Given the furor over the Obama administration's policy of targeted killings by drone aircraft, fired up this week by the leaking of a secret 16-page white-paper memo summarizing legal arguments justifying those killings, there may be some tough questions on that subject for Brennan. But SSCI has hardly been critical of the administration's drone policy. And, on those few occasions when it occurs, discussing covert policy in public is always complicated by the fact that senators must avoid revealing what they actually know from the classified information they have received and are hampered by the fact that they haven't seen a lot of classified information that would make their questions more to the point.
All this makes these affairs somewhat unsatisfactory from the get-go. Since Brennan almost certainly will be approved for the post, the questioning might be considered not all that useful anyway.
There was some progress this week. After years of refusing to confirm or deny to inquiring senators that it had documents relating to legal justification for its targeted killings, the Obama administration on Wednesday night told Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, that it would now release such documents to members of two congressional committees. Whether this move will soften the questions that might have been asked today is anybody's guess.
Marcy Wheeler, who has diligently followed intelligence matters for years, has five questions she thinks ought to be asked. She's not a senator, which is a pity, so she doesn't have to be diplomatic. Head below the fold to see those five questions.
1) Do you plan to continue lying to Americans?To these I would add:
You have made a number of demonstrable lies to the American people, particularly regarding the drone program and the Osama bin Laden raid. Most egregiously in 2011, you claimed “there hasn’t been a single collateral death” in almost a year from drone strikes; when challenged, you revised that by saying, “the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths,” even in spite of a particularly egregious case of civilian deaths just months earlier. On what basis did you make these assertions? What definition of civilian were you using in each assertion? [...]
2) What was the intelligence supporting the first attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki?[...]
3) Will your close friendships with Saudis cloud your focus on the US interest?[...]
4) What role did you have in Bush’s illegal wiretap program? [...]
5) Did you help CIA bypass prohibitions on spying domestically with the NYPD intelligence (and other) programs?
In your additional prehearing questions, you admit to knowing about CIA’s role in setting up an intelligence program that profiled Muslims in New York City. What was your role in setting up the program? As someone with key oversight over personnel matters at the time, did you arrange Larry Sanchez’ temporary duty at the NYPD or CIA training for NYPD detectives?
Have you been involved in any similar effort to use CIA resources to conduct domestic spying on communities of faith? You said the CIA provides (among other things) expertise to local groups spying on Americans. How is this not a violation of the prohibition on CIA spying on Americans?
• Since the administration has claimed it has constitutional powers that authorize it to engage in these targeted killings, what will it take to bring the "global war on terror" to a conclusion?
• Is the drone policy with its inevitable killing of civilians, including children, making the terrorist situation worse rather than better, extending that war rather than shortening it?