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CIA nominee facing tough questions over drones

Undated handout image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. The U.S. government has authorized the killing of American citizens as part of its controversial drone campaign against al Qaeda even without intelligence that such Americans are actively plotting to attack a U.S. target, according to a Justice Department memo.


President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, is expected to face tough questioning about leaks of sensitive information and U.S. spy activities from waterboarding to the use of drones when he appears at a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.

In a written submission posted on the Senate Intelligence Committee's website on Wednesday, Mr. Brennan acknowledged for the first time that he had given voluntary interviews in connection with investigations into leaks that are being conducted by federal prosecutors in Baltimore and Washington.

Mr. Brennan said the investigations related to cyberwarfare against Iran and a foiled bomb plot tied to al-Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate. Mr. Brennan said his lawyer had been told by prosecutors that he was "only a witness" in both investigations.

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However, leaks are only one of the major issues about which intelligence committee members plan to question Mr. Brennan, a former CIA executive under President George W. Bush, who has become the steward of Mr. Obama's drone policies.

Congressional aides said much of the questioning is expected to focus on what Mr. Brennan knew about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques on Islamic militant suspects captured and held, sometimes in secret CIA prisons, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Human-rights activists and many U.S. politicians, including intelligence committee chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Senator John McCain, have condemned some of the interrogation techniques as torture.

Democrats also are expected to question Mr. Brennan, the top White House adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, on the Obama administration's use of armed-drone aircraft to attack suspected al-Qaeda militants and encampments in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

Despite the range of expected questions, Senate aides and political handicappers say they have not sensed a groundswell of opposition to Mr. Brennan's nomination.

Questions about drones are expected after the leak this week of an unclassified Justice Department paper outlining Obama administration legal justifications for using armed drones to attack U.S. citizens alleged to be involved in terrorist plots.

In his written submissions to the panel, Mr. Brennan said drone strikes were targeted "against specific al-Qaeda terrorists in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives." He insisted those attacks were conducted "in full compliance with the law."

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He said drone strikes hit their targets with "astonishing precision" and therefore "dramatically reduce the danger to U.S. personnel and innocent civilians."

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