The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

What Senators Need to Ask Avril Haines at Her Confirmation Hearing Today


Avril Haines, President-elect Biden's designee to be the Director of National Intelligence, will appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) at noon today for her confirmation hearing. As has been reported in the Daily Beast and elsewhere, Haines has a history of positions and ties that are concerning to many who support civil liberties and who oppose torture and the revolving door.

Moreover, the ODNI has jurisdiction over a number of key matters -- such as government surveillance programs -- relative to which Haines's positions are largely unknown. Demand Progress opposes the confirmation of Haines because, among other reasons, of her history of covering up for torture and torturers and her work for the data-mining firm Palantir.

"The Trump administration acted with impunity for civil rights and civil liberties, sought to whitewash torture and torturers, and was a cesspool of corporate corruption," said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal. "The Biden administration must offer a clean break from this -- and, unfortunately, Avril Haines's record means the burden is on her to prove that she will be different."

Demand Progress is encouraging senators and the press to seek answers from Haines to the following questions:

On the Torture Investigation and Report:

Background: In 2014, when Haines was deputy director of the CIA, an internal 'accountability board' investigated whether discipline was warranted for the CIA officials who hacked into the SSCI's computers during the Committee's investigation into torture conducted by the CIA. The board overruled the CIA Inspector General and recommended not to discipline any officials involved. When Haines met with the board, she accepted their recommendation. Later, she was on the team tasked with redacting the Senate investigation's report for public consumption. Only 525 pages of the 6,700 page report were released.

  • Do you still hold that there were not grounds to discipline the people who spied on SSCI's investigation into torture conducted by the CIA?
  • Do you believe there are ever circumstances where the CIA or other intelligence officials may lawfully hack or order others to hack into Senate computers? Please specifically enumerate under what circumstances this would be lawful.
  • One of the torture report investigators, Daniel Jones, described your position on releasing the torture report as "quite the opposite" of then-Vice President Biden's, who was instead "the most prominent member of the Obama administration advocating for the declassification and release" of the report. Is it accurate that you were arguing for less public access to the report than President Biden?
  • Were you arguing for a more constrained release than the Democratic members of SSCI supported?
  • Do you support the declassification and release of the original 6,700 page SSCI report on CIA torture? If so, will you commit to completing this process within the next year?

On Her Support for Gina Haspel for CIA Director:

Background: During Gina Haspel's 2018 confirmation process to serve as CIA Director, Haines publicly supported her appointment, despite Haspel's role in overseeing torture at a CIA blacksite as well as assisting in the coverup of CIA torture through the destruction of interrogation videotapes.

  • Is it your position that Haspel's conduct regarding torture and its cover-up was legal and warranted? If not, why did you nevertheless publicly support her nomination? Do you believe that Ms. Haspel and those who engaged in similar conduct should be held accountable, and in what way?
  • Do you agree that destruction of evidence that is material to a Congressional investigation is unethical and grounds for removal from office?
  • Do you commit to not destroying evidence, as Gina Haspel did, that is relevant to Congressional oversight of US intelligence agencies?

On Her Entanglements With Firms Like Palantir:

Background: Haines has been affiliated with the controversial surveillance firm Palantir, which has made billions in lucrative government contracts. In June, The Intercept reported that after Haines joined the Biden campaign her affiliation to Palantir was scrubbed from her bio at the Brookings Institute. She also received compensation from WestExec, a consulting firm with a notoriously secretive client list that includes high tech start-ups seeking Pentagon contracts.

  • Do you still have any financial interest in Palantir?
  • Do you commit to releasing, before your confirmation vote, the full details of your compensation, a comprehensive list of your responsibilities, and any ongoing connection to Palantir?
  • You told The Daily Beast that ""The vast majority of my work for Palantir was related to diversity and inclusion, with a particular focus on gender." What exactly was the rest of your work, and what percentage of your work was dedicated exclusively to work on diversity and inclusion?
  • Do you think it is ethical for senior intelligence officials to circle through the revolving door as you would if confirmed as DNI: going from career civil servant to consultant-for-hire by an industry dependent on contracts from the agencies you helped run, and then returning back to government as the head of the United States intelligence community?
  • At a minimum, the American people deserve to know when the revolving door is turning, and that means knowing who your clients were at WestExec. Will you release a list of all companies you had as clients while you worked there, and what you did for them?

On the Scope of Government Surveillance:

Background: On March 15th, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act expired. The government used Section 215 for warrantless acquisition of records from businesses in the United States -- including the telephone records of essentially all Americans. On the last Senate day before expiration, then-Chairman of this SSCI Richard Burr asserted on the floor that in the absence of Section 215, the government can do "all of this, without Congress's permission, with no guardrails." Section 215 then expired, and has not been reauthorized.

  • Is it your legal conclusion that the president has the inherent executive authority, under EO 12333 or otherwise, to acquire the records of, for instance, people who visit a particular website, in the absence of explicit statutory or court authorization to do so?
  • Is it your legal conclusion that Congress may lawfully curtail whatever inherent power the executive may have by enumerating the exclusive means by which the government acquires records of people in the United States? Or do you believe that Congress cannot restrict what intelligence surveillance people in the United States are subject to?
  • Is it your legal conclusion that the president has the inherent executive authority to bypass Congress and the courts by simply purchasing information about people in the United States from the likes of data brokers?
  • Do you commit to declassifying in your first 180 days any operational interpretations of surveillance laws, for instance from the Office of Legal Counsel or FISA Court, that relate to the privacy of people in the United States, including Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Section 702 of the FISA Amendment Act, and Executive Order 12333?
  • Do you commit to declassifying any legal interpretations of EO 12333's language regarding surveillance that is not "precluded by applicable law"?
  • Will you commit to publicly releasing a precise enumeration of what surveillance of people in the United States is "not precluded by applicable law"?
  • Is it your position that everything Congress or the courts have not explicitly "precluded" the collection of may be lawfully acquired pursuant to inherent executive authority?

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