[Congressional Record: July 15, 2011 (Extensions)]
[Page E1331-E1333]



                           HON. FRANK R. WOLF

                              of virginia

                    in the house of representatives

                         Friday, July 15, 2011

  Mr. WOLF. Mr. Speaker, I submit a letter I sent to Senate Select 
Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein opposing the 
President's nomination of Mr. Matthew Olsen to lead the National 
Counterterrorism Center.

                                      House of Representatives

                                                    July 14, 2011.
     Hon. Dianne Feinstein,
     Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Hart 
         Senate Office Building, Washington, DC.
       Dear Senator Feinstein: I write in opposition to Mr. 
     Matthew Olsen's nomination to serve as director of the 
     National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is located in

[[Page E1332]]

     my congressional district. I believe Mr. Olsen exercised 
     questionable judgment and made misleading statements while 
     serving as the special counselor to the attorney general and 
     executive director of the Obama Administration's Guantanamo 
     Review Task Force, where he led the interagency process to 
     implement the president's executive order that led to the 
     release of a number of dangerous terrorist detainees held at 
     the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Dozens of high risk terrorist 
     detainees recommended for release by the task force led by 
     Mr. Olsen were released abroad to dangerously unstable 
     countries, including Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.
       As then-ranking member and now chairman of the House 
     Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee--which 
     funds the Justice Department, Federal Bureau of 
     Investigations, Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service and 
     which helped fund the NCTC's predecessor, the Terrorist 
     Threat Integration Center--I was disturbed by decisions and 
     statements made by Mr. Olsen in 2009 while he led the task 
     force. These concerns have deepened based on new information 
     that has come to light in recent articles from Newsweek, The 
     Washington Post, The National Journal and The Weekly 
     Standard. These reports have raised troubling questions about 
     Mr. Olsen's leadership of the task force and his actions in 
     response to White House influence.
       Additionally, my personal interactions with Mr. Olsen, as 
     well as these subsequent news reports, lead me to conclude 
     that he was not forthright with the Congress and may have 
     changed detainee assessments under political pressure from 
     administration officials. I believe these are troubling 
     concerns which deserve a thorough investigation and should 
     give the Senate serious pause as it considers who should lead 
     the NCTC. I have visited the NCTC on several occasions and 
     have met with a number of its former directors, as well as 
     the former and current directors of National Intelligence. I 
     have seen firsthand the critical work that is done by the 
     center and fully understand the need for an independent, 
     capable and principled director to lead the operation.
       There are three concerns that have led me to oppose Mr. 
     Olsen's nomination. First, it is clear to me that in order to 
     achieve the president's promise to close Guantanamo Bay 
     during his first year in office, Mr. Olsen may have been 
     susceptible to the immense political pressure placed on the 
     interagency task force to re-classify detainee threat levels. 
     Second, it has become clear that Mr. Olsen's task force may 
     have altered some detainee assessments--overturning 
     Department of Defense assessments--in order to clear and 
     expedite the release of a large number of detainees. Third, I 
     have recently learned that Mr. Olsen was not forthright with 
     me and my staff about the effort to release a number of 
     Uighur detainees to northern Virginia in 2009. Attached is a 
     white paper that addresses these concerns in greater detail.
       Leading the NCTC is a serious responsibility and requires a 
     director that is exceptionally experienced, forthcoming, 
     trustworthy and has good judgment. The analyses and 
     recommendations provided by the NCTC have direct bearing on 
     the safety of the American people. The director must be able 
     to withstand political pressure from all sides, facilitate 
     the complete and straightforward sharing of information and 
     ensure unbiased analysis. I do not question Mr. Olsen's 
     professional qualifications for this position, but from my 
     observations of his recent leadership positions, I believe 
     that he lacks the judgment to lead the NCTC.
       I am willing to testify about my concerns during your 
     committee's upcoming confirmation hearing for Mr. Olsen. 
     Please do not hesitate to contact me at 202-225-5136 to 
     discuss any of this information.
       Best wishes.
     Frank R. Wolf,
       Chairman, Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, House 
     Appropriations Committee.

  Summary of Concerns Regarding Mr. Olsen's Leadership and Actions as 
Executive Director of the Obama Administration's Guantanamo Review Task 

    1. Questionable altering of Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments

       I am concerned about new information reported by The Weekly 
     Standard about the assessments of detainees who were 
     transferred abroad in 2009. Throughout that year, I 
     repeatedly wrote the president and attorney general 
     expressing concern over the release of certain detainees 
     believed to be threats by the Department of Defense (DOD). I 
     was also deeply concerned that detainees were being released 
     to dangerously unstable countries, such as Yemen, Somalia and 
     Afghanistan. Despite my warnings in the fall of 2009, 
     detainees continued to be released to these countries until 
     the administration was forced to halt releases to Yemen 
     following the attempted attack by the Christmas Day bomber, 
     who trained in Yemen with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
       According to a July 13, 2011, article in The Weekly 
     Standard, ``[Olsen's] task force approved most of the 
     detainees remaining at Guantanamo for transfer, clearing the 
     way for the Obama administration to empty most of the 
     detention facility's cells. But a review of leaked detainee 
     threat assessments reveals that many of the detainees 
     approved for transfer [by Olsen's task force] were deemed 
     ``high'' risks by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), 
     which oversees the detention and interrogation of detainees. 
     Moreover. JTF-GTMO recommended that most of these detainees 
     be retained in U.S. custody--precisely the opposite of the 
     task force's recommendations.''
       The article continues, ``In its final report, dated January 
     22, 2010, Olsen's task force reported that 126 detainees, out 
     of a total of 240, were 'approved for transfer.' Olsen's task 
     force approved roughly 2 out of every 3 (65 percent) 
     Guantanamo detainees for transfer, JTF-GTMO recommended that 
     approximately 1 out of every 4 (25 percent) be transferred.''
       There is one case in particular that serves as a good 
     example of the troubling discrepancy between Olsen's 
     recommend release of a detainee that JTF-GTMO considered to 
     be ``high'' risk. In early 2010, I wrote White House 
     counterterrorism adviser John Brennan about one detainee, 
     Ayman Batarfi, whom the DOD believed to be closely connected 
     to al Qaeda's anthrax program. Brennan forcefully rejected my 
     concerns about Batarfi. However, as a recent Weekly Standard 
     article notes:
       ``A recently leaked threat assessment prepared at 
     Guantanamo draws into question the Obama administration's 
     analysis of a detainee [Batarfi] who was transferred to Yemen 
     shortly before all future transfers to the unstable nation 
     were suspended.''
       ``Brennan decided to answer Wolf's challenge by sending a 
     letter on White House stationery to then-House speaker Nancy 
     Pelosi on February 1, 2010. ABC News obtained a copy of the 
     letter and published it online. Brennan wrote:
       `During the briefing on January 13, Representative Wolf 
     made allegations that one detainee repatriated to Yemen had 
     been involved in weapons of mass destruction. As it has done 
     in every case, the task force thoroughly reviewed all 
     information available to the government about this individual 
     and concluded that there is no basis for the assertions 
     Representative Wolf made during this session. I am attaching 
     a classified addendum to this letter that addresses these 
     concerns directly.'
       ``But a recently leaked April 29, 2008, threat assessment 
     prepared by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) contains 
     numerous references to Batarfi's ties to al Qaeda's anthrax 
     program. These connections were made through a known al Qaeda 
     front named al Wafa, which employed Batarfi and provided 
     cover for al Qaeda's pre-9/11 pursuit of an anthrax 
     capability . . .
       ``For all of these reasons, and more. Batarfi was deemed a 
     `high risk' who is `likely to pose a threat to the U.S.. its 
     interests, and allies' by the JTF-GTMO team. Batarfi was also 
     considered to be of `high intelligence value.' ''
       This newly leaked 2008 assessment raises serious questions 
     about why Olsen's task force didn't include the DOD's 
     information about Batarfi's ties to the al Qaeda anthrax 
     program as well as their judgment that Batarfi was, in fact, 
     ``likely to pose a threat to the U.S.'' This information 
     raises questions about the integrity of the task force's 
     review and whether undue political pressure to release more 
     detainees led task force members to doctor detainee 
       The Weekly Standard's Thomas Jocelyn succinctly posits in 
     the July 13, 2011, article, ``It is clear that the Guantanamo 
     Review Task Force, headed by Matthew Olsen, approved a large 
     number of `high' risk transfers. The senators presiding over 
     Olsen's confirmation hearing may want to ask: Why?''

    2. Political pressure on the Guantanamo Bay Detainee Task Force

       I am concerned about political pressure placed on Olsen and 
     the task force by administration officials. Although the 
     administration asserts that the task force was independent, 
     it is clear that the task force reported directly to the 
     White House and participated in meetings led by White House 
     chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. According to the April 23, 2011, 
     Washington Post article:
       ``In late April [2009], Obama heard some jarring news 
     during a Situation Room meeting with the interagency task 
     force reviewing the case of every detainee at Guantanamo.
       ``The president asked Matthew G. Olsen, the Justice 
     Department lawyer heading the task force, approximately how 
     many Guantanamo detainees could be prosecuted, according to 
     administration officials.
       ``Probably fewer than 20, Olsen said.
       ``The president seemed peeved that the number was so small, 
     in contrast with the optimistic predictions during his 
     election campaign that nearly all of the remaining detainees 
     could face trial or be transferred. The number would 
     eventually rise to 36.''
       I am concerned that pressure from White House officials may 
     have led Olsen and his task force to inflate the number of 
     cases eligible for prosecution from ``fewer than 20'' to the 
     36 that were ultimately provided to the administration. The 
     nearly 100 percent increase in the number of cases brought 
     forward for prosecution following the president's comment 
     merits a serious review of whether political pressure led the 
     task force to alter its independent assessment of detainees.
       The recent Weekly Standard analysis notes, ``[Olsen's] task 
     force approved only 35 percent of the detainees for 
     indefinite detention or prosecution, whereas JTF-GTMO 
     recommended that roughly 75 percent be retained in DoD 
     custody.'' This dramatic shift

[[Page E1333]]

     in the number of cases recommended by Mr. Olsen raise serious 
     questions about whether pressure from the president and other 
     administration officials led him to inflate the number of 
     detainees recommended for trial.

 3. Misleading Congress about the transfer of Uighur detainees to the 
                             United States

       It has become clear that the administration was directing 
     Mr. Olsen to intentionally withhold information from members 
     of Congress and he willingly complied with their 
     inappropriate direction. According to Newsweek The Washington 
     Post and The National Journal, the administration was 
     planning a secret transfer and settlement of at least two 
     Uighur detainees to northern Virginia in April 2009. Each of 
     these reports indicates the degree to which the White House 
     attempted to hide this effort from the Congress and the 
       According to a May 2009, article in Newsweek, White House 
     officials are alleged to have been particularly concerned 
     about Republican members of Congress being made aware of the 
     secret transfer. Newsweek reported, ``As part of their 
     efforts to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, 
     Obama Administration officials were poised in late April to 
     make a bold, stealthy move: they instructed the U.S. Marshals 
     Service to prepare an aircraft and a Special Ops group to fly 
     two Chinese Uighurs, and up to five more on subsequent 
     flights, from Gitmo to northern Virginia for resettlement. In 
     a conference call overseen by the National Security Council, 
     Justice and Pentagon officials had been warned that any 
     public statements about Gitmo transfers would inflame 
     congressional Republicans, according to a law-enforcement 
     official who asked not to be named discussing internal 
     deliberations.'' (This operation appears similar to the 
     administration's secret transfer of Somali terrorist Ahmed 
     Abdulkadir Warsame to New York City for civilian trial on 
     July 5 after spending two months on a U.S. Navy ship).
       It has recently come to my attention that I was misled 
     about the status of the transfer of the Uighur detainees in 
     April 2009. This information confirms the Newsweek report 
     that career federal employees were explicitly directed to 
     hide this information from members of Congress, especially 
     Republican members.
       During an April 22, 2009, meeting in my office with members 
     of the Guantanamo Bay Detainee Review Task Force, including 
     Mr. Olsen, I inquired about the status of the potential 
     transfer of Uighur detainees to the United States. Mr. Olsen 
     indicated that a decision had not yet been reached on the 
     transfer of the detainees. None of the other career or 
     political officials in the meeting countered Mr. Olsen's 
       That is why I was deeply concerned to learn in an April 
     2011, Washington Post article, that the final decision on the 
     transfer of the Uighur detainees had been made during a White 
     House meeting eight days before my meeting with Mr. Olsen. 
     According to The Washington Post article, ``The first 
     concrete step toward closing the detention center was agreed 
     upon during an April 14, 2009, session at the White House. 
     `It was to be a stealth move . . . They were going to show up 
     here, and we were going to announce it,' said one senior 
     official, describing the swift, secretive operation that was 
     designed by the administration to preempt any political 
     outcry that could prevent the transfer.''
       Following the publication of this article in April, I 
     personally called Mr. Olsen to ask whether he was aware at 
     the time of my meeting with him on April 22, 2009, that a 
     decision had already been made on the transfer of the 
     detainees. He told me that he had been aware of the decision 
     prior to our meeting.
       I believe that I was intentionally misled by Mr. Olsen and 
     other administration officials during my April 22 meeting 
     with the task force. I also am concerned that the attorney 
     general did not acknowledge that a decision had been made 
     when he appeared before the House Commerce-Justice-Science 
     Appropriations subcommittee the following day. That is why I 
     was surprised when my office was notified by a career federal 
     employee that the administration was misleading the Congress 
     and planned to secretly transfer the detainees around May 1, 
       As Newsweek reported, ``Then on May 1, Virginia GOP Rep. 
     Frank Wolf got tipped off. Furious, he fired off a public 
     letter to President Obama, charging that the release of the 
     Uighurs--Muslim separatists opposed to the Chinese 
     government--could `directly threaten the security of the 
     American people.' White House officials were not happy . . . 
     The flight never took off.''