Mitchell Reports | February 08, 2013
>> afoot here in washington. as we've been saying, president obama 's nominee to head the cia faced tough questioning yesterday about waterboarding during the bush years when he was at the cia and the current white house 's huge expansion under his direction of targeted killings by drones.
>> your view seems to be that even if we could save american lives by detaining more terrorists, using only traditional techniques, it would be better to kill them with a drone or let them go free rather than detain them. can you explain the logic in that argument?
>> i respectfully disagree, senator. i never believe it's better to kill a terrorist than to detain him. we want to detain as many terrorists as possible so we can elicit the intelligence from them in the appropriate manner so that we can disrupt following terrorist attacks .
>> joining us is john mclaughlin , the cia 's acting director and with john hopkins school of studies. thank you for being with us. you were a career cia person, and you know the drill. it's very clear that absent anything occurring that we don't know about that john brennan is going to be the cia director . do you think that this conversation about drones, though has been expanded enough or not enough because this is the first we've really had a chance to look at this exponential expansion of targeted killings .
>> well, andrea, i think you're right. john, i believe, will be the cia director . i think he will be confirmed. i think he will be a very good cia director . i suspect we're at the front end of a longer discussion about the drones. the paerp that i think your network recently set around after receiving it opened up a discussion, i think, and i'm sure that once john is at the cia , assuming he is confirmed, he will give a lot of attention to broadening this discussion. i think he favors that.
>> he -- he has been in charge of a policy that has six-fold increased the targeted killings with drones. he was asked about it, but a lot of the questions that were in the actual legal memos that eventually under pressure, the white house turned over yesterday and under very tight restrictions where staff lawyers could not look at it also, they could not ask questions about that, so none of that material could be on the table yesterday, and there hasn't been a full understanding, i think, by the american people , as to the cost benefit naltsz of this policy. it is creating a big backlash in yemen and pakistan and other places.
>> well, these are really tough questions. i think you could see that in the hearing. i think the snoshz, too, were grappling with these issues. they were taken positions, but i think they all realized they are tough questions.
>> it's a fair question to ask whether we're achieving what we're trying to achieve in terms of suppressing the recruitment of terrorists and so forth. in the use of drones, i would say i think maybe to reinforce something that john brennan was trying to emphasize, that the intelligence that goes into theing of thes e drones, i believe -- i don't do this anymore, but i believe is more precise and careful than most people imagine. i notice that chairman feinstein in the course of her rashgsz side-stepping classified information made that point that from what the committee sees, the targeting is very precise.
>> do you think that the president should have the sole phenyl authority over this. we're told by public reports that there is actually a kill list and that the president goes through names and the intelligence himself.
>> should there be some other check and ballot ability of a president, any president, to make life and death decisions over americans who are connected to terrorist groups or are suspected of being connected to terrorist groups .
>> i think that's a tough question. i think it does bare examination. he clearly is responsible and accountab accountable. since lyndon johnson did get involved. since then presidents typically have not gotten into the targeting loop that is choosing specific targets.
>> that is a departure from past practice, and i think the idea of looking at a court or some other thing inserted into the decision process has some merit.
>> and what about john brennan 's defense of enhanced interrogations? you were familiar with that era as well at the agency. he said he spoke out against it, but only to colleagues. not to superiors apparently. senator chambliss said, you know, there's no record of anyone satisfying you objected to what was later deemed by the attorney general to be torture.
>> well, you know, listening to john brennan 's answers on those questions, i don't think he is trying in any sense to present himself as a crusader against the program that existed at that time. i think he is saying that he spoke off line quietly to some colleagues about reservations he had on some aspects of the program. i don't doubt he did that. i know john to be an honest, truthful person, but he also respected the chain of command at that time, and the program was authorized by the justice department and the other point that bears emphasis is that in the job he had he was not in the chain of command , if you will, for either creating, authorizing, overseeing, implementing the program and in his subsequent jobs after leaving the agency had no operational responsibility.
>> do you have any regrets about that period? you were in the chain of command .
>> i don't. i don't. you know, one has to get back into that period of time and reconstruct the context. we're talking ten years ago. just to give you an example, there was a moment early in the post-9/11 period when we knew that bin laden had talked to two pakistani nuclear scientists when we had found a crude diagram of a nuclear weapon designed in afghanistan and when we had what appeared to be credible reports of a nuclear device in new york city . that was the atmosphere of that time, and we were in a very different place today. we're in a very different environment. great progress has been made against al qaeda , and i don't look back at that period with regrets. i think the things the cia did then saved lives, and that that is one of the reasons why we are in the position today to say that there's been a lot of progress on this problem.
>> john mclaughlin , thank you very much for the context.