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Continuation of CIA Briefing & Questions

Aired December 11, 2014 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: Another key point with which we take issue is the study's characterization of how CIA briefed the program to the Congress, the media and within the executive branch, including at the White House. The record simply does not support the study's inference that the agency repeatedly, systematically and intentionally misled others on the effectiveness of the program. To be clear, there were instances where representations that the program -- about the program that were used or approved by agency officers were inaccurate, imprecise or fell short of our tradecraft standards. We have acknowledged such mistakes and I have been firm in declaring that they were unacceptable for an agency whose reputation and value to the policymaker rests on the precision of the language it uses every day in intelligence reporting and analysis. Primarily, however, the study's contention that we repeatedly and intentionally misled the public and the rest of the U.S. government rests on the committee's view that detainees subjected to EITs did not produce useful intelligence, a point on which we still fundamentally disagree.

Now, there should be sufficient trust and credibility between our institutions, enabling us to disagree at times but also to come together and listen to each other's perspectives. Our partnership with Congress is crucial. In my view, there is no more important oversight relationship than the CIA relationship with its intelligence committees. Particularly because we do so much of our work in secret, the Congress serves as the critical check on our activities, closely monitoring the agency's reporting and programs when the public cannot.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the study is that it conveys a broader view of the CIA and its officers as untrustworthy. That the institution and the workforce were willing to forego their integrity in order to preserve a program they were invested in and supposedly believed to be right. This in no way comports with my experience in the CIA.

While the agency has a traditional bias for action and determined focus on achieving our mission, we take exceptional pride in providing truth to power, whether that power likes or agrees with what we believe and what we say or not, and regardless of whether that power is affiliated with any particular political party. And as long as I am director, I will continue to defend and fight for these ideals as CIA's legitimacy is closely tied to its credibility and we can afford to lose neither.

We know we have room to improve. And I am committed to addressing the issues identified by the committee that remain a concern. In light of the fact that these techniques were banded (ph) seven years ago, however, my fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward to focus on issues that are relevant to our current national security challenges. In doing so, this agency will only grow stronger and it is my hope that we can do so under the oversight of the committee in a collaborative and constructive manner that the American people expect of us. I pledge to do my part to facilitate such a relationship as we move forward to address the many challenging national security issues we face.

I first joined CIA in 1980. Over the course of my career, I have come to experience and appreciate the CIA's many national security accomplishments. Most CIA successes will never be known, as we are an intelligence service that carries out its mission without fanfare and without seeking praise. And I've come to admire greatly the women and men who come from all over the United States to make up the CIA's workforce. They are among the best and brightest our nation has to offer.

Over the last several days, we here at CIA have been touched by the outpouring of support, confidence, pride and gratitude our colleagues in government have expressed, both publicly and privately, regarding the work of this agency. These expressions of kindness and support have truly been inspiring. As the president said in his own statement, as Americans we owe a profound debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens who serve to keep us safe. The solemn rows of stars on the Memorial Wall at the CIA honor those who have given their lives to protect ours. Our intelligence professionals are patriots and we are safer because of their heroic service and sacrifices. These stars are a testament to our history and our spirit and a consistent reminder of the women and men who make sacrifices daily so that they can help keep their fellow Americans safe and our country strong.

And now I'll be glad to address any questions you might have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, let's start with Siobhan (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

SIOBHAN GORMAN, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Siobhan Gorman with "The Wall Street Journal."

Two part questions. And thank you very much for taking questions.

The first is, did you support the public release of the Senate report? And the second is, just if you could clarify your stance on EITs a little bit. If I recall, the agency's argument for their use was that they were necessary to obtain information that couldn't be obtained another way that would save lives. And I'm wondering if that's the - if that's something that you agree with, that that's what they did or what they were for.

BRENNAN: Well, first of all, Siobhan, thank you for your - your service and for the state (ph) as you head off to do something else.

GORMAN: Thank you.

BRENNAN: I made my views known about this report, its contents, as well as its disposition throughout the course of this process and I participated in the discussions that were held on it. And as you can well imagine, the counsel that I give to the DNI, the White House, is something that I take very seriously, but also it is something that I keep to myself. So they knew my views. I continue to express them.

GORMAN: You can't share them with us in the interest of transparency?

BRENNAN: I think there's more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple days. I think it's over the top.

As far as EITs, I think there is, as I said in my remarks, there is no way if some -- to know whether or not some information that was obtained from an individual, who had been subjected at some point during his confinement, could have been obtained through other means. It's just - it's an unknowable fact. So I think the -- what the agency's point has been consistently, and what certainly my view is, after having reviewed the documents, is that there was useful intelligence, very useful, valuable intelligence that was obtained from individuals who had been, at some point, subjected to EITs. Whether that could have been obtained without the use of those EITs is something again that is unknowable.

Again, I think as others have said, and recently with the president, missed the point that what - in going forward what we want to do is to make sure that we're able to do what is necessary to protect this country and we have a very robust counterterrorism program underway right now. We're working with our partners abroad to make sure that we're able to obtain this information from individuals who are captured and that we are able to gain some access to.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

(INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Thanks. Ken Delany (ph) from the Associated Press.

Director Brennan, do you agree with President Obama's statement that the CIA, in common parlance (ph), tortured detainees? And then secondly, Senator Udall gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor yesterday about something called the Panetta review, which he called the smoking gun that he says proves the CIA is continuing to lie about this program and he said that's a document prepared by CIA insiders. I know you disagree with this characterization, but why not release the Panetta review so that we can all be the judge of that?

BRENNAN: First of all, I certainly agree that there were times when CIA officers exceeded the policy guidance that was given and the authorized techniques that were approved and determined to be lawful. They went outside of the bounds in terms of their actions that -- as part of that interrogation process. And they were harsh. As I said, in some instances, I considered them abhorrent and I will leave to others how they might want to label those activities. But, for me, it was something that is certainly regrettable.

But we are not a perfect institution. We're made up of individuals. And, as human beings, we are imperfect beings. But as I think we have acknowledged over the years, we have brought those mistakes, shortcomings and excesses to the attention of the appropriate authorities, whether it be to our inspector general, to the Department of Justice and others. As you well know, the Department of Justice looked at this for many years and decided that there was no prosecutable crimes there.

As far as the so-called Panetta review, I believe this is in reference to an internal document created here at the agency when, in the interest of trying to fulfill our responsibility to the Oversight Committee, Leon Panetta had authorized the release of, as I mentioned, over 1 million documents to the committee and so he also asked at that time that there be an inventory pulled together of exactly what documents were provided. This was an internal document that was never completed and it's one that I believe is an internal deliberative document and therefore something that was not subject to the committee's oversight. In addition, it was outside of the scope of the period of time that was covered by the agreement that was worked between Senator Feinstein and Leon Panetta about the documents that would be provided to the committee. It was subsequent to that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reuters, Mark (INAUDIBLE).

MARK HOSENBALL (ph), REUTERS: Mark Hosenball from Reuters.

You say on the first page of your statement that you were deputy executive director of the agency on 9/11. Tell us a bit about your involvement in that role and perhaps subsequent roles in this program. I mean as deputy executive director, presumably you had some role in managing or arranging parts of the program. What did you actually do in relation to this program and did you ever, at any point, express reservations about the way it was being carried out while it was going on?

BRENNAN: As deputy executive director, I was the equivalent of the deputy chief operating officer who had responsibility to make sure that all the different support systems and services here at the agency were providing the support to the mission elements. And so after 9/11, I worked with others to make sure that our officers, whether they be overseas or here, had what they needed to get their job done.

In that position, I was aware of the detention interrogation program. I had some visibility into some of the activities that were there. I was not in the chain of command. I did not have authority over the implementation of that program or the management oversight of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

TOM BOWMAN, NPR: Thanks for doing this. Tom Bowman with NPR.

I wonder if you could clarify something. You say here that we have not concluded that there was useful of EITs within the program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them. And then you say in the following page, the committee's view that detainees subjected to EITs did not produce useful intelligence, a point on which we disagree. So which is it? Did the EITs lead to useful intelligence or did they not? Or do you just -- you said it's unknowable. Which is it?

BRENNAN: What I said was that detainees who were subjected to EITs at some point during their confinement subsequently provided information that our experts found to be useful and valuable in our counterterrorism efforts. Again, the cause and effect relationship between the application of those EITs and the ultimate provision of information is unknown and unknowable. But for someone to say that there was no intelligence of value, of use, that came from those detainees once they were subjected to EITs, I think that is -- lacks any foundation at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Let me follow-up on that, what seems to be an inherent conflict. The agency's position and its defenders has been that in particular one of its single successes, the takedown of Osama bin Laden, could be attributed to the use of what the president and others have called torture, what you prefer to call enhanced interrogation techniques. Do you think the bin Laden case can be attributed in some part to enhanced interrogation techniques or torture?

And, you've acknowledged in your own experience that what the president described as difficulties in relationships with allies has resulted from this chapter in American history. Can you expand on that, how you have experienced difficulties as a result of what has been disclosed?

And finally, if there is some unknowable value to these techniques, to waterboarding, near drowning, slamming people against the wall, hanging them in stress positions, confining them in small boxes or coffins, threatening them with drills, waving guns around their head as they are blindfolded, what or which of these techniques could be used if, as the director of Central Intelligence you and another president, or this president were faced with an imminent threat? Could there be another covert finding and rulings and advice from the attorney general that would lead you and your successors to say, we should do this because there could be some value to prevent an attack on America?

BRENNAN: First question on bin Laden. It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against bin Laden. Intelligence information from the individuals who were subjected to EITs provided information that was used in that. Again, I am not going to attribute that to the use of the EITs. I'm just going to state, as a matter of fact, the information that they provided was used.

As far as the relationships with others that sometimes are complicated, I think we see, in the international press right now, there is a lot of scrutiny being paid to what different partners did during that period of time. And I think there's a lot of hyperbole that is now fueling the discussion, the debate, and also then is harmful to continuing our intelligence cooperation because there is a lot of exaggeration, misrepresentation of the facts and, therefore, I think, certain agendas are being pursued. And so I certainly wish that this would not be happening.

And then finally, as far as what happens if in the future there is some type of challenge that we face here, the Army field manual is the established basis to use for interrogations. We, CIA, are not in the detention program. We are not contemplating at all getting back into the detention program, using any of those EITs. So I defer to the policymakers in future times when there is going to be the need to be able to ensure that this country stays safe if we face a similar type of crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), sorry, CNN.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE), sir. Was the useful information (INAUDIBLE) before the (INAUDIBLE)?

BRENNAN: There was information obtained subsequent to the application of EITs from detainees that was useful in the bin Laden operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN.

QUESTION: Mr. Director, right now your agency is involved in overseeing the drone program in which we know from the government's own statements, you know, that there have been some civilians, innocent civilians, killed alongside terrorists. I'm wondering if you feel that there's enough control over those programs and that we're not going to be here in a few years with another director having to answer these same questions about the loss of trust from the public, from policy makers.

BRENNAN: I'm not going to talk about any type of operational activity that this agency is involved in currently. I'm just not going to do it.

I will tell you, though, that during my tenure at the White House as the president's assistant for counterterrorism, that the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles that you refer to as drones, in the counterterrorism effort, has done tremendous work to keep this country safe. The ability to use these platforms and advanced technologies, it has advanced the counterterrorism mission and the U.S. military has done some wonderful things with these platforms. And in terms of precision of effort, accuracy, and making sure that this country, this country's military, does everything possible to minimize, to the great extent possible, the loss of life of noncombatants. I think there's a lot for this country and this White House and the military to be proud of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS: Director Brennan, Catherine Herridge, Fox News. Thank you for taking my question.

Have you heard from our allies overseas since the report was released, the impact on these relationships, has it reinforced the view that the United States government cannot keep a secret? What has the impact been on morale here at the agency?

And in 2005, interrogation videotapes were destroyed. Was that the right thing to do?

BRENNAN: I have spoken to many of my foreign counterparts over the past week to allow them opportunity to prepare for the release of this document, in the event that there was going to be any implications for them as a result of either information that was contained in this document and then could be correlated with other information that's out there and which leads to speculation about what their countries, their governments, their services might have done. And so, yes, I've spoken to many of them and there was strong concern. There are things that we do with our partner services, under our authorities, that we have covert action authorities and covert is something that they were hoping that was going to remain such. But what I've told them is that it's important for our partnership to move forward and to strengthen in the years ahead because of the nature of the national security challenges that we face. And so I am interested in making sure that we're able to do that.

As far as morale here at the agency, this is a tremendous, tremendous workforce, as I said. I had a session with the agency workforce yesterday and I talked about the importance of the mission. And the CIA's mission is as important today as it was before this report came out and it's going to be even more important tomorrow. And one of the great things about this workforce is its able to focus on what it is that they're asked to do.

The CIA officers are operating in some very, very dangerous places and are doing this on behalf of their fellow Americans. And so there is some concern and disappointment about what has happened. There certainly is concern about the misrepresentations that they think are circulating now out in the public, but they are determined to make sure that they're able to do what they need to do.

What was the third one?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

BRENNAN: I think that has been looked at quite a bit over the years and people take actions at the time when they - what they believe is the right thing to do. I'm going to leave it at that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: Martha Raddatz, ABC News. Thanks for taking the questions today, sir.

You say it's unknowable whether EITs, in fact, led to useful information or it was just detainees who were subjected to that. Was this a question that was asked at the time -- this went on for five years -- or were senior officials told you couldn't get any information except through the EITs that was so valuable?

And also my second question, to you back to thinking about those methods of interrogation that we all read about in the report, you say some are abhorrent. Can you tell me when, to you, the officers or interrogators crossed the line?

BRENNAN: On your first question, which is a good one, what was the nature of the discussion and how did people decide to continue to go forward with these EITs? Do they feel as though that was the only way that they were able to obtain information? Those are good questions and I wish the committee took the opportunity to ask CIA officers who were involved in the program at the time, what were you thinking? What did you consider? What was the calculus that you used as far as going forward on it? I think as you can well understand, everything that CIA officers did and said at the time was not memorialized in the document. There were a lot of discussions that were going on. And I know that when I have various discussions and meetings here, I don't run back and just do a memo for the record. I'd just be doing nothing but memos all day.

So I think by just a review of the documentary evidence, all of the documents that were provided by the agency, it loses -- you lose the opportunity to really understand what was taking place at the time. It loses that context and, again, I think it's lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to be able to interact with CIA personnel.

RADDATZ: (INAUDIBLE).

BRENNAN: I look back at the record and I see that this was a workforce that was trying to do the right thing. I cannot say with certainty whether or not individuals acted with complete honesty. When I look at what went on at the time, there are clearly the questions about why certain techniques were used. And to your question about which of those do I consider beyond that, I think anything that went outside the bounds of those enhanced interrogation techniques, this agency went back and forth with justice, with the White House to make sure that there was clear understanding of what were going to be the approved enhanced interrogation techniques and how they should be applied. Instead, we were not prepared and the individuals that were given the responsibility to carry out this work early on were ones that were trying to do their best and I think at times came up short.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

BOB ORR, CBS NEWS: Mr. Director, Bob Orr from CBS. Thanks for taking the question.

You talked about your workforce. You have men and women in the field now confronting threats in a number of places and you're asking them to do difficult things. What have you told them about how you will cover their back in the event that down the road another committee looks at their actions today and judges them out of bounds? And do you think moreover you have the full support of your workforce?

BRENNAN: This workforce continues to be focused on the mission. And I think the leadership team here has gotten together and has engaged with the workforce to make sure that they feel genuinely that they have the support of their leadership, as well as their government. And I am determined to make sure that I continue to give them the support they need and that they deserve. So this is going to be a chapter in our history. It's one they're

going to work through. And I am determined to make sure that, as we go forward with the committee, that there is a better understanding on what exactly it is that we do. I think we keep the committee very fully informed about our activities right now. And one of the things I want to make sure is that on the sensitive programs that we're involved in, that it's not just CIA's leadership that has their back. It's the policymakers that approve these sensitive programs. It is the committees that oversee them and are briefed on them. And that's why we are determined to make sure that they have the visibility that they need so that our officers can feel that they're going to have the support in the future, irrespective of changes that might take place in the Congress or in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

JONATHAN LANDAY, MCCLATCHY: Mr. Director, thank you. Jonathan Landay with McClatchy.

The report said it found evidence that suggested that waterboarding was used on more than the three individuals that the agency has identified as undergoing waterboarding. Can you categorically say that those were the only three people that were waterboarded or is it possible that more were? Thank you.

BRENNAN: One of the things I've learned in life, I guess, is to avoid being categorical. What I will say, based on everything that I have seen and what I've read, it indicates that there were three individuals that were subjected to that and I can only tell you what I am aware of, what I have read and the data I have observed. And so I will stand by that at this time.

Let's do just a couple more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, (INAUDIBLE) last question. (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Dan Delose (ph), (INAUDIBLE) Press.

Just wanted to ask first then if the agency has changed its view of the efficacy of torture or EITs, because in 1989 apparently there was a report or a correspondence with Congress that indicated that the agency believed those techniques were not effective. And then also, your own wording, I was interested if you still stood by what you said that in 2009 you said that these techniques are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists and increase the determination of our enemies and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us. In short, they undermine our national security. Would you - would you maybe have a different view now?

BRENNAN: I stand by my comments from - previously. When I was at the White House, I spoke out on these issues and it was at the time when these techniques were banned and it was a time when there was a fair amount of propaganda, as well as anti-U.S. sentiment related to Guantanamo, as well as other issues. And so these are things that I think we, as professionals in the national security environment, try to take into account. And so this is a feature, I think, of our past and one that we have to come to terms with and deal with. And this agency is determined to move forward.

The first part of the question -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

BRENNAN: Oh, yes. You know, this -- the one thing about in -- whether it's the intelligence business or national security or something, you can always find something that you can pull out and say, the agency said this or judged this or this was a conclusion at that time, and now it's going to be different. A lot of times there are differences of views.