Brennan's CIA Hearing: How Dramatic Will It Get?

Drones, torture hang over proceedings

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 7, 2013 7:41 AM CST

(Newser) – John Brennan will head to Capitol Hill today for his CIA confirmation hearing, and everyone's wondering the same thing: How dramatic is this going to get? Questions are hanging in the air about the Obama administration's drone strikes, classified information, and torture, but there's a chance lawmakers will avoid all of the above. Here's what you should know:

Drones

  • The questions: The recent Justice Department memo leak has thrust this issue to the forefront. The big questions: How much evidence is needed to put a US citizen on the "kill list"? Do the strikes create more terrorists than they kill? Are they legal? And is this even the CIA's job?
  • Brennan's position: In a statement yesterday, Brennan offered a vigorous defense of the program, of which he is widely seen as an architect, USA Today reports. "These strikes are conducted in full compliance with the law," he said, touting their "rigorous standards" and noting that they're "much rarer than many allege."
  • Will it get heated? "Do not hold your breath," warns Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations. Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein "strongly endorses targeted killings and, more generally, executive branch secrecy." And as Michael Crowley at Time points out, "Congress has shown virtually no appetite under Obama for interfering with his prosecution of the anti-terror war."
  • Keep an eye on: Ron Wyden, who's made it clear he wants answers on the topic.

Other issues

  • Torture derailed Brennan's shot at this job in Obama's first term. Here Feinstein is less of an ally, having led a reportedly scathing 6,000-page report on torture. Mark Udall intends to ask about that report, Politico reports. Brennan isn't about to defend the practice; in yesterday's document he said he "was aware of the program, but did not play a role in its creation" and "had significant concerns and personal objections."
  • Leaks: Republicans believe the Obama administration in general and Brennan especially have been leaking classified info for political gain. "I think there's going to be a lot of questions about leaks," the House Intelligence Committee chair predicts. Brennan says he never divulges classified info.
  • Budget cuts: Many lawmakers were angry that the CIA seemed behind the 8-ball as the Arab Spring unfolded, but with budget cuts looming, Langley may have less info than ever on places like Tunisia. How would Brennan handle that?
For other issues that might come up, see this Time piece, or this Politico one.

In this Oct. 29, 2010 file photo, Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan briefs reporters at the White House.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan speaks in Washington.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
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