John Brennan’s Second, Secret Senate Hearing

On Tuesday afternoon, John Brennan will enter Hart Senate Office Building 219, one of the most secure rooms in Washington.

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John Brennan answers questions from the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Oct. 29, 2010.

On Tuesday afternoon, John Brennan will enter Hart Senate Office Building 219, one of the most secure rooms in Washington. It is the official hearing room of the Senate Intelligence Committee, before which Brennan will appear for his second day of testimony, this time in a non-public or “closed” session, following the televised, public testimony he delivered on Thursday afternoon. Hart 219, where the intelligence panel typically conducts its business, is a vault-like chamber with soundproofed double doors and strictly limited attendance. The room also features steel casing to guard against electromagnetic monitoring and is routinely inspected for eavesdropping devices, to allow for frank discussions about highly-classified matters.

The security may be needed for Brennan’s second round of questioning, which is sure to involve more detail on U.S. counter-terror operations than Brennan was able to offer in a roomful of reporters and TV cameras last week. But when it comes to Brennan’s nomination to run the CIA, the details of, say, “signature” drone strikes probably matter less than the political calculations of Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham, who may delay Brennan’s nomination to make the Obama White House cough up more detail about its response to the September 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. That said, it’s not clear that Republicans—who generally approve of Brennan’s record as Obama’s top counter-terror advisor, even if Dick Cheney calls him “second-rate“—will pick a real fight over Brennan, especially when they have Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to torment.

In theory, Brennan’s bigger problem could come from Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, like Oregon’s Ron Wyden, who are skeptical of the administration’s aggressive drone policies. Democrats enjoy only an 8-7 majority on the committee, so just one defection could cost them a majority should committee Republicans band together against Brennan. But that’s not likely, and a Senate aide says Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein intends to hold a vote on Brennan’s nomination this Thursday. Should something in today’s hearing cause new problems for Brennan, however, we may never know what it was. After all, what happens in Hart 219 stays in Hart 219.