Mr. Panetta at one point was asked by Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, how the war in Afghanistan will end. He responded that he often asked himself the same question about Iraq when he served on the Iraq Study Group. “What I can tell you is that over the past few years I have seen some progress in security in Afghanistan,” Mr. Panetta said.
Mr. Panetta sidestepped questions about whether Iran is building a nuclear weapon when asked by Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.
“Our concern with Iran is that they continue to try to develop some kind of nuclear capability,” Mr. Panetta said. “As to whether or not they’ve made certain decisions as to how far they should go, those are questions that I would probably have to address in another forum.”
Mr. Panetta confirmed that Iran is developing “increased capacities in intercontinental ballistic missile systems.”
Asked by Mr. Lieberman whether the Pentagon should draw up military plans for attacking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Mr. Panetta said: “I think in line with the president’s statement that we should keep all options on the table, and that would obviously require appropriate planning.”
Mr. Panetta, in response to senators’ questions, indicated that he favors keeping the policies of recent secretaries of defense and keeping Pentagon control over most of the more than $80 billion annual intelligence budget.
Mr. Panetta said 2004 legislation creating the office of the director of national intelligence left the “responsibility for execution of DOD intelligence activities to the secretary.”
The Defense Department has within its organization the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, which consume most of the intelligence budget.
Under Mr. Panetta’s interpretation of the law, he has the authority to shift funds to those agencies in the current budget year, as opposed to allowing the director of national intelligence to approve such shifts.
Mr. Panetta also endorsed an offensive missile system in his written responses to questions known as Conventional Prompt Global Strike. Mr. Panetta said the system would “provide the nation with a unique conventional capability to strike time-sensitive targets so that distant, hard to reach places will no longer provide sanctuary to adversaries.”