The Obama administration’s pick for a top intelligence post at the Homeland Security Department is expected to face questions from senators about his ties to the CIA’s harsh interrogations of terror suspects.
At issue is the extent of Philip Mudd’s involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program while he was a senior official at the agency during the Bush administration. Mudd was nominated to be under secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. His confirmation hearing is expected next week.
Mudd, who was deputy director of the Office of Terrorism Analysis at the CIA, had direct knowledge of the agency’s interrogations, which included a method of simulated drowning called "waterboarding," according to a congressional aide, who was not authorized to disclose the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Neither Mudd nor the White House responded to requests for comment.
The interrogation methods have come under harsh criticism by Democratic lawmakers and President Barack Obama, who has said waterboarding is torture.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday Mudd’s ties to the program will be probed.
"Even though members of this committee did not object to the program until it became politically risky, I expect the nominee will be questioned on his involvement," Bond told The Associated Press.
Another Republican senator wants more information about Obama’s top pick for the post as well. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said her staff is looking into the extent of Mudd’s involvement in these interrogation programs.
Charlie Allen, the former top intelligence official at the Homeland Security Department and longtime senior official at the CIA, said Mudd is the right person for the job.
"He is a highly respected professional intelligence officer who is honest and is an individual of high integrity. Period," Allen said.
Part of Mudd’s job as the chief intelligence officer at the department would be continuing to build the intelligence operations and working with the FBI and the rest of the intelligence community, collecting and sharing information about potential threats to the country. The position was created in 2003.
The Democratically controlled Senate will have to decide whether indirect involvement or knowledge of the CIA’s interrogation program is enough to disqualify a candidate who has been praised by Allen and other current and former intelligence officials.
Mudd’s analysts used information obtained through harsh interrogations, and the congressional aide said that Mudd is likely to be questioned on whether the analysis branch pressured interrogators in the field to use harsher methods because they believed detainees were not telling the truth.
In November, Obama’s selection of John Brennan to become CIA director was derailed after a firestorm of criticism from liberal bloggers that associated him with the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention and rendition programs.
Faced with the prospects of contentious confirmation hearings, Brennan withdrew from consideration. He currently serves as the president’s White House-based homeland security adviser, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.
Phil LaVelle, spokesman for the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Mudd’s confirmation hearing will be next week. Lavelle declined further comment on the issue.