OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: CIA chief defends agency

THE TOPLINE: CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanFederal prosecutor looking into Brennan's role in Russian interference findings: report FISA court's rebuke of the FBI: It broke or ignored the rules and our rights Where was American counterintelligence? MORE on Thursday made an aggressive rebuttal of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of harsh interrogation techniques during a rare press conference at the agency's headquarters.

Brennan called the report "flawed" and incomplete and chided the committee for relying on documents for its investigation, versus interviewing CIA officials. 

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"I think it’s lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to interview CIA personnel," Brennan said.

Brennan questioned the report's conclusion that the CIA tried to mislead the White House, Congress, other policymakers and the media about the value of the program. 

"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," he said. 

Brennan also rejected the report's conclusion that the techniques were not helpful in finding Osama 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," he said. 

Still, Brennan said it was "unknowable" whether the interrogations practices the report asserted were torture helped halt terror attacks and keep the country safe. Some detainees subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other methods "produced useful intelligence," he said, though agency officials "have not concluded that it was the use" of those methods that led to the information.  

"The cause and effect relationship between the use of [enhanced interrogation techniques] and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is, in my view, unknowable," he said.

Brennan conceded that, "many aspects of [senators'] conclusions are sound and consistent with our own prior findings."

He repeatedly described the interrogation program as quickly assembled without the due diligence that would have come with additional time. But the haste was only natural, he said, given the country’s fears after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"We were not prepared," he said, citing the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

People developing the interrogations programs, he added, "tried to do their best and I think at times came up short."

 

FEINSTEIN FIRES BACK: Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate opens Trump impeachment trial Democrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week MORE (D-Calif.), though, offered a running rebuke on Twitter to Brennan's comments as he spoke.

"100+ interview reports, oral and written testimony, CIA’s response and numerous CIA meetings all contributed to study," her office tweeted during Brennan's press conference.

In a statement after Brennan’s presser, Feinstein disagreed with his characterization of the interrogation program but offered appreciation of his commitment to prevent such practices in the future. 

Feinstein said she was pleased Brennan is "attempting to acknowledge past mistakes by the agency in order to focus on current and future missions and make sure that a program like this is never considered again."

 

FALLOUT FOR AGENTS?: The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on "enhanced interrogations" will have a chilling effect on CIA employees, former agency director Michael Hayden warned Thursday.

"Agency officers will be made to feel that no one has their back. This is a big deal for an organization that is often required to do very edgy things," he told The Hill in an email. 

"It will also make agency officers more timid in the future. Who in the next generation will raise their hand and say something like I have an idea, it's a bit edgy, but..." he added. 

Hayden, who was director from 2006 through 2009, was accused in the Senate's 500-plus page report of misleading lawmakers about the interrogation techniques, which Democrats say amounted to torture.

Since the report's release on Tuesday, Hayden has vigorously rebutted claims he misled Congress and other policymakers, arguing the report is unfair and biased. 

 

PANEL APPROVES ISIS MEASURE: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a measure authorizing the use of military force against Islamic militants but prohibiting the Obama administration from deploying ground forces.

The 10-8 party-line vote on text drafted by panel chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (D-N.J.) gives President Obama authority to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and groups that fight on its behalf.

The three-year Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) would ban ground troops except in certain cases and require the White House to report back to lawmakers every 60 days.

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the panel’s top Republican and incoming chairman, spoke against the measure, predicting it would not receive a full Senate vote, nor be taken up in the House.

"I haven't vigorously debated because I realize we'll be doing this again in January," Corker said.

Prior to approving the authorization, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joined the panel's Democrats in clearing a package of Democratic-sponsored amendments to the measure.

The provisions added language to the authorization that emphasized the atrocities ISIS has committed against women; stressed the importance of securing funding for the ongoing military campaign; and sunset a 2001 authorization for military force in three years, though that could be reauthorized or revised.

The administration is relying on the 2001 authorization for its actions against ISIS, but said it would welcome a new authority.

"I hope we do find floor time to vote on this," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has spent months advocating for an AUMF vote.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he hoped the vote would help Congress "perhaps" pass an AUMF in 2015.

 

DEFENSE BILL FRIDAY? Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinThe Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy Can the United States Senate rise to the occasion? Probably not MORE (D-Mich.) predicted the upper chamber would vote on the 2015 defense authorization bill on Friday.

"I don’t see any alternative in sight," he told reporters Thursday afternoon.

The Senate on Thursday morning voted 85-14 to move forward on the national defense authorization act (NDAA). The procedural vote was necessary after some Republicans objected to a lands package being included in the Pentagon policy roadmap.

"The NDAA for fiscal year 2015 is a legislative hodgepodge that includes those straightforward, noncontroversial items that almost all of us support, but also numerous other provisions that are unrelated to national defense," Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said. "Most egregiously, the drafters secretly added 68 unrelated bills pertaining to the use of federal lands."

An agreement could be reached to hold the Senate's final vote sooner, but Levin’s statement suggests that won’t happen.

The Senate is also waiting for the House to finish talks on a $1.1 trillion "cromnibus" spending package to keep the government open before determining its own next steps.

"I’m guessing it would be more likely now we finish the authorization bill, the defense bill, before the omnibus," the retiring Levin said.

"I still think we’re going to be in all weekend and the beginning of next week," he added. "That’s what I’ve felt for some time."

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: 

-- Armed Services chairman demands CIA release cable on Iraq War

-- Veterans' Affairs chairman a 'no' vote on defense bill

-- Gillibrand: Service members deserve vote on sexual assault reform

-- US operation of Afghan prisons ends

-- House Armed Services subcommittee chairmen named

 

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