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Advise and Consent: Anthony Lake’s Second Day of Hearings

March 11, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, day two of the Senate confirmation hearings for the nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton’s national security adviser, Anthony Lake, is seeking the support of the Senate Intelligence Committee and eventually the full Senate to become the third director of Central Intelligence of the Clinton administration. Today Lake’s second day of public confirmation hearings went much like his first yesterday. Republican Senators questioned him closely about the administration’s secret decision to give no instruction; that is, take no position on the 1994 influx of Iranian arms to Bosnia during the war there. Utah’s Orrin Hatch challenged the administration’s claim that the Iranian arms had the positive effect of keeping the Bosnian government from collapsing.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) Utah: Finally, what part of the grand strategy was the no instructions policy? Clearly, in my opinion, it would not change the war because it was a strategy that merely slowed the attrition of Bosnia’s forces. In short, it prevented the annihilation of the Bosnians but did not allow them to forcefully defend themselves. What was the end game you conceived of in 1994?

ANTHONY LAKE, CIA Director-Designate: Our answer to that–and here I think the facts speak for themselves–was in the first case to form or to help in the formation of the federation between Croatia and Bosnia. We not only through this strategy got peace in Bosnia, but we also achieved our objectives of reducing Iranian influence. It was a fact of the war that drove the Bosnians to rely on the Iranians. Once we had peace, we forced the Bosnian government to make a choice between us and Iran, and they made the right choice.

SEN. DAN COATS, (R) Indiana: Congress had no knowledge you had made that decision. At the same time that you had made the decision to allow arms to go into Bosnia, the President and the administration was publicly stating that we supported the arms embargo.

ANTHONY LAKE: Senator, I have said repeatedly, and I will say it again, that we should have informed on a discreet basis the Congress about that decision.

SEN. DAN COATS: Why didn’t you?

ANTHONY LAKE: We should have.

SEN. DAN COATS: Why didn’t you inform Congress? It wasn’t an oversight, was it?

ANTHONY LAKE: Senator, the irony here is that the decision was in the same direction that the Congress was moving.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senators also returned today to a June 1996 meeting at which FBI agents warned two members of the National Security Council staff that the Chinese government might try to influence the presidential elections. The staff members told neither their boss, Lake, nor the President about the FBI warning.

SEN. JON KYL, (R) Arizona: You should have been informed, which means there was no justification for you not being informed. Yesterday, however, you testified that you couldn’t really evaluate whether the two senior staffers working under you did the right thing or not by not informing you. One of these statements has to be wrong. I mean, they can’t both be true. Either you should have been informed, or there was an excuse for not informing you.

ANTHONY LAKE: I do not know what the information was that my staff members were evaluating. And I do not know exactly what they were told with regard to how to handle that information by the FBI. Not knowing those things I am not going to sit in judgment now as to the decision they made not to inform me, because they are fine officers, and I do not think it is right, especially in public, to sit in judgment on that way when I don’t know the facts.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, Chairman, Intelligence Committee: I’m concerned that you were unable to establish an environment, an environment at the National Security Council that would allow this information to reach you. You said earlier–you alluded to the fact intelligence is good but it has to be used, doesn’t it? In this case, if it stopped at a certain level, it didn’t reach a threshold, there’s a breakdown, is it not?

ANTHONY LAKE: There appears to have been some sort of breakdown for some reason here. But breakdown, itself, implies that there was a system that broke down, and I think the system had been working very well on intelligence matters for four years.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: How can we, Dr. Lake, be assured if you were to take the helm over at Langley that you will do what you will do as DCI what appears that you were unable to do over at the White House?

ANTHONY LAKE: Senator, if you’re asking me to guarantee that in what I hope will be four years as the director of Central Intelligence that nothing ever will go wrong in that agency, then I cannot guarantee that, obviously.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I understand that.

ANTHONY LAKE: What I can guarantee you is that, one, when things go wrong, I will hold myself responsible, and in holding myself responsible when things go wrong, I will look into it. If individuals made mistakes, I will hold them accountable. If the system was wrong, if it’s broke, we’ll fix it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Accountability was just what some committee members wanted from Lake. They pushed him to commit to an overhaul of the CIA which has suffered from revelations of spies within its own ranks.

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE, (R) Rhode Island: One of the problems that I think is left unresolved by your predecessors is the handling of those who were involved in the Ames situation. I just–and we have–this committee did some investigation in that, and the reports that came back were pretty stern on the agency for what seemed to be insufficient calling to accountability of those in the agency who permitted this situation, or not permitted but did not discover this situation. Do you have any thoughts on that?

ANTHONY LAKE: I can think of nothing more serious than the question of catching and dealing with those would betray their country. The word should go out that if you’re a spy, you’re going to get caught, because we’re doing a lot better job now than we were before Ames in catching them.

SEN. JOHN CHAFEE: All I can say is that we count on you and rely upon you to exercise that accountability that you, yourself, have said is an important part of running that organization.

ANTHONY LAKE: Senator, you can count on it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the critical tenor of nearly all the questioning, Lake was told he does have support on the Intelligence Committee. Democrat Bob Kerrey of Nebraska said the Bosnia and China issue would not affect his vote.

SEN. BOB KERREY, (D) Nebraska: I’m not going to vote against you, as a consequence, your role in Iran-Bosnia, though I was very strongly critical at the time, both publicly and privately, of the no instructions, non-informing of Congress. I think it was a mistake. I’m not concerned over the notification over the Chinese briefing. I don’t think–it’s clear to me that not all intelligence reaches the boss, and in a compartmentalized environment, all intelligence is not supposed to reach the boss. That’s not a breakdown, and I don’t regard that as a problem. I can say to you–I’ll say for the record–though I think it’s a significant issue, if I’d have been a staffer at the NSC, I’m not sure I would have kicked it upstairs.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tomorrow, the Intelligence Committee will spend part of the day questioning Lake in a closed session where he can address classified matters. The hearings will continue into next week.

JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, an inside look at the new Congress.