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A Conversation with Senator Carl Levin

Chair: Carl Levin, Senator (D-MI), Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
Presider: Michael Getler, Ombudsman, PBS
March 18, 2013
Council on Foreign Relations

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MICHAEL GETLER: Afternoon, everybody. My name is Michael Getler. Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. Our guest today is Senator Carl Levin, the widely respected chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat from Michigan, who will have served for 36 years, all of them as a member of this committee -- of that committee, and chairman of it for the past six years when he steps aside at the end of next year.

So Senator Levin's voice has been central to many of the life-and-death and war-and-peace issues for as long as he's been in the Senate. And today we're going to hear that voice once again before we get into our question-and-answer session.

Senator?

SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI): Mike, thank you so much.

And thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for the invitation to be with you again.

I've got a number of my staff members who are with me here today. My chief -- my new chief of staff at the Armed Services Committee, Peter Levine, is here. Another member of that staff Bill Monohan is here. My press secretary, Tara Andringa, is here. And Gordon Trowbridge, who does a lot of my speech-writing, if you like what I have to say here today, I wrote this speech; if you don't, he wrote the speech. (Laughter.)

A few weeks ago, you may have noticed an interesting news analysis heading up the international news section of The New York Times. It was headlined "Afghan Sign of Progress Turns Out to be Error." (Laughter.) The article reported that the government had acknowledged that a report on progress in Afghanistan had mistakenly indicated a 7 percent drop last year in enemy attacks. And as a matter of fact, there had been no decline; it was a mistake.

But what was notable wasn't the error; it was the fact that the correction received far bigger play than the story that it was correcting.

When the initial good-news report came out in late January, neither The Times nor any other major newspaper that I know of even mentioned it. The Times in its story length correction reported, quote, "Though the mistake may be embarrassing, it is not likely to greatly change perspectives about how the war is going."

On that much, we agree.

In the view of much of the media, Afghanistan is the good war gone wrong, a justifiable effort to end the al-Qaida and Taliban threat, that has stumbled. Media coverage is largely negative and, as a result, so is the public perception.

The negative public impression of the Afghan conflict is only made worse by regular, hard-for-Americans-to-swallow comments of President Karzai. But more on that later.

I have no allusions about the immense costs that we have borne in Afghanistan, the difficulties that we've encountered, the ambiguous nature of the situation or the challenges that we confront.

But I will argue that the negative view of our involvement in Afghanistan is wrong. Let's start with the military situation. It's unlikely that violence will disappear from the Afghan landscape anytime soon. There is no doubt that elements of the Taliban will seek, mostly by instilling fear and intimidation, to retake territory where they've lost control.

But the security picture has changed very much for the better. There are unmistakable signs of progress on the single most important security tasks that we face in Afghanistan: Rebuilding Afghan security forces capable of securing their own nation.

Senator Jack Reed and I visited Regional Command East in Afghanistan in January. Now, less than two years ago of Afghan security forces operations in RC-East were conducted unilaterally; that is, without international forces on hand to support the Afghan forces. But since April of 2012, that figure has not dropped below 70 percent and generally has remained at or above 80 percent -- operations conducted unilaterally by Afghan forces.

Fewer Afghan civilians fell victim to insurgent violence in 2012. And over a four-week period earlier this year, no U.S. or coalition troops were killed in action.

Afghan forces certainly require our support in logistics and transportation, intelligence and other areas. But they are clearly capable of carrying the fight to the Taliban and are doing so effectively.

Now, that is precisely the mission that I've been recommending that we pursue for years now, enlarging, training and equipping Afghan security forces capable of defending their own country. That goal is becoming a reality.

And the society that they are defending is better off than when we began. And here are some signs of that progress.

Under Taliban rule, roughly 800,000 Afghan children were in school, and girls were widely denied an education. Now, more than 8 million students attend Afghan schools and more than 40 percent of them are female.

In 2001, Afghanistan had 20,000 teachers, all male. Today, there are 200,000 teachers, including 60,000 women.

The number of schools in Afghanistan has grown from 3,400 in 2001 to more than 16,000 today.

Per capita GDP has grown fourfold since 2001. Afghan life expectancy has increased 20 years since then.

More than 18 million Afghans now have telephone access compared to about 1 million 10 years ago.

Now, these facts do not eliminate the difficulties that we face, a continued insurgency, a neighbor Pakistan that remains a safe haven for insurgents moving across the border, an ineffective and often corrupt central government, and other major barriers to stability and progress.

But just as it is important for us to be realistic about the challenges that we face in Afghanistan, it's also important that we recognize the advances that have been made so that we can reinforce actions that promote success.

I'd just mention two here. The first is to continue to work hard to establish a durable partnership that will provide Afghanistan's security forces the assistance that they need. NATO made an important decision on that front last month in Brussels when NATO defense ministers reversed an earlier decision to reduce the planned size of Afghan security forces.

Second, we should reinforce achievements in building Afghanistan's human capital. More than two-thirds of Afghans are under 25 years of age, and the country's future depends on opportunities for them. One promising venue for those efforts is the National Solidarity Program which has already financed over 68,000 small-scale, locally sustainable projects that Afghan villages select, oversee and protect from Taliban interference.

That we can even discuss goals such as these is one measure of how far we have come in Afghanistan despite the challenges. And we should not lose sight of the distance that we've traveled.

But now, what to do about President Karzai?

I know it's the question on all of your minds. Is he making success more problematic? And he surely is.

There has been an understandable outpouring of dismay in our country at his various offensive recent and not-so-recent comments, such as a recent speech in which he said Taliban attacks are, quote, "in the service of foreigners not withdrawing from Afghanistan," close quote.

Some say Karzai is motivated by domestic politics, that he's acting shrewdly to play on his country's long distaste for foreign influence, and that his comments reflect a personal super sensitivity to slights against Afghanistan sovereignty. But you do wonder how he can be so erratic as to say that the Taliban are serving American interests while saying in the same speech that America is, quote, "a friend and strategic ally of Afghanistan."

Karzai is a mystery that we've had to deal with for a long time and will have to continue to deal with. However complex his motivations, the effects are the same. Karzai's remarks endanger U.S. and coalition troops by encouraging an apparent disarray they might see among those fighting against them.

Karzai's absurd remarks weaken the support of the American people to pursue a strategy based on a carefully planned transfer of responsibility to Afghan security forces, and they raise doubts in many, if not most American minds about the wisdom of a long-term strategic relationship with Afghanistan with all of its costs and its risks.

Should these challenges, including Karzai's inflammatory rhetoric, cause us to change course?

Now, I was disappointed when President Obama, instead of deciding to reduce troops during 2013 at a, quote, "steady pace," as he said he would and as I had urged him to do, the president effectively decided against further troop reductions until the end of this year.

I believe returning to a policy of steady pace of U.S. troop reductions would do a number of things. It would keep the pressure on the Afghans to take more and more responsibility for their security. It would reflect the faster-than-expected success of Afghan security forces and would be a vote of confidence in those forces.

And returning to a steady pace of U.S. troop reductions would have the added benefit of sending a message to Karzai that he cannot have it both ways. Endangering our troops with his rhetoric while, by the way, taking the security those same troo9ps help provide, for granted.

Returning to the steady-pace approach to reductions of our troops would also be in keeping with the wise advice that I and some of my Senate colleagues received three years or so ago.

From a group of Afghan village elders in answer to my question, do you want us here, their answer was, we want you to train our army and leave. We will invite you back someday as guests.

We need to give Karzai as few excuses as possible for his outbursts. For instance, we must be certain that Afghanistan will be the leader in any discussions with the Taliban and is seen as such. If the Taliban will only talk with us, then there should be no talks with the Taliban.

We need to respect Afghanistan's sovereignty. Postponement of the handover of the Bagram detention facility, however understandable, is a challenge to Afghanistan's sovereignty and could play into the Taliban narrative that President Karzai is a puppet of the foreign forces.

The response to that postponement, by the way, from a group of leading Afghan clerics paralleled Karzai's tone when they said that American forces are infidels who, quote, "keep on disobeying" close quote.

Representatives of each nation need be more sensitive to how words and actions are perceived by the other, and seek ways to cooperate respectfully in a common cause, promoting stability and preventing the return of Taliban domination in Afghanistan.

A few weeks ago, some of my Senate colleagues and staff gathered in the Capitol to meet an exceptional group of young people. Members of the Afghan National Youth Orchestra performed for us before they began a short U.S. tour that ended at Carnegie Hall in New York.

These children, boys and girls, ethnically diverse, most of them literally rescued from the streets of Afghanistan and Kabul, played a selection of traditional Afghan music, after which we took them on a tour of our Capitol. Such an evening would have been unimaginable before our partnership with the Afghan people. Not only were there no musical academies, under the Taliban there was no music allowed.

Our evening with those remarkable young people does not erase the challenges that we face in Afghanistan; I didn't forget those challenges that night. But I also cannot forget those children or the millions of Afghans who have access to education and freedoms unimaginable when the Taliban and al-Qaida held sway and made Afghans captive in their own land.

Every time the Taliban blows up a school or attacks a child for seeking an education, they lose ground in Afghanistan. America's long involvement in Afghanistan has come at enormous cost and precious lives and in resources. That price has not secured everything we hoped for.

But as we prepare to bring our amazingly brave and dedicated troops home over the next year-and-a-half, we should remember the difference that they've made for our security and for the Afghan people.

Thanks.

(Applause.)

GETLER: Thank you very much, Senator. That was important -- those were important remarks. And one of the headlines that have appeared recently that you may have been referring to -- (audio break) -- call for a steady pace, to resume this steady pace of withdrawal, and it was by the former head of this esteemed organization, Leslie Gelb, who posted an op-ed piece, saying basically -- the headline said "To Hell With Karzai." And that was after the --

LEVIN: He's more succinct than I am.

GETLER: Yes. (Laughter.) Well, what he said -- I'll just read a sentence or two -- he said, "Hamid Karzai is beating up on the United States to score domestic political points once again, this time on the occasion of Chuck Hagel's maiden visit as defense secretary to that sad country. Yet, the Obama team and America's foreign policy cognizanti can't seem to draw the obvious conclusions: stop letting these Karzai guys play us for suckers and speed up our exit, and stop wasting American lives and dollars."

So that's not very diplomatic, but it comes from the former head here. And it's probably what, as you probably know, is what a fair number of people think.

Is that the right prescription? In other words, he's going beyond something that you're talking about.

LEVIN: Well, it's pretty close except for some of the rhetoric because I don't think we're wasting lives and dollars there. I think we've had a mission; that mission was to remove the Taliban from control of Afghanistan and it was to try to provide the Afghan security forces with the numbers and the capabilities, the skills that they need to prevent the Taliban from taking control again.

That mission is, for the most part, successful militarily.

The part which will help to sustain it, which is to have a government in Afghanistan, which is less corrupt, has not been as successful.

But it's nonetheless, I think, going to leave Afghanistan, and we're not going to totally leave it, in a better condition than we found it and in a better place, I believe, to take or to make sure that the Taliban can't control them again. But I think that is so clearly in our interests that I just wouldn't go as far as Mr. Gelb does there with his comments about wasted lives and money. I just don't think it's been a waste of time. I think it was an important mission and that it's been and will be successful to a large degree, not perfectly, but to a large degree.

GETLER: Right. I think you need to hook your microphone up, Senator.

(Off mic commentary.)

While they're doing that, we don't have as much time as usual today for questioning. So I'm sure the audience is going to want to come back to Afghanistan.

I wanted to just take a few minutes, if I could, to ask you about sort of two human and materiel status of the American military. And as you know, we're now a decade into two wars with military personnel having to go three, four, five tours back to Iraq, back to Afghanistan, et cetera.

And I was just wondering if it's your sense that -- (audio break) -- rather than smaller forces for the future, the United States actually needs larger forces and is able to continue with this kind of repetitive tours that are being asked of military personnel.

LEVIN: Well, we can't keep up the repetitive tours, and we're not. As we bring troops home from Afghanistan, that pressure is going to be reduced.

One of -- I guess a fourth reason -- I gave three reasons for keeping a steady pace for reductions. A fourth reason would be that issue, that very issue that we can't have these kind of repetitious and repetitive tours continue. So I don't think we need to increase the size of the military, but we do have to avoid those tours. And I believe that we're going to succeed in doing that.

GETLER: But you would favor reducing the size of the ground forces.

LEVIN: Somewhat. We have -- we do have scheduled small reductions in the forces, and I think it's -- we need to do that.

GETLER: The other question I wanted to ask you, again, off Afghanistan, is that, how is it that these huge defense contractors and the military/civilian/congressional overseers that are supposed to essentially prepare for American defense and put it in good shape, how have they been able to proceed with an F-35 joint strike fighter that's now seven years behind schedule, a $400 billion program, 70 percent over cost? Who pays for these seemingly endless flaws and cost overruns?

Plus, you have the Navy's littoral ship program that was supposed to be low cost, now has doubled in price to about $440 million per vessel. You have a $32 billion Army program for 2,000 new ground combat vehicles that are hard to transport.

I don't know how much public pays attention to these things, but they are enormously expensive, they are enormous cost overruns in all of these programs.

And how do you get control? I mean, that's not helping the defense of the country.

LEVIN: No, it's surely not. A few years ago, we adopted a major reform for acquisition. It's gradually taking hold, but it's still gradual. And there's a lot of reasons that these things spin and spun out of control; it's still going on in terms of costs.

One of the reasons is that we don't settle on the requirement and on the technologies in the weapons system. We don't say, OK, that's it. Because Americans, being as innovative as we are, continually improve whatever the technology is inside of a weapon system.

And until now, we've been continually upgrading, changing the design and the development of these weapon systems. Part of -- and this is a multifaceted acquisition reform. It was a Levin-McCain reform, so it was a bipartisan reform. John McCain has been very, very aggressive on this issue.

And so part of that -- and there's many more parts to it -- but part of that is to say that we're going to stop any new developments at -- when we get to a certain point early in this and the development of a weapon system and leave it there. It may be only 90 percent is good, but it'll be half the cost.

Another thing that we've done there is we've put in many more stop points in the cycle in terms of costs to try to keep these costs in line. And there's a number of other things that we have put in place.

With the F-35, the manager of that program was let go, was removed from that program. And the cost issue, we have slowed down the production of the plane so that we don't fly before we buy. We are doing less of that. There was much too much of that. But it's called concurrency. We have reduced the possibility of concurrency, flying before we actually go into the full rate production of weapon systems.

But it's a major problem. You asked who pays for it. The American taxpayers pay for it, obviously. But that's -- those are some of the causes of it -- too much concurrency, too much change in the designs as we proceeded. And we've tried to tackle both of those in our acquisition reform bill, which is now law, and which is taking some time to take hold.

GETLER: I want to take advantage of my time with you for a minute and jump around a bit. But we're talking about Afghanistan. But how do you think history is going to judge the Obama administration's decision not to intervene in any significant military fashion in Syria? There's 70,000 dead, as you know, and several million refugees.

LEVIN: I think it's way too early to predict how history is going to judge whether our policy is right. It's not too early to know how history will judge Assad; that's easy.

But in terms of whether or not we have proceeded in a more deliberate way than some would want us to, and probably a little bit more than I would want us to if you want to get into that, nonetheless, the goal here is to make sure that what happens after Assad is stable, is diverse, is not chaotic, and that the right people are the ones that take over when Assad goes.

And that's a matter of putting in place, if possible, a kind of an interim political coalition which will have broad support inside of Syria, which will not see a long period of retribution and violence following the fall of Assad, which will happen. And putting that in place, to the extent that's possible, is what is going on now.

At the same time, supporting the opposition, at least those elements of the opposition, which we believe are positive, constructive, progressive elements, but that are not the extreme elements that otherwise could turn Syria into, if possible -- and it's hard to imagine even worst case with Assad now. Put it this way, it would not be an improvement on Assad. We don't want that to happen.

So I would have gone and would go somewhat further than the president. I would, for instance, help Turkey, if they're willing, and I think they are, to establish a zone, a protected zone along the Turkish-Syrian border where Syrians could move into that zone. I probably would provide -- would go after some Syrian air defenses and after some of the Syrian air power.

So that I would do things probably a little bit more, further more advanced militarily than what the president is doing. But I think his goal is the right goal to try to take steps to see if we can have the aftermath of the removal of Assad to be a good aftermath for the region and for Syria.

That's not a given, by the way. If it just collapses, goes with the chaos, disintegrates, a better aftermath is not a given just because he's gone.

GETLER: Two other quick questions sort of related. They're not -- they're short, but not short answers. But whatever happened to majority rule in the U.S. Senate? And two, how does the sequester end, if it does end? Is it do you have to wait until the end of this fiscal year, or what? What do you see for that?

LEVIN: What happened to majority rule is that we've advanced the cause somewhat with our reforms, so we're able to put in place on a bipartisan basis at the beginning of this year. Eight of us, four Democrats, four Republicans, got together and accomplished really two major reforms.

Number one, we have taken away -- put it this way. We've given the majority leader an option to move to a bill or a matter without being filibustered on a motion to proceed, providing the minority is guaranteed two amendments, not to think it will pass, but that they will at least be disposed of.

The argument that the minority has made against any change that the Republicans made is that what they claim the majority leader denied them an opportunity to offer amendments to bills by a mechanism called filling the tree, that would prevent any amendments to a bill.

And so what we agreed upon is that if he uses this new mechanism that there will be an opportunity to offer -- subject, by the way, to being filibustered -- but nonetheless, to offer two amendments. And that was able -- now the majority leader has a tool to get over the abuse which was regular of the motion to proceed as a thwarting mechanism to our being able to proceed.

That was a major advance. It sounds awfully technical; I know it is. But inside the world of the Senate, that was a significant advance and a significant advance for the majority leader.

In addition, on judges, we have severely restricted the number of hours you can waste on what's called post-cloture after a judge does get 60 votes.

One of the stalling mechanisms which has been used regularly by the Republicans was to have this long debate, 30 hours, after a cloture was voted on a district court judge. That now has ended. It's going to be, I believe, four hours debate, if I remember correctly, not 30 hours. This was one of the most important things that the majority leader wanted to accomplish, and we were able to accomplish.

We're going to get a lot more judges confirmed, even if the opponents continue to abuse the rules. The rules have been restricted so that even if they do continue to abuse them, they're not going to be able to successfully stop as many judges as they've had.

There was a third quasi-agreement which was not put into the formal structures, the ones I've just described, but which were orally agreed to in what's called a colloquy between the two leaders.

But we made significant, I believe, significant progress. And equally important, we avoided the use of the nuclear option. If the nuclear option is used, which means changing the rules without following the rules -- the rules say you've got to have two-thirds to change them. If the nuclear option is used, it would override by fiat of the presiding officer what the rules say is required to change the rules. It would change the whole concept of the Senate as a continuing body.

We have two continuing bodies in this country, institutionally, other than the Council on Foreign Relations. (Laughter.) We have two continuing governmental bodies; one is the U.S. Senate, where only one-third of us are elected each two years, so we have a -- and by our rules we are a continuing body. We give continuity to our country. The other one is the Supreme Court.

The House is not. The House is a totally new House, even if the members are not all new. It is a new House with new rules by majority vote every two years.

I'm sorry to give you a long answer, but you asked for it.

GETLER: Well, it was -- I should say also, it was a bipartisan question, because the Democrats are no angels on this either. So --

LEVIN: No, we've used it -- by the way, we've used it. Minorities have used it. It's one of the hallmarks of the Senate is that we protect minorities.

GETLER: Right.

LEVIN: No other legislative or parliamentary body in the world protects minority views. It's been abused, that's the problem, and so we've got to try to scale back on that abuse.

The answer is very short for your second question. Sequestration can be avoided if we can adopt a budget and an appropriation process for 2014. That's the way we're going to try to avoid it. We're not going to probably be able to undo it in fiscal year 2013.

GETLER: OK. I'm sorry to -- ran a little bit long there.

LEVIN: The answers were a little long is the problem.

GETLER: No, no, no, that's fine.

OK, wait for the microphone to get to you. Please stand up, state your name and affiliation and keep your questions to questions and make them short, please. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Senator, I have to tell you, I'm heartbroken that you're leaving. And that's what my question is about. I'm Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School. I don't know how we're going to manage if we don't get people learning while they're in their jobs. And my understanding about Congress is, as soon as they get elected, they spend somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of their time raising money.

I watch C-SPAN, and people show up long enough to ask their question and then leave to go ask a question another one.

What are the structural things we can do, could possibly happen to make Congress and the Senate more productive?

And by the way, I don't think we're getting educated people that are getting elected. I don't think -- you know, it takes a long time to learn how to do this. So I think we're all being handicapped by it.

LEVIN: Your question, I'm afraid, is a book. And since you want short answers to questions, I guess the short answer would be that, number one, don't give up hope, it's not as bad as it looks. Just like Afghanistan is not as bad as it looks sometimes.

It's partly -- I can't blame it all on raising money, but that's part of it. I don't think anyone spends 50 to 75 percent of the time. That's truly -- (audio break).

Secondly, I think we've got to find -- in terms of -- (audio break)-- which I hope will lead to the Senate functioning better. We worked hard on it and did it on a bipartisan basis.

Third, one of the big problems is not just how much money needs to be raised, but the problem is there's a greater threat out there in terms of that issue, which is the growth of these so-called super PACs and the use of these non -- these tax-exempt organizations for now unlimited amount of money.

The Supreme Court opinion has opened the door to unlimited amount of money coming into campaigns. And that is going to put more pressure on people who are targeted to raise money in order to survive in a sense that kind of -- (audio break) -- may end up it being 50 percent -- (audio break) -- money.

The -- our laws, our tax laws do not allow these tax-exempt organizations called 501(c)(4)s to use their money for political purposes. And one of the things I want to do in the next couple of years and one of the reasons, frankly, I'm not running for reelection is so that I can spend full time working on things that I really believe in.

And one of them -- Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the one that had the hearing -- (audio break) -- the last week on JPMorgan, will have a hearing on the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax -- (audio break) -- tax-exempt organizations which use millions, tens of millions of dollars to obviously engage in political activity, these attack ads that have gone on and will get worse unless we act.

But another way that we're going to be using our -- my Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is to go after the way in which too many corporations in this country have avoided -- (audio break) -- offshore. (Audio break) -- now, that's not your question, but since I'm on the subject, I can't miss an opportunity to tell you that that is a big part of our problem is that we are really seeing a decline in revenues as a percentage of our economy to the federal government. It was traditionally 18 percent, it's now down to 15 percent of gross domestic product. That's a huge loss.

We've got to increase revenues. We're not going to probably be able to do it through increasing rates. We've kind of done as much as we can -- (inaudible) -- used, created, exploited and, I believe, abused to avoid taxes. It served no purpose other than tax avoidance.

And so, again, that's not your question, but since I'm talking about the permanent subcommittee to go after these tax-exempt organizations and these super PACs that have plowed so many hundreds of millions of dollars into our campaigns, which help to create the problem which was described in your question, I wanted to add that to my answer.

GETLER: I think we agree; it was a good question.

Sir, in the corner there.

I'll get you afterwards.

LEVIN: This is an old buddy. This is going to be a hardball question. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Mr. Chairman, very nice to see you again. Mike Costi, recently retired from the SASC.

LEVIN: SASC is the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mike was on the staff there.

QUESTIONER: One of the things a few of us were talking about earlier today was the amount of equipment is an example that exists in Afghanistan and the notion of what are we going to do with it all. How much of it is coming out? How much of it will be left? Where will it go?

Is this an issue that the committee is thinking about? And is it viewed as a solvable problem in the two-year time frame?

LEVIN: Three-part answer to the question about all the equipment that's in Afghanistan. One is it's a huge effort to bring back that equipment. I mean, we've gone into this some detail. It's going to take us a year-and-a-half to get our equipment out, even if the Pakistan road opens up, which it now is again, the port down in Karachi is now working again. So we expect we'll be able to get all the equipment out that we want.

The second part, however, that I want to mention on is that some of that equipment is going to be left in Afghanistan for their army, and should be, by the way. And we've authorized in our authorization bill, which you've worked on, we've authorized our military to leave certain kinds of equipment to help the Afghan army be a more advanced army and a more modern army.

The third part I've already covered, and that's that issue of the Pakistan line of supply being open. That's been a contested issue. One of the real problems we've had with Afghanistan -- I'm sorry, with Pakistan -- I think I misspoke -- with Pakistan is the closing of that road going up Pakistan to cross over further north in Afghanistan. And that now has been resolved.

GETLER: The gentlemen right behind.

QUESTIONER: (Inaudible) -- Stevenson (sp), (CIES ?). Senator, would you support what some of us call a Title 60 law that would extend to Pentagon-run activities that look a lot like the CIA's covert actions, the sort of rule where the president has to make a finding and Congress gets notified for Pentagon-run things, perhaps like lethal drone operations or cyber, offensive cyber -- (inaudible) -- operations.

LEVIN: Yeah, I -- we haven't had any problem in being -- getting notice. And I wouldn't have any problem in institutionalizing us with that kind of notice. It's -- we don't have to rely on the War Powers Act to -- (audio break) -- and we do. But we can put it in a clearer structure if that gives people more confidence.

GETLER: Yes, sir. Right there. Yeah. Oh, I meant the gentleman in the back. But go ahead. Go ahead, that's all right. We'll get him next.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Barry Carter from Georgetown Law School. North Korea, a country with an even more problematic leader than Afghanistan. Last week, Senator Hagel announced plans to expand our missile defense system -- sometimes expanding ballistic missile defenses. What are your views on the present situation, the present plans?

LEVIN: No, I think there are good plans. The problems that I've had for the most part with ballistic missile defenses have been the more exotic "Star Wars" kind of defenses, not with the kind of ballistic missile defenses that we've put in.

In fact, we've been strong supporters in the Senate to missile defense, like Arrow missile defense and others which are against the realistic threats, which are real, against -- particularly against Iranian threats.

What he's done recently -- (audio break) -- approach and the previous administration's to what basically the current approach is, putting the missile defenses against Poland and Romania, I've supported that. I think it's smart.

But the so-called phase four of that phased adaptive defense was not a real -- was not realizable yet. We don't even know if it ever would be realizable, frankly. It was kind of a paper phase four. Phase one through three we know will work, it'll protect Europe against Iranian missiles.

The added benefit of shifting of that defense to Alaska with the -- (audio break) -- threat, but it also might open up some possible negotiations with Russia. If we can take advantage of -- (audio break) -- open to us, if they don't view the phase four -- (audio break) -- into California, it may give us even a stronger -- (audio break) -- second threat.

The difference between the two is that in one case we think they might use them, Iran. And the other case, if they did use them, it would lead to their own destruction, North Korea, and they're only interested in their own survival in North Korea.

Iran has this patina, at least, of this super religious extreme folks that might actually not care if they were wiped out in response to one of their attacks. There are some folks in Iran who might not care. Some of their leaders talk as though they might not care because they're ideologically so fervent and so extreme that they might actually care less, put it that way, than the North Koreans do since the North Koreans care only about regime survival.

So it's kind of a -- bottom line, I support what the president has done. I think it protects our country better. It protects Europe in a more clear way. And it also kind of opened the door to possible discussions with the Russians, which will strengthen the European defense against Iran. Because of those two radars, they may be willing to share information from Russia.

GETLER: Yes, this gentleman in the back. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Gregory --

GETLER: No, no, this gentleman right here. Please. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Senator. My name is -- (inaudible) -- with China -- (inaudible) -- news agency of Hong Kong. My question is on China and Asia Pacific. And as Chinese new leader have taken office, what do you expect from U.S.-China military relations?

Secondary, do you think the balancing strategic that's shifting more military -- (inaudible) -- could be sustainable in a context of sequestration and limited budget? Or you hope the alliances like Japan and South Korea will share the burden with the United States?

Thank you.

LEVIN: As far as our relationship with China is concerned, the major threat to that relation are cyberattacks which come from China. They are serious. They are huge. They are involved, at the moment, with going after commercial information and commercial technologies. And the theft is just inexcusable. We've got to try to stop it and we've got to find ways to persuade China it is not in their interest or benefit -- it doesn't benefit our relationship for these kind of attacks to continue.

It would be extremely helpful if China would also, on the North Korea issue, do what they apparently are somewhat now doing, which is moving towards a more robust effort to contain a North Korea nuclear program. There's some evidence that the Chinese may be willing now to work with the world community, part of the world community to try to contain and restrict the threat of the North Korean program, both the missile program as well as the nuclear program. And that would be good news if China continues to move in that direction.

I don't see that sequestration is going to have a, unless it continues, which I don't think it will -- it will continue probably, as I mentioned earlier, for 2013; I don't see reversing it. But sequestration is a nine-year deal, and I don't think we're going to let it -- I hope we don't let it continue for even this year, much less for the eight out years because it's a terrible mistake.

But nonetheless, I don't see sequestration continuing. I believe we're going to find ways to avoid the continuance of this really foolish program which is such an irrational way to budget. So I don't see that sequestration, for a number of reasons, is going to reverse the strategic emphasis that we're making on the Pacific.

GETLER: The gentleman right in the back. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Chairman, Greg Holfam (ph), Radio Free Asia. Just a follow up on --

GETLER: I'm sorry, where?

QUESTIONER: Gregory Holfam (ph), Radio Free Asia.

GETLER: OK.

QUESTIONER: Just mention -- just a follow-up question on you mentioned just now the cyberattack ability from Chinese. Since the Chinese side, the usual suspects -- (inaudible) -- by its newly appointed prime minister encourage them that they should not be assumed as the criminal, they should assumed innocent as well. So I want you to comment on their military cyberattack capability. Are they amateur -- (inaudible) -- or do they really own the military -- (inaudible) -- attacking capability? Thank you.

LEVIN: Yeah. We think the Chinese government is clearly supporting what's going on in terms of the cyberattacks coming from China. And they wouldn't occur without the Chinese government approval, acquiescence, support, various levels, various times.

But one of the things that I have found -- and this is not quite cyber, but it sort of relates in a way to whether China is going to be part of a community of nations in terms of having a world of law, and that is the counterfeit area. Now, it's different from cyber. But nonetheless, it's the same issue, whether or not intellectual property of other countries is going to be respected or not.

We had an investigation at the Armed Services Committee, which proved that millions of parts that were counterfeited in China got into our weapon systems -- millions of parts -- and that they're counterfeited openly in a city in China, out on the street where our older computers, sent back to China, disassembled, parts cleaned, new numbers put on them, and then resold as new.

Now, China can stop that in a minute, by the way. That's done openly. But they haven't. And it's part of this intellectual property theft which is also the current target for cyberattacks.

And China is doing itself a disservice, I believe, in not putting an end to these kind of thefts of other countries' intellectual property. It's a huge issue, and it ought to be addressed by China.

GETLER: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Joe Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund. Thank you, Senator, for your --

LEVIN: Hey, Joe.

QUESTIONER: -- years of service. You've been a calm voice of reason. You have said that we have way more nuclear weapons than we need for our deterrent missions and that the nuclear weapons budget is ripe for cuts. Many of us would agree with you. Can you take action on this this year? Must you wait for the Department of Defense, or can you and the committee take the lead?

LEVIN: We could do it; it's unlikely we will do it unless the administration is onboard and is leading the way. It's just difficult enough to get it done with the administration. It's, I would say, probably impossible to do this without the support of the administration and without a plan on the part of the administration to start negotiating significant additional reductions.

We're down to -- I forgot the number, 1,550, I think, was the start -- the most recent start effort.

We have an obligation under our treaties to get to zero, to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Nonproliferation Treaty has a deal, a deal between those nations that have nuclear weapons and those that don't. Those that don't agreed they won't try to get them. There's been violations obviously by a few nations.

But those that do, like us, have an obligation to reduce. I don't know if the word "zero" is in the NPT, but basically, that's what -- elimination.

So we have an obligation, a treaty obligation to continue to move in this direction, hopefully by treaty, but if not by treaty, by executive negotiation with the -- particularly with the Russians.

But it's important, I believe, for our security to do so. And the proliferation goal, the anti-proliferation goal of so many organizations is -- that goal -- the nonproliferation goal is much more achievable if we continue to reduce our numbers.

GETLER: Yes, ma'am. I'll get you next. OK. Go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Senator, thank you so much for your leadership. And under that leadership, the Armed Services Committee --

GETLER: Could you state your name and --

QUESTIONER: -- Alisa Massimino with Human Rights First -- produced an important report on the military's treatment of detainees that helped solidify key reforms in the military. And now the Senate Intelligence Committee has produced a 6,000-page report, as you know, on the CIA interrogation program.

I wonder if you could comment on the importance of that report, particularly in light of continued claims about the efficacy of abusive interrogation techniques. Thanks.

LEVIN: That report that you refer to of the Intelligence Committee is currently classified. We've asked for a declassification from the CIA. It's a very, very significant report. Obviously, since it's classified, I can't tell you exactly what's in it. But let me put it this way. It supports the view that I have taken and also that Senator Feinstein and I have taken in a public release that we issued about a year ago that the claims that some make, from Cheney on down, that the use of waterboarding led to useful information are false. Those claims are not accurate.

And I can only tell you we have publicly laid out our case that they're not accurate, in a release that the two of us signed and issued about a year ago. And it's available on our websites, so you can kind of see it there.

But what you can't see unless the CIA cooperates is a very, very detailed history of the use of abusive tactics, what the administration then in power called enhanced interrogation techniques, some of which are torture under international law, including waterboarding.

I frankly had a lot of trouble with Brennan when he was confirmed because he would not acknowledge that waterboarding is torture, even though it is torture under international law, under Geneva. According to our president, Obama has said it is torture. It is.

But to your point, it's not just torture; it's not useful. It doesn't and did not produce -- did not produce -- the leads that ultimately went to -- were used to allow us to capture bin Laden.

You know, that's the problem that a few of us had with that famous movie. The implication that some of those tactics, those torture tactics produced useful evidence. The suggestion is inaccurate.

And our interest -- you know, people have a right to put out whatever movie they want. They have a right, everyone has a right to their opinion on it. But what our interest is is to whether the CIA provided information which suggested to movie makers, that particular movie maker, that those techniques produced information which helped us find Obama (sic).

If that's what the CIA did, we object to that. We don't object to a movie. Movie is free speech. I can disagree with it because it, at the beginning of that movie, said it was based on interviews, so it made it look like it was more documentary than it was. It was fiction, but kind of because of that opening statement made it look like less than fiction. OK?

So we can object to it; that our free-speech right. But we don't object to anyone putting out any kind of movie they want.

What our problem is, and we don't -- (inaudible) -- know whether it's true. If the CIA gave their perspective and if that perspective of the CIA is that waterboarding led to useful leads, then by God we do want to know that because that runs very counter to what we believe the historical record is.

GETLER: Well, at the risk -- I'm not going get waterboarded, so I'm going to have to end this. We're out of time.

A reminder, this was on the record.

LEVIN: What? (Laughter.) That's what that mic was for!

GETLER: Thank you, all.

Thank you, Senator.

(Applause.)


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