Nominated to head the CIA, John Brennan told a protest-disrupted Senate confirmation hearing Thursday the United States remains at war with Al Qaeda and other terrorists and is under “daily cyberattack” by foreign countries and others.
In a statement delivered before he answered questions, Brennan promised to keep members of the congressional intelligence committees “fully and currently informed” and acknowledged that the Central Intelligence Agency “is not immune from scrutiny” of its efforts to safeguard the nation.
The hearing was interrupted repeatedly once before it began and then several times before Brennan had completed his brief statement. At one point, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, ordered the proceedings halted and the room cleared so those re-entering could be screened to block obvious protesters.
The shouted protests centered on CIA drone strikes that have killed three American citizens and an unknown number of foreigners overseas.
It was a topic very much on the mind of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who eventually will vote on Brennan s confirmation.
The CIA s drone strikes primarily focus on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the tribal regions of Pakistan, while the military has launched strikers against Al Qaeda targets in Yemen and Somalia. The agency also carries out strikes in Yemen, where three American citizens with Al Qaeda connections have been killed: Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son and Samir Kahn.
In the hours before the hearing began, President Barack Obama ordered that a classified paper outlining the legal rationale for striking at U.S. citizens be made available for members of the House and Senate intelligence panels to read.
It was an attempt to clear the way for Brennan s approval, given hints from some lawmakers that they might hold up confirmation unless they had access to the material.
In his opening statement, Brennan said, “The need for accurate intelligence and prescient analysis from CIA has never been greater than it is in 2013 or that it will be in the coming years.”
He said historic transformations continue sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa, with “major implications for our interests, Israel s security, our Arab partners and the prospects for peace and stability throughout the region.”
Additionally, Iran and North Korea “remain bent on pursuing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile delivery systems,” he noted.
He said the United States remains at war with Al Qaeda and its associated forces, which he said seek to “carry out deadly strikes against our homeland and our citizens as well as against our friends.”
As for US computer systems, he said they are under daily attack by “nation states, international criminal organizations, subnational groups and individual hackers.”
Brennan is a veteran of more than three decades in intelligence work, and most recently served as Obama s top counter-terrorism adviser in the White House. Any thought he had of becoming CIA director four years ago vanished amid questions of the role he played at the CIA when the Bush administration approved waterboarding and other forms of “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists.