FEINSTEIN URGES OBAMA TO KEEP INTELLIGENCE PANEL IN THE LOOP@<
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By CAROLYN LOCHHEAD@
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Washington Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Thursday that Americans have no reason to fear drone attacks from their own government, but warned the Obama administration that it must better inform the Intelligence Committees about its secret activities.
"I can tell you there is a very strong feeling on both sides of the aisle that the committee is not getting the information it needs" to conduct proper oversight, Feinstein said in a floor speech just before the Senate voted 63-34 to confirm John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The California Democrat chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"We have seen what happens when ... the committee doesn't have access to and full knowledge of intelligence, like with Iraq weapons of mass destruction before the war, or with the CIA's detention and interrogation program through the past administration," Feinstein said.
"When we are briefed, we can provide input and advice," she said. "We can work to put an end to ill-advised plans and we can give the intelligence community a measure of support and we can defend its actions."
Only this week did the administration show the committee the Justice Department's legal opinions supporting the targeted killings of suspected terrorists overseas, clearing the way for Brennan's confirmation.
Feinstein called Brennan a "straight shooter," but worried about the adequacy of Congressional oversight. She said members meet behind closed doors for at least four hours a week to pour over classified documents, and are not allowed to take notes or documents home. A 12-year veteran of th panel, she said it takes years for members to understand how the intelligence agencies operate.
Because of the secrecy, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees act as one of the few brakes on the administration, she said, because the press, outside groups and federal agencies such as the General Accountability Office do not have access to classified information.
Feinstein also said there were no grounds for Kentucky Republican Rand Paul's nearly 13-hour old-fashioned filibuster against Brennan's nomination Wednesday, in which Paul demanded that the administration deny that it has the authority to conduct drone strikes on U.S. soil against U.S. citizens.
"This will never happen in the United States of America; this is not permitted in the United States of America," Feinstein said. The federal government has many legal means "to ferret out individuals," Feinstein said. "Drones will never be used in the United States of America, not if I have anything to do with it."
She did leave open the possibility of using military means to strike terrorists in a situation such as Sept. 11, 2001 when "three airliners were hijacked and driven into three large buildings."
Paul said during his marathon speech that if the administration claimed authority to strike terrorists on U.S. soil, it could have targeted nearly any college campus during the 1960s. "Are you going to drop a drone, a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?" Paul asked, referring to the actress who was active in the 1960s antiwar movement.
In a letter, Attorney General Eric Holder said that in "extraordinary circumstances," such as the 9/11 attacks or the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, "it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States."
Paul relented after Holder assured him in writing, "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no."
Feinstein teamed with Paul last year in a failed effort to strip provisions from the defense bill which allow the military to detain indefinitely without trial U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. Feinstein plans another attempt this year.
Carolyn Lochhead is the San Francisco Chronicle's Washington correspondent.