Shelby: As President Obama’s former top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan is no stranger to national security.
President Obama: He literally built the National Counterterrorism Center and he knows the risks that our intelligence professionals face every day.
Shelby: But if confirmed as the Central Intelligence Agency’s new director, Brennan will have to face tough issues from the past.
John Brennan: I did not take steps to stop the CIA’s use of those techniques.
Shelby: Serving as a top CIA executive in the years after the September 11th attacks, Brennan witnessed one of the agency’s darkest decades.
After 9/11, America declared a ‘war on terror,’ and the intelligence community went into high gear capturing terrorist suspects both here and abroad, sending some of them to secret prisons and detention facilities, and using controversial methods to question some suspects – what many called torture. The goal was to prevent future attacks and to get information about terrorist networks. But the treatment of these prisoners prompted international outcry.
One of the biggest controversies involved enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs, that were approved by the CIA in 2002.
Ali Soufan: It starts, for example, with noise. A lot of noise. Then it goes to sleep deprivation. And then it goes to slapping – from one step to another. And then the last step is waterboarding.
Shelby: Waterboarding, which makes the person being questioned feel like they are drowning, was used on some of the most high-level detainees, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the believed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. He was waterboarded 183 times.
Supporters of enhanced techniques argue that though tough, the methods work and have lead us to some of the most wanted terrorists, like Osama bin Laden.
Dick Cheney: And it was stopped partly because of all of the controversy. How many people are you willing to let die so that you don’t offend your values?
Shelby: But opponents call the techniques torture and say they violate international laws and the moral values of the United States. And some in the intelligence community say the enhanced interrogation techniques don’t lead to accurate information because people will say anything under that kind of pressure.
Soufan: The key for successful interrogation, or interviews, is cooperation. I want the person to give me the truth. You have to understand the individual that you are talking to and just have a discussion and talk and play a poker mental game with them.
Shelby: The government says waterboarding was stopped in 2005. And President Obama officially banned the use of waterboarding and other harsh methods of interrogation in 2009.
President Obama: Waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture.
Shelby: While Brennan would not call waterboarding torture in a recent hearing, he did say it would not happen under his watch.
Brennan: Waterboarding is reprehensible and it’s something that should not be done.
Shelby: But Brennan’s agency, and the rest of the intelligence community, is still helping to fight America’s war on terror by spying on suspects, maintaining kill lists and using unmanned aircraft to target terrorists – topics these teens learned a lot about at the LeadAmerica conference on national security.
Chloe Maurice: A lot of people think of intelligence-gathering as kind of negative. We need to know what’s going on.
Matthew Lanman: A lot of people don’t realize how important it is to keep yourself safe.
Shelby: In order to do that, the U.S. is relying more and more on technology to help combat terrorists.
Chloe: A big matter is the drones. Drones are just little planes that you fly by computer. They’re remotely operated.
Shelby: And armed drones can carry out deadly strikes from far away.
Brennan: We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there’s no other alternative to taking an action that’s going to mitigate that threat.
Shelby: Brennan is considered an architect of America’s drone program, and the U.S. says armed drones have killed at least 22 top al-Qaeda leaders without the loss of any American lives.
But the drone strikes are also controversial. Human rights activists say that drone strikes aren’t always accurate and can kill innocent civilians.
A study by Stanford and New York Universities found that only 2% of killed targets were considered high level and that in the country of Pakistan alone, roughly a thousand civilians were killed between 2004 and 2012. More than one hundred were children.
And America’s use of drones is becoming a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.
A lot of today’s drone strikes are conducted by the CIA, but many are calling for more government oversight and regulation when it comes to these types of attacks.
Mark Stout: They’re being done by us, with our taxpayer’s dollars and in our names, and they can have an important impact on not only history, but also have important moral and ethical content, if you will.
Shelby: So, how much power should intelligence agencies have? That is a debate that could define the future, and future leaders, of national security.
Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.