The intelligence community's annual public report on the threats facing the nation was overtaken during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday by the politically charged issues of waterboarding and other "coercive" interrogation techniques, extension of the government's evesdropping authority and the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear weapons program.
National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden said waterboarding was a legal technique that should be available under certain circumstances if authorized by the nation's legal and political leaders. McConnell said, to his knowledge, only the CIA has used it. Hayden told the committee that the CIA has used the painful technique, which many consider a form of torture, only three times in its history. Those times, three years ago, were against "high value" al-Qaida terror suspects who were thought to have information on an imminent threat to the nation.
The intense discussion was triggered by a question from Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., about proposed legislation that would require all U.S. intelligence agencies to use only the interrogation procedures listed in the recently revised Army field manual.
Senate Intelligence ranking member Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., said he would seek to remove that requirement when the legislation reaches the Senate floor. Hayden said the Army manual lists only some of the "universe" of lawful interrogation techniques that, "we should feel as a nation we have a right to use." Although the manual serves the Army's needs, it is no more applicable to the CIA than the Army's grooming standards, he said.
The difference, he explained, was in the people who would be doing the interrogations and the people being interrogated. The manual applies to the Army's "relatively large population of relatively young" people who may deal with thousands of individuals and would be seeking information of short-term military significance. The CIA has held less than 100 detainees in its history, Hayden said, indicating that his agents were better trained and are seeking more subtle intelligence of national importance.
But under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Hayden said such interrogations could be conducted by a mix of CIA agents and contracted personnel. He could not say who conducted the waterboarding. McConnell supported Hayden's views on the legality and acceptability of "coercive" techniques, but said before the CIA could use waterboarding, Hayden would have to explain to him the reason and, if he agreed, they would have to seek approval from the attorney general and the president.
McConnell also was questioned about legislation the committee has passed to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorized extensive monitoring of conversation supposedly involving foreign terrorist suspects. He praised the committee's work but said he was sending them a list of proposed changes. McConnell strongly supported the administration's request that the bill provide immunity to the telephone and Internet providers who allowed the CIA and FBI to monitor communication on their systems. Without it, he said, the intelligence services would lose the vital cooperation from the private sector.