Washington—Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today announced that the committee approved Matt Olsen to be the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) by a unanimous voice vote. The committee’s vote advances Olsen’s nomination to the full Senate for consideration.
Senator Feinstein remarks follow:
“The distinguished Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee spoke on the Floor earlier today in support of this nomination. I would like to add to his comments and offer my support so that the Senate can take up this nomination quickly and hopefully confirm Mr. Olsen before the Senate goes on its August Recess.
I have tried to move quickly on this nomination because the period leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is a period of heightened threat, and one in which all parts of the national security agencies of the government need to be operating at full capacity.
Mr. Olsen is currently the General Counsel of the National Security Agency and has held a number of senior positions in the Department of Justice, including at the National Security Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Let me take just a moment to discuss the current terrorist threat and the role of the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, which Mr. Olsen will be leading, if confirmed.
The NCTC is the central agency within the U.S. government dealing with the identification, prevention, disruption, and analysis of terrorist threats. While it is best known for its role in consolidating and analyzing terrorism-related intelligence, the NCTC also plays an important role in conducting strategic planning for counterterrorism actions across the U.S. government.
As I mentioned before, I believe that the period leading up to the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a period of heightened threat. Despite counterterrorism pressure against al-Qaeda in Pakistan – including the successful strike against Usama Bin Laden in Abbottabad – the group remains dangerous and vengeful.
At the same time, the threat from al-Qa’ida’s affiliates and adherents around the world has increased and presents particular challenges. I am especially concerned about the threat to the U.S. homeland from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as well as threats emanating from terrorist safehavens in Somalia and elsewhere.
This means, to me, that this is a crucial time for our counterterrorism establishment to be at full strength. And the NCTC is a linchpin of that establishment.
So I am pleased that the President moved quickly to nominate Mr. Olsen - an individual serving in a senior Intelligence Community position today - to take the helm of the National Counterterrorism Center.
As I mentioned previously, Mr. Olsen is currently the General Counsel of the National Security Agency. In that capacity, he has the challenging job of ensuring that the NSA’s highly technical and highly capable signals intelligence system is operating fully within the law, and using all legal authorities available to it.
Before his current position at the NSA, Mr. Olsen served in the Department of Justice in several capacities for 18 years, including 12 years as a federal prosecutor.
Among Mr. Olsen’s positions at the Department of Justice, which has been the subject of some recent attention, was that of Executive Director of the Guantanamo Review Task Force created by Executive Order 13492. The role of the Task Force was to conduct a detailed review of all of the information available on each of the roughly 240 detainees being held at Guantanamo as of January 2009.
It was Mr. Olsen’s job to lead the large, interagency effort of more than 100 national security professionals to compile and analyze all intelligence relevant to the detainees, the feasibility of prosecuting them, the ability of a potential country receiving a detainee to mitigate the threat the detainee posed, and whether some detainees should be held in long-term Law of War detention.
I will say this to my colleagues. Being the director of a large task force making recommendations on Guantanamo detainees is about as thankless, as difficult, and as controversial a position that I can imagine. Every decision would be reviewed and criticized. But the new Attorney General asked Mr. Olsen to take on this job, and he agreed to do it. That is what we admire about career professionals in government service. And we should respect and reward that dedication and willingness to take on the difficult and unpopular jobs.
I note as well that Mr. Olsen has been recommended by his current and past colleagues in the current and the past Administration. The Intelligence Committee received letters of recommendation from General Alexander, former Attorney General Mukasey, former DNI McConnell, all three former Assistant Attorneys General for National Security, former NCTC Director Mike Leiter, and many others. They have all spoken to his capability and to his character.
I believe that Mr. Olsen is well qualified for the position, that he will be forthcoming with Congress, and that he will do a good job in leading the NCTC.
Prior to serving on the Guantanamo Review Task Force, Mr. Olsen had been the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice as well as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General with responsibility for intelligence matters.
He led the Department’s effort to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a process that eventually led to the passage of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In that position he worked closely with both sides of the aisle, and was an invaluable resource as we found a compromise to update important surveillance authorities and strengthen civil liberty protections.
Mr. Olsen was also previously a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, chief of the office’s National Security Section, and a Special Counsel to FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Mr. President, the Intelligence Committee has thoroughly reviewed Mr. Olsen's background, he has answered all of our questions, and we held a hearing on July 26th on his nomination. In sum, our due diligence is complete.
Now it is up to the Senate to confirm Mr. Olsen so that we do not leave the NCTC without a permanent director as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11.”