Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that she isn’t convinced there was a “credible threat” against Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s life that motivated the White House to keep its prisoner exchange plan secret from Congress.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. Thank you so much for being with us, Senator.
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: You’re welcome.
HUNT: This, the -- you and the rest of the Senate have had more briefings now on the Bergdahl exchange. From what you’ve been told, do you think that he -- his life was in serious jeopardy without an immediate release?
FEINSTEIN: Well, that’s hard for me to tell. I don’t think that was -- had a clear distinction in the briefing we’ve had. And there’s no question he was debilitated. There was no question he was under stress -- blinking rapidly, probably held in dark surroundings for a long period of time. I don’t know, but he’ll receive very good care and recover, and I think that’s what’s important.
HUNT: Let’s leave aside the question of legal requirements of the 30 day notice. The president didn’t even call you hours or a day beforehand, or any of the other intelligence committee members. Do you think that was because if there was a credible threat from the Taliban, as they say, that they would kill him if it were leaked? Do you think they just didn’t want to hear your response?
FEINSTEIN: No, I don’t think there was a credible threat, but I don’t know. I have no information that there was.
You see, this was a little different than most things, because there was a history to it. We were brought in in November 2011 --
HUNT: A long history.
FEINSTEIN: Yes. When this was part of a bigger effort. And that bigger effort was a reconciliation with the Taliban. And this was proposed as a confidence building measure. And the five would be kept under house arrest in Qatar, and a reconciliation effort begun.
Well, it was very clear at the time that the Taliban really want these five back. And of course history has verified that. We had some concerns then; it went into to 2012. The effort was apparently dropped because they couldn’t put together what was necessary to do it.
So there was an interest, an interest to the extent that we put in our 2012 authorization bill the 30 days’ consultation.
HUNT: 30 day, right.
FEINSTEIN: Which, that bill was signed in January of 2013 by the president, and to the best of our knowledge has no signing statement with it.
FEINSTEIN: So, we were under the impression that he would consult if it ever came up again. That’s what made this a little different than something else.
HUNT: There are two narratives about Sergeant Bergdahl. One was that he was a deserter, that he just left. The other was that he was a troubled man who occasionally wandered away and then came back, and as Dr. Rice said, served with honor and distinction.
You’ve had a chance to learn a fair amount about him. Which is the closer to the truth?
FEINSTEIN: I think, from what I know, that it’s kind of mixed. But, nonetheless, he’s an American soldier. He was lost, he was taken hostage. Whether he walked away, AWOL, meaning temporary, or permanently, meaning desertion, the army will figure out.
And they will investigate --
HUNT: They had an obligation to (INAUDIBLE).
FEINSTEIN: They have an absolute obligation. And the one thing I will say about the classified session we had is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Sandy Winnefeld, made very clear, crystal clear, that he was going to have justice, that the army was going to do the appropriate investigation, and the facts eventually will come out.
HUNT: Let me ask you, what were the other options if they didn’t do a prisoner exchange? The snatch and grab probably required some dealings with the Pakistani ISI. It was -- they have -- and we all know they have links, some links, to the Haqqani network. Was that a viable option?
FEINSTEIN: That was never discussed. It was never discussed back in 2011, 2012. So I can’t answer that.
HUNT: Well then, let me talk about what was -- happened, then. We’re getting out of Afghanistan. Do we have any -- and if we want to get this prisoner back, doesn’t it have to be an exchange of some sort?
FEINSTEIN: I would assume. And it -- or it might be something else. I had been very hopeful that the Afghans would be able to put together their peace initiative. As you know, President Karzai appointed a very distinguished Afghan by the name of Rabbani to head this peace effort, and he was murdered. And his son has taken over.
I have met with the son a couple of times, who is very sincere and very desiring of moving forward.
Now, this new administration under Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, I don’t know how they will proceed. But I am very worried about what happens when we pull out.
HUNT: Right. The five guys, the five Taliban guys, they’re bad guys. Almost everyone says that.
FEINSTEIN: That’s right.
HUNT: But you want to close Guantanamo --
HUNT: -- as does the president. They can’t be tried here in the United States most people say. So you didn’t want to send them immediately back to Afghanistan. What were the options to do -- that we could do with those --?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I don’t -- they haven’t been tried here. And they’ve been held for approximately 12 years, which is a long time. And this is the problem with Guantanamo, because it is the -- I’ve been there twice. Once with Secretary Rumsfeld and once with Senator McCain not too long ago. And it’s the kind of circumstance that’s going to take a human being and either harden him or crush him, in my view.
And I think, you know -- we have maximum security prisons in this country. We have hundreds of people who have either helped or committed acts of terror in those prisons. No one has ever escaped.
HUNT: (INAUDIBLE) close Guantanamo. I’m just wondering what we could have done with these five Taliban guys.
FEINSTEIN: What we could have done with them?
HUNT: Yes, what America could have done with them if we didn’t exchange them for Bergdahl (INAUDIBLE).
FEINSTEIN: Well, I don’t really know whether there’s evidence against them to prosecute them in a civilian court. I am of the view that, if there is, people should be prosecuted. And if there isn’t, people are released at the end of the war.
Now, the problem here is when is the end of the war? Is it under the AUMF, which is continuing because it’s a battle against al Qaeda and related organizations? Or does it end when we pull out? That’s still undefined, as far as I’m concerned.
HUNT: Let me ask you just one final question about the general concept of a swap for someone who’s held. There’s an American named Alan Gross who’s been in prison in Cuba. Should we consider swapping him for some of the Cuban spies that we have?
FEINSTEIN: Well, there are a number of Americans; there are two others in Afghanistan. One is a young couple with a baby. Senator Mikulski has spoken about them on two occasions that I have heard. They are apparently Marylanders. And I think they certainly ought to be part of any swap.
Now, that’s one thing, if there were some consultation, that could have been suggested, to get two Americans out. Senator Mikulski is very vociferous about it and I’m sure it would have come up. But there was no opportunity to do so, and that’s the 30 days, that you have an opportunity, if there are issues you want to raise or thoughts that might be helpful, actual, to the administration. Nobody knows everything.
HUNT: Yes. You crossed words earlier this year with CIA Director Brennan over the torture report, which you’ve now submitted to them. Is the CIA dragging its feet in -- in sending that back?
FEINSTEIN: Not to my knowledge. The person in charge is Director Clapper, and I’ve spoken with him a few weeks ago. And he’s assured me about -- that this would be very straightforward and that he hoped to have it available around the Fourth of July.
HUNT: Around the Fourth of July. The House passed its surveillance bill, which you are now taking up. What -- you’ve said you want to make some changes in it. What major changes would you make that would affect American companies (INAUDIBLE).
FEINSTEIN: OK, well, let me just say this about this bill. And this is the hard part about this whole 215 thing and, quote, surveillance. It is very misunderstood throughout America. And I just have to say that I think what the NSA done, has done, is important; it’s part of other programs.
I’ve been very worried about AQAP’s new bomb that goes through magnetometers. And there have been four efforts to smuggle a bomb into this country, which indicates that a plot would go along with the bomb. One was Abdulmutallab, two were found in printer cartridges in the Dubai airport, and the fourth was an asset that was able to get hold of the bomb and turn it over.
The engineer, the inventor, is still alive. This is a very serious thing. So we know there is still the intent to commit a major act in the United States. So how do we prevent it? There’s only one way: intelligence that enables us to disrupt that plot.
And that’s what this program was all about. It was carefully monitored; it was carefully controlled. Only 22 people had access to the queries. In 2012, there were 288 queries. There were 12 cases only sent to the FBI for a probable cause warrant. So it was very limited and very carefully controlled.
So I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding. Nonetheless, there are very strong feelings -- and I know the president now shares those feelings -- that the data should not be kept by the government. And that’s the most significant part of the House bill.
The House appeared, initially, to be very divided, Al. But you had two committees, intelligence and judiciary, and you had a 3:1 vote in the House, both Democrats and Republicans on this bill. That, to me, was a signal, if you want reform, if we can take the House bill, make some amendments to it, and pass it, it may well be that we can conference a bill.
And I’ve talked to the House chair, Congressman Rogers, and he said, “You send us a bill, and we’ll conference it right away.”
HUNT: Can you do it this summer?
FEINSTEIN: Well, it would have to be done sooner rather than later.
FEINSTEIN: Because obviously this is an election year. The answer to the question is I don’t know, but I think we should try.
HUNT: The intelligence committee chairman, Dianne Feinstein, thank you so much --
FEINSTEIN: You’re very welcome.
HUNT: -- for being with us today.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
HUNT: And when we return, we’ll talk more about the prisoner exchange and this week’s political primaries. We’ll be right back.
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