WASHINGTON — Maine’s two U.S. senators plan to ask questions of White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan today as the Senate Intelligence Committee holds confirmation hearings on his nomination to lead the CIA.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King hold two of the 15 seats on the Senate committee that oversees the nation’s intelligence-gathering efforts. Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing will offer the public a peek at a panel that conducts much of its work behind closed doors.
Collins, a Republican, plans to ask Brennan about his views on the Obama administration’s use of unmanned drone aircraft to attack terrorist and military targets. Additionally, Collins intends to ask Brennan about his knowledge of and role in the “enhanced interrogation technique program” used by the CIA during his previous time with the agency, Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said Thursday.
King’s office said the independent planned to ask questions but did not provide details about the topics.
Brennan’s confirmation hearing comes just hours after the Obama administration agreed to provide House and Senate intelligence committee members with a classified legal opinion justifying the use of drones to kill American citizens working with terrorist organizations overseas.
Collins was among a dozen senators who recently sent a letter to the White House asking for the classified document in order to understand the “limits and boundaries” of policies allowing the government to target and kill U.S. citizens.
“It is vitally important, however, for Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets the limits and boundaries of this authority so that Congress and the public can decide whether this authority has been properly defined, and whether the president’s power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards,” the senators wrote in the letter.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that, according to aides, Brennan takes a more cautious approach to the use of drones than others in the CIA or military even though he has presided over a dramatic increase in the use of drones during his time as the White House’s counterterror adviser.
Fewer than 50 drone strikes took place during the Bush administration while more than 360 strikes have been launched under Obama, according to the website The Long War Journal, which tracks the operations.
Administration officials say Brennan would further limit the use of drones by the CIA and leave the majority of strikes to the military. Brennan signaled in his written answers that he would not seek to expand the CIA’s paramilitary operations.
“While the CIA needs to maintain a paramilitary capability … the CIA should not be used, in my view, to carry out traditional military activities,” Brennan wrote, referring to activities like the special operations raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.