Hearing Type: 
Date & Time: 
Wednesday, June 9, 2021 - 2:30pm
Hart 216

Full Transcript

[Senate Hearing 117-84]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]

                                                         S. Hrg. 117-84

                      OPEN HEARING: NOMINATIONS OF
                              ROBIN ASHTON
                     TO BE INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE
                      CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY;
                           CHRISTINE ABIZAID
                         TO BE DIRECTOR OF THE



                               BEFORE THE


                                 OF THE

                          UNITED STATES SENATE


                             FIRST SESSION


                        WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9, 2021


      Printed for the use of the Select Committee on Intelligence

        Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.govinfo.gov

                    U.S. GOVERNMENT PUBLISHING OFFICE                    
45-489 PDF                 WASHINGTON : 2022                     

           [Established by S. Res. 400, 94th Cong., 2d Sess.]

                   MARK R. WARNER, Virginia, Chairman
                  MARCO RUBIO, Florida, Vice Chairman

DIANNE FEINSTEIN, California         RICHARD BURR, North Carolina
RON WYDEN, Oregon                    JAMES E. RISCH, Idaho
ANGUS KING, Maine                    ROY BLUNT, Missouri
MICHAEL F. BENNET, Colorado          TOM COTTON, Arkansas
BOB CASEY, Pennsylvania              JOHN CORNYN, Texas

                  CHUCK SCHUMER, New York, Ex Officio
                 MITCH McCONNELL, Kentucky, Ex Officio
                  JACK REED, Rhode Island, Ex Officio
                   JAMES INHOFE, Oklahoma, Ex Officio
                     Michael Casey, Staff Director
                  Brian Walsh, Minority Staff Director
                   Kelsey Stroud Bailey, Chief Clerk
                           C O N T E N T S


                              JUNE 9, 2021

                           OPENING STATEMENTS


Warner, Hon. Mark R., a U.S. Senator from Virginia...............     1
Rubio, Hon. Marco, a U.S. Senator from Florida...................     3


Coats, Dan, former U.S. Senator from Indiana, and former Director 
  of National Intelligence.......................................     4
    Letter of support for the nomination of Christine Abizaid....     7
    Letter of support for the nomination of Robin Ashton.........    10
Ashton, Robin, Nominated to be Inspector General of the Central 
  Intelligence Agency............................................    11
    Prepared statement...........................................    14
Abizaid, Christine, Nominated to be Director of the National 
  Counterterrorism Center........................................    17
    Prepared statement...........................................    19

                         SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL

Nomination material for Robin Ashton
    Questionnaire for Completion by Presidential Nominees........    42
    Additional Pre-Hearing Questions.............................    60
    Post-Hearing Questions.......................................    81
Nomination material for Christine Abizaid
    Questionnaire for Completion by Presidential Nominees........    84
    Additional Pre-Hearing Questions.............................   104
    Post-Hearing Questions.......................................   126

                      OPEN HEARING: NOMINATIONS OF
                              ROBIN ASHTON
                     TO BE INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE
                      CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY;
                           CHRISTINE ABIZAID
                         TO BE DIRECTOR OF THE


                        WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9, 2021

                                       U.S. Senate,
                          Select Committee on Intelligence,
                                                    Washington, DC.
    The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:30 p.m., in 
Room SH-216 in the Hart Senate Office Building, Hon. Mark R. 
Warner (Chairman of the Committee) presiding.
    Present: Senators Warner, Rubio, Wyden, Heinrich, King, 
Bennet, Casey, Gillibrand (via WebEx), Burr, Blunt, Cotton, 
Cornyn, and Sasse.


    Chairman Warner. I'd like to call this hearing to order and 
welcome our witnesses and our extraordinarily distinguished 
    My apologies to our witnesses. This is a slightly unusual 
time for the Committee to meet. And so there will be a number 
of Members joining us midstream.
    I welcome to our nominees Christine Abizaid and Robin 
Ashton. I believe Robin's husband is here, Dr. Yves Rosenberg. 
And Ms. Abizaid's wife is also here, Jill Murphy. So glad that 
your family members are here.
    Congratulations on your respective nominations to serve as 
Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, and 
as Inspector General of the CIA.
    Welcome, not only to the members of your family that are 
here, but those members who are here remotely.
    Let me also say on behalf of all of the Committee Members, 
we really want to welcome back our good friend, former 
Committee Member, former Director of National Intelligence, Dan 
Coats, who will be introducing Ms. Ashton.
    So, Dan, it is absolutely great to see you. And you can see 
the news that you were coming in here to introduce a witness 
really got all the Members back.
    So these are both key positions in the Nation's 
Intelligence Community at a time of significant challenges and 
also opportunities for our Nation. Both of you have 
distinguished records of national service.
    Ms. Ashton, the job of Inspector General is critical to the 
effective operation of any agency. And should you be confirmed, 
I think as history has shown, you're going to have one of the 
most important roles at the CIA, because independent and 
impartial Inspectors General help to ensure there is robust 
oversight of an agency that by necessity undertakes its most 
effective and important work in secrecy.
    By statute, the CIA Inspector General is expressly mandated 
to report not only to the Director, but also to this Committee, 
which made it specifically accountable to Congress. This is 
necessary that we are able to conduct robust oversight of the 
    This Committee relies upon the Inspectors General of the 
intelligence agencies to ensure that the IC organizations are 
both using taxpayer dollars wisely, conducting their activities 
within the rule and spirit of the law, and supporting and 
protecting whistleblowers who report waste, fraud, and abuse.
    I enjoyed our recent meeting. I believe you would bring 
significant experience to the role of CIA Inspector General, 
given your more than 30 years' experience at the Department of 
Justice, including head of the Department's Office of 
Professional Responsibility, two decades as an Assistant U.S. 
Attorney for the District, and given your recent role as a 
Principal Deputy IG of the Intelligence Community.
    I normally ask nominees for this important post--
    [Audio interruption from unknown source: Yes, okay, so now 
you see now I have--]
    Vice Chairman Rubio. At least it wasn't in Russian.
    Chairman Warner. At least it wasn't in Russian this time.
    I was going to say that we normally ask IGs, will they 
speak truth to power? But truthfully, you have shown that 
record and your willingness to do so and that you will not give 
in to pressure. That is critically important, and we will need 
you to maintain that I think critically important record if you 
are confirmed, and I hope you will be, when you take on the 
role of IG for the CIA.
    One more thing I forgot to mention: you would be the first 
Senate-confirmed IG at the CIA in seven years. This has been 
way too long for this important post. And I'd like to hear your 
ideas about what you hope you can accomplish in this key role 
in assuming and running this important office. Ms. Ashton, 
thank you again for being here and agreeing to take on this 
serious responsibility.
    Ms. Abizaid, congratulations on your nomination. You also 
bring significant experience to your position: as Deputy 
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and 
Central Asia; on the National Security Council; in the private 
sector; and for over a decade as a senior counterterrorism 
intelligence officer at the DIA. You've obviously had a number 
of other roles.
    NCTC, as you know, was created in the wake of September 11, 
2001, to connect the dots and ensure that a terrorist attack 
like 9/11 never occurs again on our soil. Twenty years on, 
although we are increasingly focused on great power 
competition, our terrorist adversaries continue to operate 
globally and aspire to attack U.S. interests.
    Those of us on this Committee know that plots continue to 
evolve every day. American interests, allies, and our military 
men and women deployed remain terrorist targets. And 
unfortunately, because of those actions, some of them don't 
make it back to their families.
    ISIS is still a threat around the world, not just in Syria. 
Moreover, the dangerous ideologies of violent extremism, 
whether jihadist or white supremacists, continue to draw 
followers around the globe and to inspire attacks against 
innocent civilians.
    As well, we know Al Qaida also remains a threat. I'm 
concerned that as U.S. forces draw down in Afghanistan and have 
already withdrawn from Somalia, it will become more difficult 
to gain actionable intelligence on terrorists who still operate 
in these locations. So I'd welcome your thoughts on how the CT 
mission will be undertaken, especially after the Afghan 
withdrawal is complete. I look forward to understanding how you 
would define success should you be confirmed and what role with 
this changing threat environment as well as the, I think, 
appropriate focus on our traditional great power adversaries, 
how NCTC will evolve in this world.
    Now, after the Vice Chairman and I give our opening 
statements, Director Coats will say a few words and then our 
witnesses will be given their statements. After this, Members' 
questions will be five minutes in order of seniority.
    Again, thank you both for agreeing to step forward. I look 
forward to your testimony. And I now recognize the 
distinguished Vice Chairman.


    Vice Chairman Rubio. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    I want to thank both of our nominees for being here today, 
for their willingness to serve in these critical capacities. I 
also want to join the Chairman in thanking Ms. Ashton's 
husband, Ms. Abizaid's wife, for your willingness to also be 
supportive of this. We all know these jobs involve the strong 
support of family in that regard. And so we're grateful to all 
of you for your willingness to step forward and your enthusiasm 
for the roles that you're about to fulfill, if confirmed.
    Let me just say, on Director Coats, I told him this earlier 
when I saw him. I said he looked substantially more relaxed and 
much better than he did the last time we had him sitting at 
that table a couple years ago. So life is good. And we're 
always happy to see you around again. We have tremendous 
respect for you and everyone on the Committee that served with 
you does.
    The National Counterterrorism Center was established 
obviously after 9/11 to ensure better communication and 
coordination among the agencies by analyzing and integrating 
all the intelligence possessed or acquired by our government 
pertaining to terrorism and to counterterrorism. A key in that 
language--and that threat remains, even now--as Ms. Abizaid and 
I had a brief conversation about this. Even now, as we focus on 
the growing great power competition, we cannot forget that the 
threat from terrorism remains and exists.
    My own home state of Florida has been impacted by it both 
in Pensacola and almost five years ago today in Orlando, 
Florida. So we know that this continues to be an ongoing 
threat. It's an important enterprise.
    But it's interesting that--and as we read through the 
language that created it--it's very clear that it pertains to 
terrorism and counterterrorism, accepting intelligence 
pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorists and domestic 
counterterrorism. And that's an important topic for two 
reasons, number one, because we do have a domestic terror 
problem of individuals who've been radicalized and take action, 
and that needs to be confronted. I don't know of anyone who 
would dispute that.
    The question is, what role do our foreign-geared 
intelligence agencies play in that regard? Because as we've 
discussed, you know, some of the more troubling moments in the 
history of our intelligence agencies has been when they've been 
turned against a solely domestic threat.
    So it's a balancing act we're going to have to work 
through. And I know there'll be some questions about that. 
Remaining focused on that mission is particularly important, 
because I said that the counterterrorism threat is there and 
that work continues, needs to continue to happen.
    Ms. Ashton, I look forward to hearing about how you'll lead 
the IG's office and your vision for a productive and beneficial 
working relationship with this Committee. Our oversight role 
and your role that you've been nominated to fill, they share a 
lot of the same goals. And so as I expressed to you when we 
met, I think one of the most important things this Committee 
always aspires to is, particularly when a complaint rises to a 
level of significance that we should learn about, it's 
important for this Committee to know about that.
    And I think you'll find that in that regard this is a 
Committee that takes its oversight role very seriously in 
matters that could undermine the important work that occurs at 
the Agency.
    So, again, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you all for being 
here. We look forward to hearing your testimony and your 
answers to our questions.
    Chairman Warner. Thank you, Senator Rubio.
    I now recognize the distinguished former Member of this 
Committee and former Director of National Intelligence Dan 
Coats for his statement.


    Senator Coats. Well, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you very 
much for the introduction of me. It is an honor for me to be 
here today to introduce Robin Ashton as President Biden's 
nominee for the position of Inspector General at the Central 
Intelligence Agency.
    Given my previous membership on this Committee, in term as 
Director of National Intelligence, I'm keenly aware of the key 
role played by Inspectors General.
    I want to say to my colleagues, though, it's nice to be 
back. As a private citizen, I want you to know that any 
interactions or conversations that we have had while I was a 
Member of the Committee will be classified for as long as I 
live. I just want to assure people here. But it's fun to be 
back here with you. And I do think that it was much easier 
being up there than a witness down here. Robin is someone that 
I think is an extraordinary individual with an extraordinary 
    And if you have had the opportunity to look through her 
professional employment as a public servant, it is remarkable. 
Her journey is amazing. And if you haven't had the chance to 
read it--I'm sure your staff has--but I urge you to. If you 
have any questions about her qualities and capabilities, look 
through what she has accomplished in her life, which is 
    I would like to spend just a moment or two discussing my 
personal experience working with Robin during her time as 
Deputy IC IG. Robin played a very important role in proving the 
functioning of the IC IG office in her time there. Furthermore, 
she demonstrated exactly the characteristics desired in an 
Inspector General.
    Her first and foremost priority was always to promote the 
efficient operation of the ODNI and the broader Intelligence 
Community. She worked collaboratively with me and my senior 
leaders and the team to identify and correct issues related to 
the ODNI. Of course, there's often some tension between 
agencies and their Inspector Generals. And Robin was never 
afraid to challenge me and my team when she felt there were 
areas where we should be doing more to ensure the proper 
functioning of the ODNI and the IC.
    I always felt that she approached every issue in an honest 
and fair way, with the best interests of the ODNI Intelligence 
Community at heart. And given my experience with working with 
her and her exceptional capabilities, I have no doubt that 
should she be confirmed her integrity, professionalism, and 
independence to perform her duties of the CIA Inspector General 
will be done with distinction.
    Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to introduce 
this exceptional nominee for CIA Inspector General.
    Chairman Warner. Well, thank you, Director Coats. Senator 
Rubio and I were talking that the last time I believe you 
testified before this Committee, you did it with such 
straightforwardness and forthrightness that you very soon lost 
your job. So I hope your testimony today does not result in the 
same actions now that you're back as a private citizen.
    But, Dan, it is always great to see you. You know, as an 
alumnus of this Committee that you are somebody who we all have 
enormous respect for, both from your time on the Committee, but 
particularly for your steadfast role as DNI. We thank you for 
your service. And it's great, great to see you.
    Thank you, Sir.
    Senator Coats. Thank you.
    Chairman Warner. I now ask unanimous consent that the 
letters of support for the nominees received by the Committee 
be entered into the record.
    [No response.]
    Without objection.
    [Letters of support for the Witnesses follow:]
    With that, we'll proceed to administering the oath. Will 
the witnesses please stand and raise your right hand?
    Do you solemnly swear to give this Committee the truth, the 
full truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
    Ms. Abizaid. Yes.
    Ms. Ashton. I do.
    Chairman Warner. Please be seated.
    Before we move to your opening statements, I'll ask you to 
answer five standard questions the Committee poses to each 
nominee who appears before us. They require a simple yes or no 
for the record.
    First, do you agree to appear before the Committee here or 
in other venues when invited?
    Ms. Abizaid. Yes.
    Ms. Ashton. I do.
    Chairman Warner. If confirmed, do you agree to send 
officials from your office to appear before the Committee and 
designated staff when invited?
    Ms. Abizaid. Yes.
    Ms. Ashton. Yes.
    Chairman Warner. Do you agree to provide documents or any 
other materials requested by the Committee in order for it to 
carry out its oversight and legislative responsibilities?
    Ms. Abizaid. Yes.
    Ms. Ashton. Yes.
    Chairman Warner. Will you ensure that your office and your 
staff provide such materials to the Committee when requested?
    Ms. Abizaid. Yes.
    Ms. Ashton. Yes.
    Chairman Warner. Do you agree to inform and fully brief to 
the fullest extent possible all Members of this Committee of 
intelligence activities and covert actions, rather than only 
the Chairman and Vice Chairman?
    Ms. Abizaid. Yes.
    Ms. Ashton. Yes.
    Chairman Warner. Thank you very much. We'll now proceed to 
your opening statements, after which I'll recognize Members by 
seniority for up to five minutes each.
    Ms. Ashton, are you going first?
    Ms. Ashton. Yes, Sir.


    Ms. Ashton. Good afternoon. Chairman Warner, Vice Chairman 
Rubio, and Members of the Intelligence Committee, it is an 
honor to appear before you as President Biden's nominee to be 
the Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency. I am 
grateful to President Biden for placing his trust and 
confidence in me to lead this important office.
    If confirmed, I would be honored to work with all of you 
and with the courageous, hard-working, and remarkable people of 
the CIA, including Director Burns and Deputy Director Cohen. I 
will strive each day to justify the trust placed in me and to 
uphold the highest standards of the office.
    I am also deeply grateful to Dan Coats for his generous 
introduction. His long history of dedicated public service is 
not only impressive, but truly inspiring.
    I would like to recognize my family and friends who are 
here today or watching remotely, especially my husband of 26 
years, Dr. Yves Rosenberg, my children, Jack and Juliette 
Rosenberg, and my sister, Ann Riopelle. The love and support of 
my family and friends has been invaluable to me over the years, 
as they have taught me through their examples how to weather 
the bad times and cherish the good.
    As noted in my pre-hearing materials, I have spent nearly 
35 years in public service, holding numerous positions across 
both Republican and Democratic administrations, including as a 
Federal prosecutor working in the U.S. Attorney's office in the 
District of Columbia, as the Director of the Department of 
Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility, and as the 
Principal Deputy Inspector General of the Intelligence 
    Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of 
serving alongside hard-working Federal employees in numerous 
capacities, the administrative and personnel staffs, lawyers 
and paralegals, agents and law enforcement officers, 
investigators and analysts, as well as those who clean the 
offices and work in the cafeterias, security personnel, and 
countless others. They all come to work day after day knowing 
that they will probably never be publicly recognized for their 
tireless efforts. They work hard not for recognition, but 
because they derive satisfaction from working on a shared 
    After 35 years, I am still inspired by these dedicated 
public servants whom I am so fortunate to call my friends, my 
colleagues, and my mentors. Their honorable service and 
countless acts of kindness toward me and others have taught me 
how to be a better public servant and a better person.
    I know that the brave officers of the CIA have also 
demonstrated this extraordinary and selfless commitment to 
public service, and I would be honored to work with them.
    However, when you review my resume and hear me speak about 
my decades-long career as a lawyer in the Federal Government, 
you cannot fully glean who I am as a person. Before I could 
embark on my rewarding legal career, I first had to work my way 
through both college and law school by holding numerous, often 
grueling jobs, as an assembly line worker with the Ford Motor 
Company in the Detroit area, as a waitress, and as a custodian 
working the night shift at the University of Michigan Hospital.
    These tough jobs taught me a number of valuable lessons 
about hard work and respecting those who do these demanding 
jobs every day, perhaps the most significant being that someone 
punching the clock at the start of a long shift or wearing a 
waitress's or custodian's uniform deserves the same level of 
respect as everyone else, if not more. These experiences have 
impacted every part of my life, my way of thinking, and the way 
I view myself and my responsibility toward others.
    Living paycheck to paycheck also taught me that the tax 
dollars of hard-working Americans should not be squandered. I 
therefore believe that Inspectors General hold some of the most 
important positions in the Federal Government. It is through 
their efforts that waste, fraud, and abuse, as well as 
mismanagement, abuses of authority, and unlawful practices can 
be and are detected and prevented and systemic solutions can be 
and are found.
    If confirmed, I will treat my responsibility to identify 
and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse with the seriousness it 
deserves. I will highlight the CIA's incredible strengths, 
while also identifying areas that could benefit from 
modification or improvement.
    I sincerely believe that the American people desire and 
deserve a government that is effective and accountable. It is 
important to acknowledge the critical role whistleblowers play 
in ensuring a responsible and honest government. They are often 
the first people to witness or learn about wasteful practices 
or possible wrongdoing. Because members of the Intelligence 
Community must work in a classified environment in which 
information about intelligence programs and activities is not 
available for public review, their duty and ability to lawfully 
disclose information regarding potential wrongdoing is critical 
to the oversight process.
    I know this Committee supports whistleblowers. If 
confirmed, I commit to ensuring that the CIA continues to have 
an effective whistleblower program. Those who demonstrate the 
personal ethics and moral courage to bring concerns forward 
must not fear or suffer from reprisal for speaking up.
    I deeply respect this Committee's important oversight role. 
I appreciated the opportunity to meet with many of you before 
this hearing so that I could answer your questions, listen to 
your concerns, and learn from your insights. If confirmed, I 
pledge to work with this and other intelligence oversight 
committees in an open and productive way as we engage in our 
shared effort to ensure continued efficiency, effectiveness, 
and accountability in the programs and activities of the CIA.
    I am truly honored to be here today. Thank you for your 
consideration of my nomination. I look forward to answering 
your questions.
    [The prepared statement of Ms. Ashton follows:]
    Chairman Warner. Thank you, Ms. Ashton.
    Ms. Abizaid, before I call on you, I should note that, when 
we agreed to commit for the record letter of recommendation, 
Ms. Abizaid has received endorsements from four prior NCTC 
directors, which I'd urge Committee Members to review.


    Ms. Abizaid. Chairman Warner, Vice Chairman Rubio, Members 
of the Committee, it is a privilege to appear before you today 
to be considered for the role of Director of the National 
Counterterrorism Center. I am both honored and humbled by this 
opportunity to return to government service, the Intelligence 
Community, and the counterterrorism field.
    I want to thank President Biden and Director Haines for 
their confidence in my ability to lead the center and to help 
steer the United States' counterterrorism enterprise at this 
critical stage.
    I want to especially thank my wife for her love and 
support. Without her encouragement, I would not be here today. 
If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, the burden of keeping 
our lives running smoothly will fall more squarely on her 
shoulders even as she pursues her own demanding career.
    To our son, what your future holds is in its own way 
motivation to serve again. We will raise you to value sacrifice 
for your countrymen just as we both were raised.
    Along those lines, I would like to recognize my family for 
being such a compelling example of public service. My father 
served for more than 30 years as an officer in the United 
States Army and later as a diplomat. Growing up, I was always 
proud of him and the uniform that he wore.
    But it was not until I began my own career at the Defense 
Intelligence Agency that I got to know my father by his 
professional reputation, as the highly decorated, deeply 
respected, brilliant, and battle-tested soldier that he is.
    My mother also served as an Army and State Department 
spouse. Her ability to navigate the everyday chaos of Army life 
with calm, optimism, and grit was an inspiration to me. She is 
the foundation of our close-knit family.
    The example she and my father set for me and my siblings 
encouraged our own forms of service. My brother enlisted in the 
Army after high school, and 9/11 was supposed to be his first 
day of boot camp. And I stand in awe of my sister's resilience 
as an Army wife in the post-9/11 era. She and her husband, an 
Army officer and Ranger, have been separated by near constant 
deployment cycles since 2001.
    While he commands on the front lines, she leads on the home 
front, guiding and inspiring Ranger families in addition to her 
    For my own part, my years of government service were 
squarely rooted in the attacks on 9/11. And while it has been 
several years since I was last part of the CT community, even 
from the outside, it is clear that the terrorist threat to 
Americans and U.S. interests persists. This is not to say it is 
unchanged. It has evolved significantly in the last two 
decades. The threat from groups like Al Qaida and the Islamic 
state is in some ways diminished, but it is also more diffuse, 
active across an ever broadening geographic terrain. These 
groups appear less organized against the homeland, but also 
more technologically sophisticated, leveraging social media 
platforms to widen their appeal.
    Meanwhile, the threat from other terrorist elements remains 
urgent, whether posed by domestic violent extremists, Iranian-
sponsored proxies, racially motivated terrorists, or others, we 
must not lose sight of the diversity of the threats that 
confront the United States.
    Now, while terrorism does remain a challenge, I believe our 
country's ability to address it is unmatched. Reforms after 9/
11, including those led by Members of this Committee, created a 
counterterrorism and homeland security enterprise that is 
agile, collaborative, and proactive in mitigating threats to 
the United States.
    In particular, the creation of the National 
Counterterrorism Center in 2004 institutionalized the 
integration of CT-related intelligence and has since been a key 
enabler of the United States' ability to holistically address 
the evolving threats to our interests. American citizens, they 
have done their part, too. I believe today we are a country 
more resilient in the face of terrorism than at any time in our 
    This mature CT capability is even more important at a time 
of heightened strategic competition, especially related to 
China, rising cybersecurity threats, and a technological 
revolution that will present both challenges and opportunities. 
It is in this environment that the counterterrorism capability 
we have invested in so steadfastly over the years must be both 
effective and efficient in protecting our country.
    And this is doubly true for an organization like NCTC, 
purpose-built to prevent, detect, and deter threats to the 
United States.
    In closing, I would like to acknowledge the great 
contribution of all of our national security professionals, but 
especially those at the National Counterterrorism Center. It 
would be a distinct honor to lead the men and women who make up 
the center who have so selflessly devoted their lives to 
protecting the Nation and who have asked for their family's 
support in doing so. If confirmed as their director, I commit 
to doing everything in my power to ensure these public servants 
have the tools and capabilities necessary to succeed.
    I further commit to ensuring that NCTC fulfills its duty to 
protect the United States with the utmost integrity and a deep 
appreciation for the trust that has been placed in it by the 
American people.
    Finally, I commit to working with this Committee, among 
others, to keep Congress fully and currently informed of the 
center's activities so that you can discharge your critical 
oversight responsibilities on behalf of the Nation.
    Thank you again for this opportunity to appear before you 
today. I look forward to your questions.
    [The prepared statement of Ms. Abizaid follows:]
    Chairman Warner. Thank you both.
    For planning purposes, any Members of the Committee who 
wish to submit questions for the record after today's hearing, 
please do so by 5 p.m. this Friday, June 11th. And then we'll 
be recognizing Members for five minutes in order of seniority.
    Ms. Ashton, first of all, again, I enjoyed our time 
visiting. And appreciated your presentation both in terms of 
your background and obviously your caring for your colleagues. 
And I think that's part of the role of the IG is to not only 
ferret out waste and abuse, but be that independent voice that 
can listen to your colleagues should they see inappropriate 
    I was going to ask you a question about the role of 
whistleblowers, but the truth is you've already shown your 
protection and your willingness to stand up for whistleblowers. 
As a matter of fact, that also cost you your job as a Principal 
Deputy IG over the last few years. So I have great faith in 
your commitment to the whistleblower program.
    So my question, instead, is we've not had a Senate-
confirmed IG at the CIA for seven years. There are concerns 
particularly from the last administration about a White House 
that often ignored the recommendations of the intel community.
    And with as much specificity as possible, recognizing you 
haven't got into this job yet, what steps can you take to both 
restore the morale and that sense of purpose of the workforce 
at the Agency and within specifically the Office of the IG?
    Ms. Ashton. Well, thank you, Senator Warner. It was a 
distinct pleasure for me to be able to meet with you the other 
day. And I enjoyed our discussion very much. And I appreciated 
your insights on a number of topics.
    I was able when I was the Principal Deputy Inspector 
General for the Intelligence Community to meet many people in 
the CIA. And I felt very fortunate to be able to work with them 
on a lot of different projects. So I very much look forward, if 
I'm confirmed, to being able to meet the people in the Office 
of the Inspector General.
    And I very much look forward to establishing a relationship 
with them that I think is so important, because I think that I 
have to lead by example, so that when they come to me with 
concerns inside of the Office of Inspector General, I listen to 
them and I allow dissent and I allow them to be heard.
    So, first, I have to establish that kind of trustful 
relationship with my own people. I might be viewed as somewhat 
of an outsider because I spent most of my career in the 
Department of Justice, but I found that when I came to the 
Intelligence Community for the first time and started my role 
as the Principal Deputy Inspector General for the Intelligence 
Community, the people there were so welcoming. They allowed me 
to enter their world, which was quite new for me, and they 
helped me learn from them.
    And I think that'll be very important when I go, if I'm 
confirmed to the Inspector General's office for CIA, that I let 
them know I want to learn from them. Many of these people that 
I will be working with, if I'm confirmed, have spent their 
whole careers in the CIA. And I will respect that. I will look 
forward to working with them and learning from them.
    And I also just think that it's so crucial when you're 
talking about morale to let people know how much I personally 
respect what they've done with their lives, what they're doing, 
what their mission is, and that I will always defend them when 
they are doing the right thing and working so hard and 
tirelessly. I will protect them and defend them in appropriate 
    Another thing that I've done that really helped morale--
actually, it wasn't me doing it--but the Inspector General and 
I invited people, for example, from this Committee to speak to 
our employees at the Inspector General's Office. And for 
example, Senator King spoke at one of our biggest conferences, 
hundreds of people from the Intelligence Community, and we had 
a senator from this Committee speaking to them, and it meant so 
much to people, because that message of what you do is 
important to us. We're joined as partners in the oversight 
process. That resonated and it meant a lot to the people.
    And another thing is that Mr. Coats, as the Director of 
National Intelligence, came and spoke to our people, as well, 
and again emphasized how important the partnership is between 
leadership in the Agency itself and with these people in the 
Office of Inspector General.
    So I think all of these things are important in 
establishing a good morale. But if I'm confirmed, if I'm so 
fortunate to be confirmed, I look forward to working with the 
amazingly gifted and talented people of the CIA.
    Chairman Warner. Thank you, ma'am.
    And, Ms. Abizaid, I will get you on the next round. Senator 
    Vice Chairman Rubio. Well, Ms. Abizaid, we had an 
opportunity to talk about this. It's a tricky issue, right, 
because of this domestic violent extremist issue. I don't think 
there's any dispute that these people out there--they're 
dressed up like GI Joe and they think they're going to go out 
and attack people in the political class or storm the Capitol 
or any other government building. I don't think anyone would 
dispute they should be arrested for that. They should be put in 
    You know, my concern, obviously, is any time, if you look 
at the history of the Intelligence Community, some of its most 
troubling moments are when our intelligence capabilities were 
used to target Americans. And both Republican and Democratic 
presidents did that, unfortunately. And in fact, that some of 
that led to the inception and the creation of this very 
    So the situation I'm really concerned about--and seeing 
these lines blurred is a situation in which you have people or 
an individual that's based and is operating in the United 
States, no direction, no inspiration from a foreign terror 
group or a foreign power, and they seek to further their 
political or social goals through violence or force or things 
that are not, you know, protected speech and so forth.
    In your mind, that clearly--what I've just described--
they're operating in the United States, they're not taking 
direction or inspiration from a foreign power or foreign terror 
group, and obviously they're furthering their goals through 
violence. In your mind, is that in or outside the purview of 
the job you've been nominated to serve?
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you for the question, Senator. And we 
did have a chance to discuss this. And I appreciated the time 
and hearing your views on that.
    But this is squarely in the purview of the FBI and the 
Department of Homeland Security. NCTC's role, in my view, would 
be one of support to those agencies as they take the lead in 
the homeland on domestic violent extremist threats.
    Now, NCTC was granted some unique authorities to have 
access to both foreign and domestic intelligence around 
terrorist threats so that we are able to connect the dots. I 
mean, that was fundamentally the reason for NCTC's founding to 
be able to connect the dots, integrate intelligence from 
multiple sources, and ensure we don't miss that very important 
nexus to a foreign power or foreign terrorist organizations.
    So, you know, NCTC's role here is an important role to 
play. When it is purely domestic terrorism, it should be 
playing it in support of those lead agencies in the Federal 
Government, the FBI and DHS. And I share your concerns about 
the rise in domestic violent extremism. I also share your 
concerns that we appropriately leverage IC resources in a way 
that protects privacies and civil liberties.
    So that's an important balance to strike. And I look 
forward, if confirmed, to making sure that we're doing that.
    Vice Chairman Rubio. Now, it gets a little bit more 
complicated now. And again, I'm not asking these as strict 
questions. It's to highlights sort of the balancing act here 
and how this can get problematic in a hurry, because, for 
example, as I said to you, we shouldn't lack imagination in 
thinking that a foreign adversary could see the existence of 
these groups and figure out a way to use a third party to 
funnel money to them, because it helps them to weaken us 
domestically. So in that sense, it's something we want to be 
aware of.
    So we're coming up on the anniversary of the shooting at 
Pulse. This was an individual that had not traveled, was not in 
a terrorist training camp, but clearly was inspired, and said 
so, by ISIS and Al Qaida. So putting that example aside, which 
is I think pretty clear-cut, sometimes these individuals in 
their rants claim to be part of a global movement, anti-
globalization movement. Or they're not a member of any group. 
They're not interacting with anybody directly, but they think 
they're part of a broader movement. That's a little bit 
    I know it's more of a legal interpretation, but in your 
mind, does the fact that someone thinks they're part of some 
sort of a global movement, that they're not a member of--not a 
membership card or going to meetings of this nature--but just 
seem to think that they're part of a broader effort globally, 
does that rise to the level of turning it into a domestic 
violent extremist group that you would have input on?
    Ms. Abizaid. So, Senator, I think you're raising exactly 
some of the complexities that we're going to need to work 
through. But, I mean, ideological alignment with something that 
you believe is a global movement does not in and of itself make 
it a foreign terrorist threat.
    Obviously, it would all be the particulars of the case. And 
being aligned to an ideological movement that is something that 
has protected speech, that's not something that would be in the 
purview of NCTC's concern.
    I think the way that I have understood Director Wray to 
consider this is if you're engaged in violence against the 
United States and its citizens, then that is what makes you the 
target of interest to the FBI, to DHS, and for those of us that 
care about the security of Americans and inside the United 
States. And that would be--the focus is the violent behavior, 
the violent activity that that we seek to thwart.
    Vice Chairman Rubio. Thank you.
    Chairman Warner. Senator Wyden?
    Senator Wyden. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Ms. Ashton, we very much appreciate your record of the 
courage that you've expressed in the past. And as you and I 
talked about, the CIA has an unfortunate history of striking 
back at its own Inspector General. Director Hayden did this in 
response to the Inspector General's investigation of torture.
    Director Brennan did this after the Inspector General 
investigated the CIA's spying on this Committee.
    Can you assure us this afternoon that this history will not 
influence what you choose to review or how you choose to review 
    Ms. Ashton. Thank you, Senator Wyden, for that very good 
conversation that we had the other day. I learned a lot from 
you about that history, and it was very interesting to me. I 
hadn't known all of those details, to tell you the truth.
    But I can assure this Committee that the way I have 
practiced law for the last 35 years and the way I've handled my 
career for the last 35 years, mostly as a prosecutor, trying 
some of the toughest cases that you can try, and when I was at 
the Office of Professional Responsibility where I was in a 
somewhat sensitive situation where I was the Director of the 
Office of Professional Responsibility, which was responsible 
for deciding whether assistant U.S. attorneys and the agents 
working with them had committed misconduct or engaged in any 
kind of illegal or unlawful practices, whether they should be 
disciplined, whether they should be fired.
    All of those positions and others that I've had required 
great strength and independence and the ability and the 
willingness to look at facts and follow the facts, analyze 
those facts, and if they lead, wherever they lead, you go to 
that conclusion, that place, without any kind of partiality, 
bias, or thinking about what happened to prior Inspectors 
General, for example.
    I will not do that. I will focus on the facts and I will 
analyze them and act appropriately on those facts. But I will 
not be intimidated by what has happened to my predecessors, 
because that would just take my eye off the important ball. And 
the important thing, the goal that we are trying to achieve 
here is to achieve effective oversight.
    I will be a partner with this Committee in that effort. And 
I will not be distracted by what might have happened to my 
    Senator Wyden. I was impressed by your past record, and 
your exemplary statement today is consistent with it. And I 
look forward to supporting your nomination.
    Ms. Ashton. Thank you.
    Senator Wyden. I have a question for Ms. Abizaid.
    Ms. Abizaid, less than three months ago, the National 
Counterterrorism Center released its own 12333 procedures 
related to when it can collect, retain, and search for 
information on Americans.
    For example, the Agency can collect, quote, ``publicly 
available information.'' Do you believe that includes 
commercially available data? And if so, do you believe that the 
Center should be intentionally purchasing the personal data of 
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you very much, Senator, for the 
question. I'm generally aware of the issue. I haven't engaged 
in it deeply just because I haven't been in the Intelligence 
Community here for the last recent years.
    That's my understanding on this particular issue. Director 
Haines has also recognized the complexity here and committed to 
working with this Committee to develop a framework that should 
guide Intelligence Community procedures, including those of 
NCTC, on this very important issue.
    You know, if I am confirmed, I would commit to working 
closely with her and with Members of this Committee, with you 
in particular, to make sure that we're striking the right 
balance related to that framework.
    Senator Wyden. All right. I'll have some additional 
questions for the record for you.
    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Chairman Warner. Senator Burr?
    Senator Burr. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Welcome to both of our nominees today. I enjoyed the time 
that we've spent together.
    Mr. Chairman, let me just say, these are two excellent 
nominees. And I would hope that the Committee would move 
expeditiously at confirming these two nominees. We desperately 
need them in the jobs. We need them there today.
    I've got a question for each of you. Christine, I've got to 
say, I'm not sure whether you're showing your strength in 
accepting this nomination or your intelligence, given that 
you've got a 15-month-old at home. I'll let your wife determine 
which one you're exercising there. But having raised them and 
now with three grandchildren, I'm like Dan Coats. I spend a 
little more time away from them than I need to.
    Christine, here's my question. What are your plans about 
right-sizing NCTC? And how do you make sure that you've got the 
talent that you need there to perform the mission?
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you, Senator. I think it's a really 
important question. And, yes, I am deliberately trying to miss 
the terrible twos by accepting this opportunity.
    You know, when I look at the role of the National 
Counterterrorism Center, it is absolutely essential that it's 
got the right expertise. And the right expertise is not just 
those cadre that are hired directly into ODNI and into the 
center, but it's the expertise that is provided across the 
community, that we've got a robust counterterrorism community. 
It's one that at the center, when you mix CIA analysts with FBI 
analysts with DIA analysts with NCTC analysts, you get the best 
interagency perspective about what's happening in the world. 
You get the best ability to communicate across silos in the 
Federal Government. And I think it's what makes the National 
Counterterrorism Center excellent at what it does.
    So I think that will be a really important piece if 
confirmed as its director, for me to look into, understand the 
manning, understand where there are holes, if there are any, 
and then work with my partners across the counterterrorism 
enterprise to make sure that we're doing what we can to staff 
it appropriately.
    When I think about the kind of efficiencies that we in the 
counterterrorism enterprise are going to need to consider, 
especially as resources are limited and priorities are broad 
across the national security portfolio, I think the effective 
use of the Center, investing in it as the place where we 
narrowly focus on counterterrorism, is going to be to the good 
of the entire Intelligence Community.
    Senator Burr. Great, thanks.
    Robin, your role--it sort of requires you to straddle a 
really tricky line. You need to be independent, but to be 
successful, the IG needs to know what's going on in the 
agencies. How do you plan to balance your office's independent 
role with the need to engage the Agency community?
    Ms. Ashton. Well, thank you so much for that wonderful 
question. And I did appreciate speaking with you at length last 
week. It was a very good conversation, and I appreciated your 
    But the question's so important, because of course the need 
to balance the independence of the Office of Inspector General 
while also working collaboratively at most times with the 
Agency itself, it's an important balance to strike. And 
sometimes, like you just suggested, it can be difficult.
    But when I was working at the Inspector General's Office 
for the Intelligence Community, I believe that the Inspector 
General and I were able to achieve that balance by doing a lot 
of outreach events and meetings and training sessions, getting 
to know as many people in the ODNI as we could, working quite 
collaboratively and effectively with leadership whenever we 
    Often leadership, such as Mr. Coats, would ask us for our 
insights about what should be looked at or how things might be 
looked at, perhaps for our opinions on policy changes or needs, 
and we appreciated all of those opportunities to give our 
insights based on what we were doing with our wonderful 
auditors and analysts and investigators and others, based on 
the information we were able to gather, how could we help them 
make the best decisions they could make?
    And so ours was one of the voices that they listened to. 
And we seized on all of those opportunities to work with the 
ODNI itself whenever we could in a collaborative way.
    I don't view the Inspector General as somebody who just 
comes in with bad news or a ``gotcha'' moment. I don't think 
that that's effective at all. We have to understand that the 
leadership also wants the very best for its agency. And if we 
come at it with that view and try to help make it more 
effective, then I think we can work collaboratively, but always 
mindful that in the end the Inspector General and her office 
needs to be independent of the Agency, so that if we find 
things that are not working well or if we find even 
mismanagement or unlawful practices, we have to be independent 
of the leadership and the Agency and be able to speak out and 
do the right thing based on the facts that we compile in our 
inspections and audits, et cetera.
    Chairman Warner. Senator King?
    Senator King. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    First, I want to welcome our old friend Dan Coats, and what 
a pleasure it is to see you. And you were a distinguished 
Senator, but I think you were an even more distinguished 
Director of National Intelligence, because you showed what 
honesty and courage in public service looks like.
    And I've quoted you probably a hundred times on the mission 
of the intelligence agency. To me, you gave the most succinct 
definition, which is to seek the truth and tell the truth. And 
that's exactly what you did. So I want to thank you, Senator 
Coats, Director Coats, for your service.
    Ms. Ashton, normally I spend time with IG nominees talking 
about independence just as we have done today. I don't think 
that's really necessary with you, because you've proved it. You 
showed that you have both the independence and the courage to 
do the right thing, to meet the obligations of the job.
    I just would note that it occurs to me that the IG in a 
clandestine agency is incredibly important. IGs, I think, are 
some of the most important jobs in our government, but in a 
secret agency, it's even more important, because nobody else is 
watching. And they don't have the level of public scrutiny that 
might occur for the Department of the Interior, the Department 
of Energy, the Department of Agriculture.
    So this job is especially weighty in its responsibility. 
Your job is to be a flea on the dog of the CIA and that means 
bite them every now and then, and hold them to the highest 
level of ethical and legal standards.
    Ms. Abizaid, in terms of terrorism, my greatest nightmare 
is not terrorists who get through on an airplane or something 
like that. It's a terrorist organization that gets hold of a 
nuclear weapon, whether by development in this technologically 
advanced age or by purchase from a rogue state.
    Talk to me about how we can deter. We have nuclear 
deterrence for nation-states. Deterrence doesn't work for 
somebody who would just as soon give up their life. So how do 
we protect ourselves from that nightmare scenario?
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you, Senator.
    I share the concern. I think all of us, especially in the 
immediate aftermath of 9/11, were terribly concerned about the 
possibility of terrorists having access to weapons of mass 
    Senator King. Those people killed 3,000 people. They would 
have killed 3 million if they could have.
    Ms. Abizaid. Absolutely. And it's absolutely essential that 
this is an area where the experts in nuclear security, the 
experts in nonproliferation and counter-proliferation, and the 
experts in counterterrorism need to work across their different 
areas of expertise and make sure that we're sharing 
information, assessing threats, and doing everything we can 
with the highest degree of priority to deter terrorist access 
to these kinds of weapons of mass destruction.
    Senator King. I would submit that one of our first lines of 
defense is intelligence.
    Ms. Abizaid. Absolutely.
    Senator King. Knowing where this material is, being able to 
detect how it's being transported, and where it might end up. 
So I urge you to pay attention to the nonproliferation regime, 
because this is such a dangerous threat to our country.
    Afghanistan-Pakistan--we're in the process of withdrawing. 
It's been an important counterterrorism base for us over the 
years. Can we maintain the counterterrorism function in that 
region without a military presence in Afghanistan? And if so, 
    Ms. Abizaid. So this is something that, if I'm confirmed, 
is going to be one of my early questions and early priorities 
going into the job. I think that that is absolutely the most 
important thing that the Intelligence Community develop a 
strategy for and an approach to, given the withdrawal of U.S. 
forces from the region.
    There will be a diminishment in intelligence collection in 
the region, no doubt, given the lower footprint from the United 
States, but determining what kind of over-the-horizon 
capabilities there are, what kind of access to source networks, 
et cetera, that's got to be a priority, given the myriad of 
threats that already exist in the region and our number-one 
focus being ensuring that that region doesn't become a platform 
for transnational threats again.
    Senator King. Is that a danger? That we went in, in the 
first place to eliminate it as a safe haven for terrorists? Now 
we're going to be gone. How do we keep from being in 2001 all 
over again?
    Ms. Abizaid. Well, Senator, I think anywhere that we see a 
significant terrorist presence, there is a danger of that 
becoming some kind of platform to threaten the homeland from. 
And I think that that's always the number-one priority of CT 
analysts, of the counterterrorism community, is to monitor and 
assess at what point, you know, we see external plotting from 
various regions.
    I think that that is true for the AFPAK region just as it 
is true for Iraq-Syria, for North Africa, and various other 
areas, where both an ISIS and Al Qaida presence in particular 
remain. And so how we deter it is the way that we've deterred 
it for years, which is relentless pressure against threats to 
our interests.
    Senator King. And that relentless pressure has to continue. 
Just because we've pivoted toward near-peer competition does 
not mean terrorism is entirely in the rearview mirror, is that 
    Ms. Abizaid. I couldn't agree more, Sir.
    Senator King. Thank you.
    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Chairman Warner. Senator Blunt?
    Senator Blunt. Thank you, Chairman.
    Ms. Abizaid, obviously one of the purposes of NCTC was to 
integrate all the terrorist data and analyze it and be sure it 
doesn't get into that phrase we used so often after 9/11, which 
was stove piped. But there's so much data out there now. And 
you've got great experience in this technical field.
    What do we need to be doing to support your efforts in this 
job, assuming you're confirmed--and I hope you will be--to help 
provide the resources you need for that. That rapid analyzing, 
the machine learning, the AI effort to get this down to where a 
person needs to look at it and to know what they need to look 
at on any given day?
    Ms. Abizaid. Senator, thanks for the question. We were able 
to discuss this briefly when we met, and I appreciate your time 
and the time spent on this topic in particular.
    I mentioned in my opening remarks that the technological 
revolution that we're in presents both challenges and 
opportunities for us in the counterterrorism world. If 
confirmed, I'd seek to exploit those opportunities from big 
data management, artificial intelligence, machine learning. 
Looking at how those technologies apply to the vast amounts of 
data that we need to process effectively and efficiently at the 
National Counterterrorism Center. How can those be best applied 
to our holdings and create a speed to act against a threat that 
we all are so focused on every day?
    So I don't know exactly how. I haven't gotten into the 
Center to actually dig into the technologies that we're 
leveraging today and the technological roadmap that we need to 
apply. But I think modernization of the IT infrastructure, 
thinking through fundamentals of the NCTC data lake and how we 
exploit that data most effectively, while also I think 
importantly building in some of the protections, the privacy 
and civil liberty protections, Constitutional protections that 
can be technologically achieved on the front end of design. All 
of that I think will be really important when we're thinking 
about how to modernize the system.
    Senator Blunt. I think this is one of those areas where if 
our adversaries get a significant breakthrough at any given 
moment, we could get way behind in a hurry. And we don't want 
to get way behind in a hurry.
    I'd also say that when we were in the process of putting 
this agency together after 9/11, I think we thought that NCTC 
would be a pretty lean staff organization. It's about a 
thousand people now. I'd like to hear your thoughts about what 
kind of zero-based approach you might be willing to take to go 
back and look at those thousand jobs and see if actually it's 
gotten so big you could get information isolated in the Agency 
that's supposed to be sharing all the information with other 
    Ms. Abizaid. I appreciate the concern, Senator. And I think 
it's an important thing for any director to consider along the 
way. Manning challenges but while ensuring that you've got the 
necessary expertise across the Center is going to be an 
essential balance to strike.
    And I do think, as I mentioned, that technology can play a 
role in addressing some of the number of staff that we might 
need, though I don't want to get ahead of myself since I 
haven't had a chance to really review the roles, the 
responsibilities, across the Agency. But I would commit to you, 
Sir, that if confirmed, this would be something that I would 
certainly prioritize and look at.
    Senator Blunt. And share with us, I would hope.
    Ms. Abizaid. Absolutely.
    Senator Blunt. Ms. Ashton, I will say, when our good 
friend, Senator and then Director Coats, said you were never 
afraid to challenge the team, that was obviously an important 
thing for an IG anywhere, and probably particularly in the job 
we're talking about.
    But you know, there's a specific waiver, as I would read 
it, for the CIA IG if the CIA comes to you and says we really 
think it's better if you don't look too closely at this, or 
later might say you've looked at it, now we think it's better 
if you don't share it, can you imagine a circumstance where you 
might ever use that 50 USC 403 statute that is, I think, 
largely unique to the CIA?
    Ms. Ashton. Thank you. Thank you, Senator, for that 
question. Yes, I am familiar with the statute, 50 USC 403, and 
it does allow the director to step in and indicate that because 
of a vital national security concern, he can step in and say, 
``I do not want you to continue with an investigation or an 
audit or a matter. I don't want you to conclude it. I don't 
want you to issue a report,'' and things of that nature. It's 
pretty specific.
    If the Director does that, my understanding is that he 
would contact this Committee and file either a report or a 
statement or file a letter and that will be provided to me, as 
well. I would have an opportunity to comment on that. And I 
would also do that to the Committee.
    So I do understand that that could happen. And I can 
imagine a circumstance where the Director says, based on 
information he has that I might not have, that there's a 
national security issue at stake and that I might have to hold 
off or stop altogether an activity. I think that would be very 
rare. The statute seems to indicate that it's considered a very 
rare occurrence. But, yes, I can imagine that it would happen.
    Senator Blunt. But, in fact, if that happened, you'd insist 
on notification as the statute anticipates and the ability to 
even comment on that notification to this Committee?
    Ms. Ashton. Exactly.
    Senator Blunt. All right. Thank you, Chairman.
    Vice Chairman Rubio. Senator Heinrich, are you ready?
    Senator Gillibrand. Senator Gillibrand is on WebEx.
    Vice Chairman Rubio. Senator Heinrich, go ahead.
    Senator Heinrich. Is Senator Gillibrand in front of me?
    Vice Chairman Rubio. It's by seniority.
    Senator Gillibrand. I'm available, but, Martin, I think 
you're ahead of me if you're there.
    Vice Chairman Rubio. I have been going by seniority at the 
gavel; so, Senator Heinrich?
    Senator Heinrich. Ms. Ashton, as you know perhaps better 
than most, the IG community came under quite a bit of pressure 
during the last Administration. And you and the Intelligence 
Community IG at the time, Michael Atkinson, spoke truth to 
power and were fired for it.
    What you and Mr. Atkinson did in the fall of 2019 to 
protect a key whistleblower and get information to Congress 
cost you your jobs. Going forward, I simply want to make sure 
that the Intelligence Community IGs are better protected from 
political pressure and retaliation and that their independence 
can be assured.
    Should you be confirmed, will you commit to sharing with 
this Committee any recommendations that you might have for 
legislative reforms to strengthen the CIA IG office and to make 
sure that you can do that job independently?
    Ms. Ashton. Absolutely, Senator. I very much appreciate the 
commitment to whistleblowers that you and others in this 
Committee have shown for so many years. It was very important, 
during the matter that you just referred to, that many people 
on this Committee came forward and made very supportive 
comments about the whistleblower's right to be heard.
    I will definitely work with this Committee and share the 
insights that I gained through the process that we went through 
so that perhaps proposals can be put in place or new 
legislation can be put in place to enhance the protections 
afforded whistleblowers, Inspectors General, and the people who 
support the whistleblowers. Because a lot of times it's not 
just the whistleblower coming forward; it's the people who 
corroborate the whistleblower's complaint or statement. And 
they, too, could suffer from reprisal or threats of reprisal. 
And we don't want that to happen.
    We want to open the lines of communication so employees can 
come forward and share their concerns in a legitimate, lawful, 
classified way. And I would be very happy, because I care so 
fervently about this process, to work with this Committee and 
others, who are coming up right now with very good proposals 
for enhancing whistleblowers' protections.
    Senator Heinrich. I think you just brought up a really, 
really key point, which is this is a Committee that I'm very 
proud to say has a history of not being the source of many of 
the things that we read in the papers around here. And having 
that official classified process is part of how we avoid those 
kinds of problems, isn't it?
    Ms. Ashton. Exactly, Senator. It's such an important 
process. And the reason you all passed the legislation that put 
that process in place is to ensure that very kind of 
communication. Can people in the classified Intelligence 
Community come forward in a lawful way so that there aren't 
leaks? You know, when people get too frustrated, they might 
leak information. We don't want that to happen.
    And I think the statute is quite brilliant, because it 
creates a process, an appropriate process and a very, very 
clear process, for bringing concerns forward but not leaking 
information. We don't want that kind of unauthorized 
disclosure. We want people to come forward through the 
Inspectors General, express themselves, and then have their 
complaints or expressions of dissatisfaction or fear or worry, 
have them bring those concerns forward. We'll take them. We'll 
present them to you in an organized and lawful manner as 
prescribed by statute.
    And that way we get the communication that we need in order 
to stay aware of what is happening in the entire Intelligence 
Community, in the classified environment, but not having to 
deal with unlawful disclosures or leaks.
    Senator Heinrich. Thank you.
    Mr. Chair, I'm running a little bit short on time. I think 
I'll leave my other questions for the record.
    Vice Chairman Rubio. Thank you.
    Senator Cornyn?
    Senator Cornyn. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    I might start by saying, Director Coats, I've never seen 
you look so tan and rested as you are today. Somebody was 
asking the other day, have you heard from Dan Coats? And I'm 
glad to be able to report back we've had a sighting here today 
and you're doing just great. It's good to see you.
    Senator Coats. There is a life after.
    Senator Cornyn. You have a big smile on your face, and 
you're looking good.
    So, Ms. Abizaid, I want to continue our conversation from 
earlier today. Something I'm struggling with a little bit, a 
conversation I've had with Director Haines, as we talked about 
earlier. You know, our history includes periods of time in 
which the U.S. Government has surveilled activity, lawful 
activity by American citizens. I'm thinking of the civil rights 
era, the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War, and the 
like. And I am just a little bit concerned in light of some of 
the abuses that Inspector Horowitz revealed even in the office 
of the FBI in making misrepresentations to the FISA court about 
American citizens in order to get a FISA warrant that--I think 
this is an area fraught with a lot of danger.
    And I know we talked about domestic violent extremism, for 
example. And you know, we're all very familiar with the 
elaborate and comprehensive and very effective set of tools the 
Intelligence Community has in dealing with a foreign threat.
    But here in the United States, when you're talking about 
American citizens, you alluded to the right American citizens 
have to speak freely and to assemble freely, petition their 
government for the redress of grievances, in the words of the 
Constitution. I worry a little bit that because of a lack of 
clarity and because of ambiguity into exactly where the 
authorities of the Intelligence Community stops or starts. 
Traditionally, I would think that if you're talking about 
American citizens committing crimes or even concerns about 
intelligence, you'd be talking about the FBI. And I know the 
Department of Homeland Security has a role to play, too.
    But I'd just like for you to talk to us a little bit about 
whether you share those concerns and if you think there are any 
bright lines that we ought to observe and that the Intelligence 
Community of which you will be a part again should observe.
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you, Senator Cornyn, for the question 
and for the conversation that we had earlier today.
    Any use of intelligence authorities needs to be consistent 
with the Constitution and follow the laws of the land. That is 
a very bright line. And it's one that has to govern all of our 
activities across the Intelligence Community.
    I think domestic violent extremism is a concern. It's 
concerning in the rise that we've seen over the last several 
years. It's been a concern for decades, frankly. And I think 
that the FBI and now DHS have actually played a very effective 
role and resourced appropriately, given the significance of 
that threat. And they need to be in the lead. They are domestic 
agencies, and they are the ones that that need to take the lead 
in operating against that threat.
    When I look at NCTC and the statute that enshrined it and 
gave it capabilities, you know, it exists to connect the dots, 
right? Foreign, domestic sources of intelligence around 
terrorist threats are important for the National 
Counterterrorism Center to have access to, to understand 
whether there is any foreign nexus, and that is the primary 
mission of the National Counterterrorism Center.
    Where FBI and DHS seek the support of NCTC, I would hope, 
if confirmed as director, that I would be able to provide that, 
appropriate with--appropriately so with keeping in mind always 
the Constitution and the laws of the land.
    Senator Cornyn. Well, thank you for that answer. It's what 
I would have expected to hear from you. But I do think that, as 
I discussed with Director Haines, there needs to be as much 
clarity as we can possibly provide because of the practical 
consequences of a lack of trust by the American people in what 
the Intelligence Community is actually doing.
    And we have seen that here, as you and I talked about here 
in Congress, when it comes to trying to reauthorize some of the 
most critical tools that the Intelligence Community had, we 
weren't able to even reauthorize Section 215, which is one of 
the most basic kind of law enforcement tools not made that 
available now to the IC because we just simply couldn't get it 
done, because of a lack of trust in how they would be used.
    So I think I've always thought of this as different layers 
to try to earn the trust of the American people and Congress, 
and so they would trust us to use these tools appropriately, 
like you said, and consistent with the Constitution, consistent 
with the rights of American citizens under the Bill of Rights.
    So I look forward to working with you and also Director 
Haines and others, Director Wray, and anybody else who wants to 
contribute to that conversation, because I think we're entering 
into a period where I think unless we are as clear as we can 
humanly be about where those lines are, where authorities stop 
and start, and how these tools are used, we are going to 
jeopardize our ability to use the tools we actually need in the 
Intelligence Community to keep our Nation safe. Thank you.
    Chairman Warner. Thank you. Thank you, Senator Cornyn.
    Senator Bennet?
    Senator Bennet. Thank you. I'd like to ask Senator Cornyn's 
question a little bit of a different way, Ms. Abizaid, because 
I think it's an important point. And how do you--maybe this is 
the wrong metaphor, but how do you think of the role of NCTC as 
a bridge between the terrorist threats that are abroad and the 
threats that are related to domestic terrorism here in the 
United States?
    Obviously, that concern has evolved over time since the 
Agency was started. And actually, I'll bet you they've evolved 
since you left government to be in the private sector and are 
coming back. So I wonder if you could help us think about it in 
that context.
    Ms. Abizaid. I appreciate the question, Senator. And I 
think you're right. The threat itself has evolved since I was 
last deeply engaged in it, particularly related to the domestic 
violent extremist threat.
    And I think this question of balance and this question of 
ensuring that the American people trust our use of our 
authorities across the IC but also across all of our agencies 
is a really important one.
    NCTC was established to connect the dots. Integrating 
intelligence from across an array of sources, whether they're 
foreign or domestic sources of intelligence, is the mission of 
the Center. How it does that, the way in which it collaborates 
with other operating agencies, the way that it provides 
information to FBI, to DHS, but also State and local 
authorities, tribal authorities, that's a key kind of 
dissemination requirement that is enshrined in the statute that 
created NCTC and I think is an important one for us to follow 
through at the center.
    You know, this idea of integrating intelligence from all 
sources, providing the best analytic expertise about not just 
an incident, but the threat and the trajectory of the threat I 
think is what the National Counterterrorism Center does best. 
And if we can do that, supporting FBI and DHS as they take the 
lead against domestic violence extremism, I would look forward 
to being able to provide that support if confirmed.
    Senator Bennet. Can you tell us how you think about the 
ways in which social media--the role it's playing and the ways 
it's challenging our counterterrorism mission?
    Ms. Abizaid. I think there are a myriad of challenges 
associated with social media platforms, whether it's the ways 
in which terrorist groups and extremists exploit those 
platforms to inspire others to act, to spread their--not just 
ideologies that are violent in nature, but also the tactics, 
techniques, and procedures that they use and would encourage 
others to use.
    I also think the encryption of some of those platforms 
presents challenges as well, and as terrorist groups, 
individuals that are moved to violence have access to more 
ubiquitous technology, we in the Intelligence Community need to 
work very hard to keep pace and stay ahead of the threat, 
regardless of whether it is virtual or otherwise.
    Senator Bennet. And how do you think about that? I mean, 
now you're coming back. You've been at Dell for four years. You 
probably learned some things there that are useful to you 
coming back, I hope, in public service, as you gain your new 
position. How are you going to approach the question: Where are 
we on that learning curve? And have we adopted sort of best in 
class technologies for what we're trying to do?
    And by that I don't literally mean technology, although I 
guess I do somewhat, but also the organizational structure is 
probably just as important.
    Ms. Abizaid. I think, Senator, asking those questions right 
upfront is going to be essential, right? Getting a lay of the 
land, understanding what technologies we employ, understanding 
what kind of TTPs terrorist organizations are operating with--
in what online environments and what technologies I think is an 
important question to ask.
    How we approach that and how we approach that in a whole-
of-government way I think is going to be a key question going 
forward. I don't know exactly the answer today, but it is 
something that I would certainly seek to understand very soon 
after being confirmed.
    Senator Bennet. I don't think this Committee understands 
the answer, either. But we're grappling with it. And I think we 
look forward to having further conversations with you about it.
    And Ms. Ashton, I'm out of time, but I would say that I 
enjoyed our conversation yesterday and I want to thank you for 
your courage. And it'll be a real privilege to vote to confirm 
both of you.
    Senator Coats, thank you for your extraordinary leadership, 
as well.
    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Chairman Warner. Senator Casey?
    Senator Casey. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. And I 
want to thank and commend both nominees for your enduring 
commitment to public service, for taking on the 
responsibilities you seek to take on, and grateful for the 
excellence that you bring to your work, and so grateful to see 
Director Coats here. We're happy to have you back in the 
Senate, no matter what hat you're wearing. And thank you for 
    Ms. Abizaid, I'll start with you regarding Afghanistan. I 
know that, as you said, I think, in your testimony today that 
there would be a diminishment in our efforts to collect 
intelligence and do counterterrorism. But I know you'd agree 
with us that we have to continue that work.
    What are your thoughts? Or do you have any plans or ideas 
about how to mitigate the adverse impact of withdrawal--to be 
able to continue a really robust counterterrorism within 
Afghanistan and within the region? And what if any partnerships 
do we have to strengthen or resuscitate to do that?
    One, for example, would be Pakistan. How much can we place 
reliance upon that relationship, as well as others?
    But what are your thoughts on that? How to mitigate some of 
the challenges that will arise?
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you for the question. You know, I don't 
have all the prescriptions, right? I haven't spent any time in 
the Intelligence Community in the last couple of years. But I 
know this is going to be job one for the Intelligence 
    You know, NCTC itself doesn't have clandestine collection 
authorities. But it is going to be very concerned about the 
degree and the fidelity of intelligence from the region about 
the terrorist threat. And so how we work with our partners at 
the CIA, at NSA, at various other organizations to ensure that 
we do maintain a robust focus--and hopefully a priority focus 
in the region--on understanding the trajectory of the 
counterterrorism environment, I think that that's got to be 
    How we best do that, again, I think would be better left to 
classified sessions, if, in fact, I'm confirmed and able to dig 
into it. But I think it's going to be essential.
    Foreign partners are also going to be critical in that. And 
that's not just regional foreign partners. And Pakistan is an 
important relationship. They have been an important 
counterterrorism partner, even if they've been frustrating in 
some respects, as well. But all the countries in the region 
matter, and so do those other countries that have interests in 
the region, and especially our NATO allies that have such time 
on the ground shared with us and our U.S. forces, having a 
collaboration across those foreign partnerships, those foreign 
alliances, to make sure we all kind of share resources and do 
our best to understand what's happening in that region, I think 
will be absolutely essential.
    Senator Casey. Well, thanks. I look forward to working with 
you on it.
    And, Ms. Ashton, I was going to ask a question about your 
previous experience, but that's already been alluded to, and we 
appreciate your determined public service under difficult 
circumstances. I guess I wanted to look to the future in terms 
of your role as the IG.
    This is kind of a particular question about what some would 
argue would be an obligation. I guess I'll just ask it this 
way. Do you believe the CIA is obligated upon request to 
provide direction to a whistleblower on how to contact either 
of the Congressional intelligence committees?
    Ms. Ashton. Thank you for that question, Senator. Yes, I do 
believe that. I think the statute is very clear. We have to 
have a way for people to come forward in a lawful way and share 
classified information with this Committee. That's absolutely 
    And if I were confirmed as the Inspector General, I will 
start day one to ensure that the CIA's whistleblower program is 
strong and robust, that people have a way to come forward, that 
they understand how to come forward, and very importantly, that 
when they do come forward, there are true professionals on the 
other side of the phone or the computer or the letter to answer 
questions and to guide the person as they're moving forward in 
the process.
    Because it isn't an easy process always. And we have to not 
only present--. You know, it's not just a statute. We have to 
provide steps and guidance and instruction so that people can 
effectively bring their concerns to the Inspector General's 
office and that eventually those concerns are delivered, 
disseminated to this Committee when appropriate.
    Senator Casey. Thanks very much. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
    Chairman Warner. Senator King, you've got another question?
    Senator King. Senator Gillibrand.
    Chairman Warner. Oh, Senator Gillibrand on WebEx.
    Senator Gillibrand. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. How 
are you?
    I first want to talk to Ms. Abizaid. You are a bit of a 
first, so I want to congratulate you. You are a career national 
security professional, and if confirmed, would be the first 
woman to lead the NCTC. What does that mean for you? And how do 
you believe the Intelligence Community could better recruit and 
retrain and promote women like yourself?
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you very much, Senator. I appreciate the 
question. I actually am really fortunate to have come up in the 
Intelligence Community with a number of women who I respect a 
great deal and who I think would be excellent at this job or 
any other Senate-confirmed position.
    I think there are a number of women that are ready and 
eager to serve their country and serve it with honor and 
distinction across the board. And I think that my performance 
as director, Director Haines' performance as the DNI, all of 
that should just be taken as an example that it is very 
achievable for other women to do the same.
    Senator Gillibrand. So we've heard testimony over the last 
several months about how we can recruit and retain the best 
Intelligence Community members. And one of the ideas we've been 
talking a bit about is having a cyber academy, particularly for 
service members and civilians to come into the area of 
intelligence through something like a service academy, but one 
that is for a civilian workforce, so they could go into 
intelligence, they could go into commerce or Treasury or 
Department of Energy, but particularly in the cyber space, 
because we are obviously competing with the great industries of 
the world, of the Googles and the Facebooks, but we want to 
introduce this idea of public service earlier in people's 
    Because today I've heard a lot of our recruits come 
laterally from the DOD. And as you know, DOD is largely male, 
largely white, largely people who are interested in learning 
how to shoot a gun and are very physically fit. And not all of 
those characteristics are necessary for the greatest cyber 
minds in the world.
    So tell me how you would see something like a cyber academy 
where we could create a pipeline for workforce, particularly in 
the intelligence careers, through a civilian-type academy, 
where if they go to school and receive their education, they 
give back four years?
    Ms. Abizaid. Senator, this is the first I've heard of the 
idea, but I really like it. I think the opportunity to serve is 
one that that many people would like to have. Some would choose 
not to do it merely based on financial or even just a sense 
that the path doesn't exist for them.
    And I think anything that we can do to create those paths 
and to open it up to a broader array of expertise that exists 
across a very talented landscape in our country, I think it 
would be great.
    You know, I've spent the last four years in the private 
sector and have been really impressed with the kind of 
expertise and commitment to the country to serving the Nation 
that I see in my colleagues. And so it sounds like a very 
interesting idea.
    Senator Gillibrand. Thank you. One of my concerns is that--
what should we say--the landscape on which we are playing today 
tends to be the United States infrastructure. And I'm very 
concerned that from the counterterrorism perspective that our 
terrorist opponents are using our own infrastructure as their 
targets, through cyber-attack.
    Whether we're talking about pipelines or we're talking 
about meat processing facilities or we're talking about 
computer networks and Microsoft apps, we seem to have 
vulnerabilities. And in fact, we've had hearings in this 
Committee where our witnesses have talked about blind spots and 
how the cyber defense that we need isn't where it needs to be.
    Can you talk a little bit about what your vision is to deal 
with cyberterrorism and counterterrorism when it is actually 
focused on terrorism here in the United States against U.S. 
assets and U.S. companies?
    Ms. Abizaid. Thank you for the question, Senator. I think 
that anything that we can do to enhance the cybersecurity, 
especially of critical infrastructure, but across the board is 
absolutely essential. And it's to protect against those that 
would have capability, and I think that capability is becoming 
more ubiquitous, and seek to do the country harm.
    To the extent that those that have that capability and want 
to use that are terrorist groups, that would be of significant 
interest to the National Counterterrorism Center. Any tactics, 
techniques, or procedures that terrorists use are something 
that we need to develop a capability to understand and 
    And we would need in this case to do that in close 
cooperation with the cyber executive who resides at the ODNI, 
but also our cyber expertise that resides across government. 
And this idea of working across silos, that is what NCTC does 
really well. It's something that I think we could really 
enhance the cybersecurity and cyber experts across our 
government. Our processes could actually inform theirs in ways 
that I think could be very effective.
    So to the extent that this is a significant threat posed by 
terrorist groups, it would be something that would be of 
paramount focus.
    Senator Gillibrand. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Senator King. Thank you, Senator.
    Senator Warner had a commitment, and so the Constitution is 
in danger because I'm in charge.
    Ms. Abizaid, I think we're making this question about 
domestic violent extremism more complicated than it needs to 
be. The key word is violent. Terrorism, and I just looked it 
up, is the unlawful use of violence or intimidation, especially 
against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.
    If there was an ISIS cell in Pensacola and information came 
to you that they were plotting to kidnap and assassinate the 
Governor of Florida, would that not be squarely in your lane of 
information-sharing between your agency and the FBI, for 
    Ms. Abizaid. It absolutely would.
    Senator King. So if that organization in Pensacola was 
Aryan Americans for the White Race plotting to kidnap the 
Governor of Florida and assassinate him, would that not be 
squarely within your jurisdiction that you would then work with 
the FBI to try to thwart that violent threat against the 
    Ms. Abizaid. If we had that information, we absolutely 
would work with the FBI. And FBI, I would imagine, would take 
the lead on thwarting that, absolutely.
    Senator King. I think there's been a lot of talk about 
bright lines. The bright line is violence. Nobody's talking 
about snooping on Americans for their political beliefs or how 
they feel about various provisions of the Constitution.
    Your jurisdiction is terrorism. And if it involves threats 
of violence, your job is to thwart violence against civilians 
and political figures, if you will, in our country, is it not?
    Ms. Abizaid. It is. That's right.
    Senator King. So, I would urge you that--this question 
keeps coming up. And there's unease about it. And I understand 
we don't want to be in the business of spying on Americans.
    But we also have to protect ourselves, just as we protect 
ourselves against criminal enterprises that are conspiring to 
rob banks or blow up a bridge or whatever the purpose is. So I 
appreciate your appearance here today, but to me the key phrase 
is ``domestic violent extremists.'' It's not ``domestic 
extremists.'' The key question is violence. And if you focus on 
that, I think that keeps you out of the weeds of this 
Constitutional unease that we've heard expressed here today.
    Are there any other questions on WebEx?
    Other than that, I appreciate our witnesses being here 
today. Senator Coats, pleasure to have you. Thank you both for 
your dedication to this country and your willingness to 
undertake a new task in public service.
    With that, I believe the Chairman said that the record is 
open until Friday afternoon at the close of business for 
questions for the record.
    Thank you all very much. The hearing is adjourned.
    [Whereupon at 4:05 p.m. the hearing was adjourned.]

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