewardship of that classified information. And in discussions with the Department of Justice they make the determination whether or not, in light of the fact that so many people have access to it, how they can proceed with some type of criminal investigation.
There have been two major stories on the drone rule book since Obama signed the new intelligence authorization and each contains information that is almost certainly classified. This January 19 WaPo story reveals that CIA Director John Brennan won’t have to play by the rules for the next year in Pakistan.
None of those rules applies to the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan, which began under President George W. Bush. The agency is expected to give the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan advance notice on strikes. But in practice, officials said, the agency exercises near complete control over the names on its target list and decisions on strikes.