Interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein

Interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein

By John King, USA - June 9, 2011

KING: So let's discuss the dramatic changes and the challenges in the Middle East and North Africa with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. She leads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Senator, thank you for your time tonight. I want to start with Yemen. As we learn about more U.S. air strikes, more U.S. drone attacks, there is essentially a secret war going on in Yemen. Are you comfortable with that?

SENATOR DIANE FEINSTEIN (D), SELECT INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Well, let me put it this way. Yemen is a very serious concern. Between March and June, the al Qaeda has taken over large swaths of land. We know that Awlaki is in Yemen. We know that out of Yemen is the planning of the possibility of attack against the United States.

So there is a direct national security interest right now in Yemen and the more confusion and the more disintegration the better it suits al Qaeda's purposes. So I am very concerned about what's happening in Yemen.

And I think it would be in our best interests to provide as much stabilization as we can and also to go after those al Qaeda targets like Awlaki who we know are in Yemen.

KING: There was a drone strike in early may targeting Mr. Awlaki. How close did the United States come?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can't answer that. I don't believe -- well, I know he wasn't killed so that's all I can say.

KING: That's all you can say. What is your sense? Should the United States be accelerating these strikes now at a time of political uncertainty? We don't really quite know who's running the show in Yemen right now. Is this a time to step in and accelerate or is this a time to step back?

FEINSTEIN: I think this is a time to accelerate and try to take out the top al Qaeda targets. If we do that, we believe there will be a deterioration of al Qaeda. There really is no other thing that we can do right now, I believe.

You have to serve the interests of this nation, which is to protect our shores. Al Qaeda is the number one target. We have been able to take out Bin Laden. Now there's a number two, three, four, five and I believe the time is upon us to accomplish this mission.

KING: And what do you know? You have access to the intelligence. What do you know about what the United States believes will happen in Yemen? President Saleh is in Saudi Arabia being treated.

He has said through his people he expects to come back within days. We have from our sources reports that he has significant burning and it could be weeks if not months before he is capable of even trying to return. What do you know?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the thing I hear is that you are correct, that he is seriously injured. That it's going to take perhaps more than one surgery and that he is probably not going to be able to return for the next couple of months.

Now, that's the understanding and that's what I think also exacerbates the crisis, that we need to know that some semblance of order can be brought to Yemen and how we can be helpful in that regard.

KING: Is it your position that he should not return, period?

FEINSTEIN: I'm not going to make a statement there. But the statement I would make is there is every reason to have deep concern about Yemen. The al Qaeda groups, both Awlaki as well as other al Qaeda movers and shakers that are taking over territory, that are plotting and are planning and would carry out an attack against the united states, even perhaps around the anniversary of 9/11. So it is serious.

KING: Your friend, the CIA director and the soon-to-be defense secretary, Leon Panetta was on Capitol Hill today for his confirmation hearing.

As he moves over to the Defense Department, we are right now at day 83 since the NATO operations started in Libya. I want you to listen to Director Panetta, soon to be Secretary Panetta's assessment of the situation on the ground in Libya.


PANETTA: We have seen the opposition make gains both in the east and the west. I think there are some signs that if we continue the pressure, if we stick with it, that ultimately Gadhafi will step down.


KING: Senator, you hear Leon Panetta there say ultimately Gadhafi will step down. You have this remarkable situation in which NATO, with the United States blessing, is accelerating air strikes and everybody now publicly is saying they will keep bombing until Gadhafi leaves. When the United Nations resolution that authorized these military strikes says regime change is not the goal. FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm not going to get into that because Gadhafi is the beginning of all of this and he's also the end of it. There is no alternative other than Gadhafi leaving office. This is a bad man. He has not been good for his country and I think he ought to go.

And the president has very strongly said he ought to go. So I think efforts that are aimed at moving Mr. Gadhafi out of the country and out of his command and control areas, out of his palaces, are really very important to carry out now.

KING: And from a process standpoint, a constitutional standpoint, are you comfortable with how this has all played out. The president using his authority as commander in chief, saying he doesn't need the blessing of the Congress? Do you even as a matter of fact know how much is this costing the United States every day in Libya?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I don't have that figure.

KING: Should you have that figure?

FEINSTEIN: I'll get it. I'll get it. I think this, that there's a lot of discussion as to whether another authorization of use of force is necessary. Senator Kerry and McCain had a resolution, a sense of the Senate, which I am a co-sponsor of, which I would vote for if necessary.

I don't see, because we are playing such a subsidiary role now to NATO, that a real authorization of use of force is technically necessary. But this is an age-old dispute between White Houses and Congresses and probably will continue on. But if the Kerry-McCain legislation were to come up, I would certainly vote for it.

KING: Let me ask you lastly, as the leader of the Intelligence Committee, we hear these horrific reports coming out of Syria every day. We know there are refugees fleeing. We see these tapes that are put out by opponents of what we know to be a brutal regime, talking about children being tortured.

But we can't get in there independently with our own reporters. So sometimes we're not sure exactly what is happening inside Syria. How good is U.S. intelligence about what is happening on the ground inside Syria right now?

FEINSTEIN: I don't see much intelligence on what's happening on the ground in Syria, to be candid with you. I see more on television. And I too, as CNN has played, see people trying to escape to Syria -- from Syria to the border with Turkey.

The question is I think how broad and deep this is. I think the question also is can Mr. Assad assure his people that he can take the steps that are necessary to quell this?

I don't believe that this insurrection is going to go away. I think it's only going to grow stronger and so really it's up to Mr. Assad to do what is necessary to satisfy the people he represents.

KING: And then should an administration that said Mubarak must go, Gadhafi must go, Saleh should not return, say Assad must go?

FEINSTEIN: I think Assad must go. I think that's right.

KING: You believe -- should the Obama administration make that its policy, though? It's not right now.

FEINSTEIN: I understand it is not right now and I don't know whether the policy makes a big difference or not. You asked me for my opinion and I gave it to you.

KING: Senator Dianne Feinstein is the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator, thank you for your time tonight.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.


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