Petraeus calls CIA a ‘bargain’ at confirmation hearing

June 23, 2011

Gen. David H. Petraeus called the CIA the “best bargain” the country gets at his confirmation hearing Thursday to be director of the agency.

The cost of the Afghanistan war has grown to $10 billion a month, while the total annual CIA budget is estimated at $6 billion. After noting that the exact figure is classified, Petraeus told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: “If our country gets the great CIA with that size budget, it’s the best bargain we have as a nation.”

Although many committee members asked about his view of President Obama’s Afghanistan troop-withdrawal strategy and Pakistan relations, Petraeus attempted to focus on his planned approach to the agency directorship, which is expected to be approved by the committee and the Senate before the July 4 recess. He would take over in September.

Petraeus would be the fourth CIA director in the seven years since George J. Tenet resigned in 2004. Petraeus said Thursday that, contrary to reports, he wants the CIA directorship and has told others he hopes to be in the position for a long time.

Although he appeared before the committee in full uniform and with military aides accompanying him, he said, “I have no plans to bring my military brain trust with me to the agency. . . . If confirmed, I will, in short, get out of my vehicle alone on the day that I report to Langley.”

Petraeus sought to counter some of the public criticism of his appointment, saying he had differed with past CIA analysis of the Afghanistan war. But he reassured the committee that “in the Situation Room with the president, I will strive to represent the agency position.” He added that he would be “keenly aware that I am the leader of an intelligence agency, and not a policymaker.”

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), a former chairman of the committee, said Petraeus would still arrive as “kind of a superstar on the military and intellectual force side, but who [agency personnel] don’t know.”

Rockefeller asked Petraeus how he planned to introduce himself.

He replied that after being sworn in, he would go to the CIA auditorium and, speaking on television for those unable to attend, would tell them, “You all should know that I’m here to recruit you, and I know that you’re here to recruit me.”

He said he would be “reaching out, reaching down,” and would have lunch in the cafeteria with staff members a few days a week, while also occasionally seeking the views of younger case officers.

Late in the hearing, Petraeus raised a subject of great concern to the intelligence community: the continuing criminal investigations associated with detainee deaths and the harsh interrogation methods undertaken by the CIA during the George W. Bush administration. Petraeus said that it is time to stop “looking in the rearview mirror” and that the nation should consider the mood in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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