Morning Joe | February 08, 2013
>>> and i understand you can't have co-commanders in chief, but having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one is very contrary to traditions and the laws of this country. i have great confidence in you. i have great confidence in president obama , but all the lessons of history is, it shouldn't matter who's in charge because we should have procedures and processes in place that will protect us no matter who the people are that are in the particular positions.
>> the decisions that are made are to take action so that we prevent a future action, so we protect american lives. that is an inherently executive branch function to determine, and the commander in chief and the chief executive has the responsibility to protect the welfare, well-being of the american citizens.
>> 25 past the hour. joining us now from capitol hill , independent senator from maine and member of the senate intelligence committee , senator angus king .
>> good morning.
>> also with us from washington, the moderator of "meet the press," david gregory . and columnist and associate editor for "the washington post ," david ignatius . we also still have my dad, dr. zbigniew brzezinski , richard haass , donny deutsch , sam stein. good lord. where do we begin? senator, i'll start with you. how do you think brennan did?
>> i think he did very well. i'd like to associate myself with the comments your dad made at the beginning. that was an extraordinary moment yesterday and a great democracy, wrestling with very, very difficult issues in a pretty open way considering what was at stake and all the classified information . it was quite a day. and i think he did very well. he came across as very straightforward, honest. i thought one of the strongest moments of the day was when he was asked several times, do you think torture or waterboarding saves lives? and he said, five or six years ago when i answered that question based on the data i had gotten from within the cia , i answered it yes. he said today after reading the report or the summary of the report that the intelligence committee has done, he said, i'm not so sure. i don't know. and i thought for a major public official to look into the eyes of the committee and the cameras and the world and say i don't know, i thought it was the right answer, the right thing to do. and he was being very honest. so i think he did a very good job yesterday. i don't agree with him on everything, but he came across to me as a pretty straightforward guy.
>> david gregory ?
>> i think this is ultimately a question of where the boundaries are. i agree with the senator, this is a healthy debate, a debate that's going to move forward. the reality is that this is difficult because the technology has moved us to a place where it is making more things possible. a new age of warfare. and we think back to our history in the atomic age and what that provided as an opportunity for government in the name of national security to accomplish. you have the political imperative of a complete distaste for americans committing large ground armies into the region where we're still at war with terrorists and see the potential for this kind of technology. and i think, david ignatius , one of the things that strikes me as i look at the arguments on all sides and sort of wrestle with this is we have the use of special forces , which the president is also quite fond of in addition to drone technology. and it seems that americans have a different reaction. if, in effect, you say, look, we've got special forces , we can deploy them on raids into pakistan and they're going to take somebody out, they're going to kill someone like osama bin laden , that americans aren't as uncomfortable with that as they are with the notion of the very detached use of an unmanned aerial vehicle that is executing on a kill list that the president himself reviews. so where does the debate -- where does this kind of internal wrestling go from here?
>> well, americans may be less uncomfortable with having armed boots on the ground , special operations forces hitting the compound at abbottabad where osama bin laden was. that's the reason that the drone program really developed. doing this from 10,000 feet adds a kind of layer of deniability that pakistanis can publicly denounce it while privately in effect letting the program go forward. i thought, listening to yesterday's fascinating hearing, two things. first, i think we're setting the rules for this program now, not just for our own country but for the world. i think that's the importance of all of the material that's been put on the record about the drone program. and the way that john brennan had to talk about it. the second thing -- and this worries me more -- i think we can see cia being pulled in two directions at once going forward. you have a lot of nervousness about the dimensions of the drone program. brennan himself says he thinks the cia has become too much a paramilitary organization , too much in the killing business, and yet the white house clearly having ended two wars we were fighting in iraq and afghanistan is going to turn to the cia as a way of projecting military power if we get in trouble. take syria . the other big thing that's happening this week is people hammering on the administration to do more on syria . and guess what that's going to be called? it's going to be called cia covert action at the very time in another hearing room people are urging less and greater control. so i think there's a little bit of a dual pressure on the cia , and they're going to be pulled to the breaking point.
>> and dad, to follow up on something you said earlier, somebody on twitter said, i respectfully disagree with dr. brzezinski. we, as icons of civility and justice, can't set examples of barbarism. it was on comments you made on torture. and i know that the moral example that we set around the world is important to you. have you evolved on this issue?
>> well, i said i thought torture was reprehensible, not to be used, but then i also said but suppose an extraordinary circumstance arises. you know that some horrible, horrible, horrible is about to happen. the other example people sometimes use is the presence of an atomic weapon which is about to be detonated. somebody knows where it is. there's still time to disarm it. what do you do in that circumstance? i think that moral dilemma is not easy to resolve, but i can see how under the pressure of circumstances and given the possible consequences one might say, well, let's use force. in other words, let's inflict pain on this person so we can avert this other disaster which in terms of scale is so much larger.
>> but isn't there this question -- that scenario is so seldom ever presents itself.
>> how about when john brennan said yesterday, which is that he doesn't believe the cia should be in the torture business, but we should work with our allies in the region, talking about the middle east , where they do use torture. i mean, he didn't say that, but that's the reality. we don't always trust that information that's derived that way, but we're happy to sort of outsource some of that and still have it done in order for us to collect intelligence.
>> well, that's a good point, and i think, however, that's a moral cop-out, in effect. and i think your point is well taken. i'm talking really about the question whether do we, ourselves, engage in physical violence designed to inflict maximum pain to obtain information? and my answer is no, unless there is a circumstance by definition of a unique type on an extraordinary scale in which perhaps it is justifiable, if we think it will work and prevent something much, much, much more horrible.
>> senator, it's donny deutsch . i want to pick up on david gregory 's question. i'm still missing this. for some reason, we don't have the same problem -- the same fear when it comes to the president or armed forces pressing the button on special forces , yet when we are more concerned on human list drones, why are we setting up a different level of criteria there?
>> well, i think that's a really good question. and to be honest, i believe that drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do, you know, when sherman shelled atlanta or when the allies firebombed dresden in world war ii , it was all collateral damage . it was virtually all civilians. and that's the way -- that was the way of war until very recently. the drones, although there is some collateral damage , basically is a very smart artillery shell . and we've been shooting artillery shells over miles and miles for many years and hoping they hit the right target. i think there's just something creepy about drones that they can be controlled and people are uneasy about it. but if you put it in a context of 1,000 years of war, i think it's actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people. now, i do think there's a problem -- and you saw that little clip at the beginning that i raised with mr. brennan yesterday -- about targeting americans . there is this little item of the fifth amendment that says no person shall be denied life, liberty or property without due process of law . now, if an american joined the wearmock in world war ii , i don't think anybody would say patton had to get a warrant to shoot them. the difference in this case is time. by and large, as i understand it, these strikes don't happen in a matter of minutes. they happen over -- they're planned over a matter of days and weeks. in the case of an american which i agree with mr. robinson is pretty rare. but in the case of targeting an american, i don't see why they can't go to a secret court like the intelligence court that's already been set up and get what amounts to a warrant. this is why we're targeting this person. this is the evidence that they're a member of al qaeda . this is the evidence that they're planning some kind of imminent attack. then i think we could feel more comfortable about --
>> about the concept.
>> -- about the protections of the fifth amendment. but the bottom line is i don't think we should also fully say -- whatever the executive decides is okay.
>> i think that's a problem.
>> richard haass .
>> david ignatius has written so much about the intelligence community , so i wanted to ask him a question, mika. which is so much of the questioning of brennan was about drones. to some extent the issue of syria coming up, but a big part of his job has got to be analysis. is the committee essentially missing this whole question of the balance between what the head of the central intelligence agency does, how much is he operational, and how much is he essentially analytical?
>> certainly, richard, in the publicized hearings yesterday, they were missing those questions. in the written answers that he was asked to give, you do get a sense of how he would try to run that big unwieldy organization, the combination of secrecy and bureaucracy at the cia has often in the past been really deadly. and to be a good cia director , john brennan 's going to have to be a very aggressive director. that's a place, boy, they are hard to manage. if they don't like you, they start gossiping. pretty soon there's rumors all over town about you're in trouble. my sense is that brennan who comes out of the analytical side wants analysis to be strong. i think his biggest theme coming into the hearings, didn't get much attention yesterday, is he wants the cia to return to its traditional role of collecting intelligence, of having secret, well-hidden spies overseas gathering the information that's going to save american lives and get it out of the paramilitary covert action business, the kind of murder incorporated stuff that we've seen since the war on terror began. and that's a big job. i just would note that brennan wants to do that at the very time you're going to see more pressure especially in syria for the cia to go further down that paramilitary road. and it's going to be difficult for him.
>> i think that's a really important point. and i'm very uncomfortable with the cia becoming an operational war-making entity. it should be an intelligence agency , and we've got a large thing called the department of defense that's designed to make war and go after our enemies. i agree. i think there's a real problem with the cia becoming essentially a war-making entity as opposed to an intelligence agency .
>> and let me go to david gregory for final thoughts on this because the big unknown here is how many in terms of drones killing civilians as opposed to other approaches, special ops and other ways of trying to protect our borders and target terrorists.
>> i think what's striking is that president bush , in effect, wrote chapter 1 in the war on terror . and here is a democratic president who is very much in sync on the use of executive power , writing chapter 2. and the rules are changing along the way. but there's also great political desire in this country to yes, keep up a war against terror , but do it in a way with less american sacrifice. and that's why the cia has turned into a paramilitary organization . and i think unwinding that may take some time.
>> all right. senator angus king , dr. zbigniew brzezinski , david ignatius , thank you very much. david gregory , thank you as well.
>> he's got exclusives on "meet the press" this sunday.
>> the two lieutenants here, house and senate, eric cantor and richard durbin talking about the way forward after the state of the union .
>> thanks very much, david gregory . good luck with that.
>>> when we come back, meteorologist bill karins with the latest on the winter storm bearing down on the northeast. keep it right here on "morning