streamed out of Cairo that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
may cede power to the Egyptian military this evening, several senior
administration officials happened to be testifying on Capitol Hill and were questioned
directly about the reports.
"Like you I have heard there's a strong likelihood
Mubarak will step down this evening," CIA Director Leon Panetta told the House Permanent Select Committee on
its first hearing under new chairmanMike Rogers (R-MI). A CIA spokesman quickly clarified that Panetta
was not independently confirming this fact.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, which is holding
its second hearing under new chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), refused to
comment on the latest reports regarding Mubarak. His opening statement before
the committee reiterated the administration's support for a gradual transition
in Egypt -- an idea that may soon be overtaken by events.
"Changes must come [in Egypt], but we must be
mindful that transitions can lead to chaos, or forms of intolerance, or backsliding
into authoritarianism," Steinberg said. "We are urging Egypt's government and
opposition to engage in serious and inclusive negotiations to arrive at a
timetable, game plan, and path to constitutional and political reform. And as
they do, we will support principles, processes, and institutions, not
Ros-Lehtinen was scathing in her criticism of the
Obama administration's handling of the crisis, arguing that it has not been supportive
enough of the protesters, that there was no contingency planning done by the
NSC to prepare for Mubarak's departure, and that the administration's policy
over the last two weeks has been constantly changing and unclear.
Steinberg acknowledged the difficulty of
establishing and then communicating a clear policy while the events on the
ground continued to unfold.
"What is critical as we see this unfolding dynamic
is that we remain in our principles, as well as the values and interests that
we bring forward, while remaining nimble to adapt to changing circumstances,"
he said. "It's a little bit like having a good game plan but also knowing when
to call an audible."
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy was originally scheduled
to testify at the hearing, but was removed from the list yesterday.
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground in Cairo
remains fluid. Egypt's
armed forces said on Thursday they have started taking
"necessary measures to protect the nation" and "support the
legitimate demands of the people."
Berman (D-CA), the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs
Committee, voiced the concerns of many in Congress about the role of the
Egyptian military and its intentions regarding democracy and transparency.
"Given the military's influence over
the regime - a regime that was born in the military, and whose entire
leadership is composed of military men -- the democratic transition will happen
if, and only if, the military does play a constructive role," he said.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
holds its first public hearing today, ushering in what new Republican chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) calls a new era of
bipartisan, apolitical, and aggressive oversight by a committee that had lost
its way over the past few years.
The first hearing will cover "World Wide Threats"
and will feature testimony from a host of top administration intelligence
officials, including Director
of National Intelligence James Clapper,
CIA Director Leon Panetta, National
Counterterrorism Center Director Michael
Leiter, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, FBI Director Robert
Mueller, and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Philip Goldberg.
down for an exclusive interview prior to the hearing with The Cable, during which he promised to reinvigorate the committee's
oversight and investigation activities, and use its panel to work with the
intelligence community to trim budgets and focus on new threats. He also said
that while he seeks harmony with the vast bureaucracy he's charged with overseeing,
he has some ideas of his own about how intelligence policy should change
What is your overall vision for how the committee should be set up, what it should
focus on, and what its attitude should be?
Mike Rogers: One of the main goals is to get the
committee back to its original roots. The partisan era of national security
should be the rare exception. Over the last few years, the committee has really
diminished in the eyes of the intelligence community as the place for national
security issues to be discussed, solved, and to conduct proper oversight.... We
want to be knowledgeable, we want to be responsive, we need to ask hard
questions, and it's ok to conduct thorough oversight. And if we get back to
doing that in a bipartisan or non-partisan way, we'll be doing the intelligence
community a real service.
JR: Where did the committee go wrong and what were
MR: I saw this in the Bush administration. When the
political rhetoric exceeded the bounds of the committee it had a negative
impact on the committee's ability to do its proper oversight. It became not
about true oversight of 17 intelligence agencies...it was the political flavor on
national security of the day. When that started, the committee stopped looking
as hard as it should have, even at the Bush administration.... It wasn't helpful
because it stopped us from asking hard questions.
JR: What are the trends in intelligence threats that
you see the committee focusing on?
MR: We have everything from a growing radicalization
here at home to a more integrated al Qaeda around the world. Finances have
merged, training events have merged, radicalization efforts have merged. Our
liaison partners have been damaged through public discourse of things better
left unsaid between nations.
WikiLeaks is a great example. We're going to have
work hard to regain the trust of our liaison partners overseas.... Cyber is huge.
We are going to come up with a policy or law on cybersecurity that will put us
in a much better place.... [House Speaker] John Boehner has made that commitment.
JR: How are you going to deal with the intelligence
budget and the intelligence authorization process?
MR: The military intelligence budget has not been
scrutinized the way it needs to be. I'm going to call it a scrub...in a way
that's not been done before. We haven't had an authorization bill in six years.
That's not going to happen anymore.... The [fiscal 2011] budget has to get done...that's
going to be clean of any policies. When we look at the policies, we're either
going to influence the policies by working with the intelligence communities at
senior levels, or we will legislate it: it may be a stand-alone bill, it may be
part of the defense bill; we'll do it that way.
JR: Are you looking to cut the intelligence budget?
MR: I've told the community that I will be the most
ardent protector of mission-essential funds. The last thing we want to do is
get to the same place we did in the 1990s where they cut mission-essential
funds so they actually couldn't perform at the level they should have been
performing at. I'm not going to let that happen. But that doesn't mean we can't
find efficiencies and savings in the intelligence budget. We're going to do
that in cooperation with the intelligence community.
JR: You've called for the intelligence bureaucracy
to be "rattled." What do you want to see happen to that bureaucracy?
MR: I think they have gotten the message. For years
this whole town was fighting against [the Office of the Director of National
Intelligence] from getting bigger. Director Clapper has gone through it and now
says ‘I have a plan and help me work through this plan to make the DNI more
effective.' At the end of the
day I think that will reduce the bureaucracy that we saw in the past.... It's not
just about giving him the first crack at this, he laid out a good plan and
we're going to be his partner.... It makes the mission more efficient, and when
you make it more efficient I think you'll see the bureaucracy get smaller.
JR: Do you plan to use the committee to investigate
the policies that led to the WikiLeaks disclosures?
MR: I think we would be irresponsible if we didn't
take a look at the policies that we engage in for information sharing. I've
found the happy medium [between the need to know and the need to share], it is ‘the
need to know with whom to share.'
JR: Do you still plan to try to get rid of the High
Value Interrogation Group as established by the Obama administration?
MR: I'm still a skeptic of the High Value Interrogation
Group. In the past, we haven't gotten all the information we need. I'm not sure
it's the best use of money and investment in people and we'll make that
determination in the next couple of months.
JR: Should laws that govern how the government can
collect private information, like the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act(CALEA), be expanded to include email
MR: The way we communicate is changing. As long as
it is consistent with due process, and I believe CALEA is, we have to do it. We
know bad guys are communicating through Facebook and online video games. It's
foolish for America not to keep pace with the changing way the world
JR: Who do you think is really running intelligence
policy in the Obama administration? John
Brenner? James Clapper? Leon Panetta? Someone else?
MR: We want to better understand that question. We
are going to ask questions and we are going to try to come to the conclusion inhow it is structured, how decisions
are being made -- and at the end of the day does the structure they have
created keep us more safe or less safe? If it's more safe, we're going to be
with [the administration], if we come to the conclusion that it's not keeping
us as safe as another way, we're going to seek some changes.