The proposed CIA director John Brennan has faced the US Senate in his confirmation hearing. Some more sensitive US security operations like drone strikes, renditions, and "enhanced interrogation" topped the agenda.
John Brennan's Senate confirmation on Thursday was disrupted by protests, with the panel's chairman Dianne Feinstein at one point ordering police to clear the room of the most obvious members of protest groups. The anti-war group "Code Pink" boasted a heavy presence at the hearing.
Most of the shouts from the public viewing areas focused on the issue of unmanned US drone strikes abroad. Such attacks in countries including Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia have killed three US citizens. Estimates vary on the number of non-US citizens killed, with the figures usually exceeding 3,000. The New York Times reported that in Yemen specifically, 80 civilians were among 400 people killed by drones since 2009.
Brennan answered questions at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the CIA and other national security agencies. President Barack Obama's nominee must gain Senate approval to take up the post.
Prior to the hearing, Obama announced that the intelligence committees in both houses of Congress would gain access to classified documents which explain the grounds for preemptive strikes against US citizens abroad. Obama's spokesman Jay Carney said that other US lawmakers would not get access to the papers. In recent months congressional intelligence committees have been increasingly critical about what they consider a lack of information on sensitive security operations.
Brennan, Obama's current top counter-terrorism advisor with more than three decades' experience in intelligence work, told the hearing that drone strikes were only used as a preventative measure, and never as a means of retaliation.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said when asked if the strikes were used in response to past attacks. "We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there's no other alternative to taking an action that's going to mitigate the threat."
Brennan was a senior CIA official under former President George W. Bush.
'Personal objections' to waterboarding
Brennan also faced questions on "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning denounced as torture by many and since officially abandoned by the US government, which were used during his time in the CIA.
"I did not take steps to stop the CIA's use of those techniques," Brennan said. "I was not in the chain of command of that program. I had expressed my personal objections and views to some colleagues."
The 57-year-old said that he did not try to stop the practice "because it was something that was being done in a different part of the agency under the authority of others, and it was something that was directed by the administration at the time."
Brennan was considered a front-runner for the CIA post in 2009, but he stepped back from the race amid criticism over his alleged proximity to waterboarding and other CIA practices during the Bush era.
The previous CIA director, General David Petraeus, resigned in November.
msh/ch (AFP, AP, Reuters)