In the wake of an historic Senate filibuster over the murky U.S. laws governing drone strikes, Colorado Senator Mark Udall on Thursday urged his colleagues to confirm John Brennan as the new director of the CIA.
Although the Senate voted to confirm Brennan shortly after Udall’s speech on the floor of the chamber, Brennan’s nomination and the confirmation process has sparked weeks-long heated debate– including the 13-hour filibuster undertaken by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul– about the Obama administration’s national security policies.
Udall said he would hold Brennan to “promises” the nominee had made to him as a member of the intelligence committee to bring greater transparency to national-security policy decision making. Udall said Brennan committed to publicly admitting to past transgressions made by the agency and to ensuring Congress could conduct effective oversight under his leadership.
Udall said his main concern was that leaders of the nation’s spy agency, charged with conducting covert operations that have sometimes strayed well beyond national and international legal boundaries, had been swept up over the last decade in a culture of obfuscation.
“We have seen the problems that arise when [congressional] intelligence committees are left out of the loop,” Udall said. “We get warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, torture.
“We have pressed to get the legal justifications to kill Americans with drones,” he said. “The resistance we have faced has eroded credibility.”
Udall has sounded alarms for years over Post-9/11 national security laws he believes threaten constitutional civil liberty protections. In May 2011, he and Ron Wyden from Oregon led a failed effort in the Senate to reform key provisions of the Patriot Act they believed were ripe for abuse.
Both men are members of the intelligence committee, privy to classified executive branch information, but they said they struggled to get information about how the laws were being followed. They said the information they managed to get hold of shocked them.
“Americans would be alarmed,” Udall said.
For years, Brennan has been close to the center of national security policy. He is chief counter-terrorism advisor to President Obama and was advisor to Obama on intelligence issues during the 2008 election campaign. Brennan worked at the CIA for 25 years and has drawn fire for allegedly supporting the “enhanced interrogation” or torture policies of the Bush administration.
Nevertheless, Brennan’s nomination to direct the CIA was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this week on a bipartisan 12 to 3 vote. Udall Thursday said committee members were less concerned with Brennan’s history and more concerned with whether he shared their vision about “the role the [CIA] director needs to play.”
“We got commitments,” Udall said. “Transparency has to be the rule not the exception. The government has an obligation to face its mistakes and correct them.
“We have a 6,000 page report on detention and interrogation,” he said, referring to a report prepared by the intelligence committee after reviewing reams of classified documents. “I’ll hold [Brennan] to his promise to correct inaccurate information in the public record, to declassify the information [in the report] and make it public.”
Udall spokesperson Mike Saccone told The Independent that Udall’s transparency concerns were mainly tied to what he considered the overreaches of the warrantless wiretapping program and that Udall strongly believed the public record on torture must reflect findings that the Bush interrogation program was ineffective at garnering valuable information.
“It’s the Zero Dark Thirty debate,” Saccone said, referring to the Oscar-nominated movie on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. “It’s the myth that enhanced interrogation led to actionable intelligence.”