Where the 2016 Candidates Stand on National Security

By Council on Foreign Relations

March 1, 2016

The 9/11 attacks triggered the most far-reaching reorganization of the U.S. security apparatus since the end of WWII, and national leaders continue to assess and debate the counterterrorism policies put in place in their wake, particularly elements of the Patriot Act. Many rights groups and policymakers in both parties believe the country took some actions that ran contrary to its core values. Some policies may even have been counterproductive and helped terrorists recruit, these critics allege. Meanwhile, others say some extreme security measures were necessary to prevent another national trauma. These concerns returned to the forefront of the campaign in late 2015 after a spate of homegrown terror attacks.

Upon taking office, the Obama administration suspended some of the most controversial national security policies implemented by the Bush White House, like the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs, but it continued or expanded on others, like lethal drone strikes and bulk electronic surveillance. Likewise, the next administration will have to decide how much of this policy legacy it wants to embrace as it protects the country from the next generation of threats.

Hillary Clinton wants to: 

In December 2015, Clinton put forth a multipronged plan to defend the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks. Among other things, she called on government agencies to work with top tech companies to shut down the online presence of violent extremist groups like the Islamic State. She also called for greater screening of certain migrants coming to the United States, particularly those who have traveled to a country with “serious problems with terrorism and foreign fighters” in the past five years. Additionally, the United States needs an “intelligence surge” to counter groups like the Islamic State, Clinton said, which should include hiring more operations officers and linguists, as well as increasing electronic surveillance and aerial reconnaissance.

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton advocated a counterterrorism approach that leveraged the work of many federal agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as international security partnerships. In 2011, the year the White House released it National Strategy for Counterterrorism, she launched the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a venue intended to allow national security professionals from dozens of countries to share best practices. She also supported the Obama administration’s efforts to incorporate traditional law enforcement practices, including civilian trials, with the counterterrorism operations of the CIA and the Department of Defense.

She writes in her memoir Hard Choices that drone strikes, particularly on suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, provided the Obama administration with an “important alternative” in instances where such individuals could not be captured and prosecuted. She says she supported some of these strikes because she felt they were important to national security and met certain legal and military guidelines, while she opposed others. “But in every case I thought it was crucial that these strikes be part of a larger smart power counterterrorism strategy that included diplomacy, law enforcement, sanctions, and other tools,” she writes.

Clinton advocates for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, saying the facility undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives. “It represents in the eyes of the world abuse, secrecy, and contempt for the rule of law. Rather than keeping us more secure, Guantanamo is harming our national security,” she said in 2007.

As a U.S. senator in 2004, Clinton cosponsored the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which aimed to improve coordination among U.S. intelligence agencies and, most notably, created a Director of National Intelligence to serve as the top advisor to the president on intelligence matters. She also voted for the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that launched the war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as the Patriot Act, which gave the government sweeping powers to collect intelligence for counterterrorism operations.

As a private individual in 2015, Clinton came out in favor of the Freedom Act, which reformed government surveillance practices under the Patriot Act and, in particular, ended the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. telephone records. “Congress should move ahead now with the USA Freedom Act — a good step forward in ongoing efforts to protect our security & civil liberties,” she wrote on Twitter.

Ted Cruz wants to:

Sen. Cruz generally favors an expansion of the U.S. national security apparatus, however in certain cases he has expressed concerns about government impinging on Constitutional rights.

In 2015, Cruz cosponsored the Freedom Act, a bill that restored numerous Patriot Act provisions but also placed limits on the collection of telecommunication metadata of U.S. citizens. Cruz saw the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance activities in the United States as an example of government overreach.

Cruz proposed legislation in 2014 that called for a ban on the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay until the Obama administration provided its rationale for the exchange of Taliban fighters for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan. In 2013, he expressed doubts about closing Guantanamo, claiming that a significant percentage of released detainees engaged in terrorism and that “relying on foreign facilities to detain known terrorists” involved “inherent risk.” Cruz also opposes transferring detainees to the United States.

In 2014, Cruz introduced the Expatriate Terrorist Act, which would cause any U.S. citizen found supporting the self-proclaimed Islamic State to be stripped of their citizenship.

In 2013, Cruz joined Sen. Rand Paul (R–KY) in sponsoring legislation that would have banned the use of armed drones against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

John Kasich wants to:

Gov. Kasich has made national security issues a priority in his campaign. In an August 2015 op-ed, he highlighted an increased risk of terrorism on U.S. soil, cyber warfare, and nuclear weapon proliferation. Kasich has spoken favorably of fellow GOP candidate Sen. Rand Paul’s opposition to bulk government surveillance. "He moved the needle. We're in a much better place," Kasich said of Paul’s efforts to reform NSA surveillance. In June 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act that ended the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. telephone records.

After the San Bernardino shootings in December 2015, Kasich called for a review of how U.S. intelligence agencies electronically monitor suspected terrorists, saying they should be able to quickly analyze telephone calling data to uncover planned attacks. This could entail requiring phone companies to retain customers’ call metadata for longer periods, he said. Meanwhile, he said the United States should “significantly tighten” background checks on U.S. visa applicants.

We need to make cyberdefense an integral component of our national security strategy.
John Kasich, December 8, 2015

On cybersecurity, Kasich said the U.S. must not only defend itself but also demonstrate that it has the capability “to identify and destroy” attacking systems. “We need to make cyberdefense an integral component of our national security strategy,” he said.

In January 2016, Kasich said he opposed President Obama's efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Marco Rubio wants to:

Sen. Rubio says the Obama administration underestimates the terrorist threats around the world, pointing to the rise of the Islamic State and the continued activities of al-Qaeda. Rubio says he favors a tougher counterterrorism approach that includes the use of expanded intelligence gathering tools.

Rubio supported the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone data, calling the controversial surveillance program an effective counterterrorism tool. He voted against the USA Freedom Act, which dismantled it in 2015. “A major challenge for the next president will be to fix the weakened intelligence system that the current one is leaving behind,” he wrote in June 2015.

In December 2015, Rubio cosponsored legislation that would, among other things, ensure that the NSA continues to have access to the bulk phone data it collected while the program was in operation, and would make permanent several surveillance powers provided to U.S. counterterrorism agencies.  

Rubio opposes the Obama administration’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and said he would seek to reopen it. Captured enemy combatants, like those held at Guantanamo, provide U.S. agents with the intelligence needed to foil terrorist attacks, he said in April 2015.

Rubio has not ruled out reinstituting harsh interrogation techniques if he is elected president. He said he opposed a June 2015 amendment in the Senate that reaffirmed a ban on torture. "I do not support telegraphing to the enemy what interrogation techniques we will or won't use," he said, adding that he did not want to deny "future commanders in chief and intelligence officials important tools for protecting the American people and the U.S. homeland."

In 2013, Rubio cosponsored legislation that sought to give Congress greater oversight over targeted killings, via drones and other means. His bill would have required the Director of National Intelligence to order an independent analysis of any plan to kill a U.S. person suspected of international terrorism.

Bernie Sanders wants to:

Sen. Sanders supports changes to laws that he says have enabled U.S. agencies to eavesdrop on citizens and torture suspected terrorists, but he has not ruled out using drones selectively to strike at terrorists. “We must not trade away our constitutional rights and civil liberties for the illusion of security,” Sanders says on his campaign website, referring to increased surveillance and interrogation methods that became routine after the 9/11 attacks.

The United States must not engage in torture,” Sanders said in December 2014 after the Senate Intelligence Committee condemned the CIA for having misled Congress and the White House about its interrogation of suspects. “If we do, in an increasingly brutal world we lose our moral standing to condemn other nations or groups that engage in uncivilized behavior.”

The Independent senator from Vermont voted against the Patriot Act, which passed soon after 9/11, and against its reauthorization in 2011. He also opposed the Freedom Act that passed in 2015, which he said still allowed intelligence agencies “too much access” to information on millions of Americans. “We must keep our country safe and protect ourselves from terrorists, but we can do that without undermining the constitutional and privacy rights which make us a free nation,” he said in June 2015.

We must keep our country safe and protect ourselves from terrorists, but we can do that without undermining the constitutional and privacy rights which make us a free nation.
Bernie Sanders, June 1, 2015

Sanders also has promised to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which he says has undermined the country’s image abroad and likely inspired more terrorists. “The mere existence of this camp, and the misguided policies that led to its creation, continues to damage the United States’ moral standing in the world, undermines our foreign policy, and fans the flames of terrorism rather than deters it,” he says on his website.

Meanwhile, Sanders has said drones can be an effective counterterrorism tool when used accurately. “I think we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively. That has not always been the case,” Sanders says.

Donald Trump wants to:

Donald Trump generally supports robust U.S. counterterrorism practices, including some controversial government surveillance and interrogation programs. “We have to err on the side of security,” Trump said in June 2015, speaking about the NSA’s program to collect bulk data on U.S. phone calls. “It’s certainly not something I like,” he said, “but when you have all these maniacs over the world, we probably have to go that little bit of an extra step.”

He also supports the use of harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists, including waterboarding. "I would support and endorse the use of enhanced interrogation techniques if the use of these methods would enhance the protection and safety of the nation. Though the effectiveness of many of these methods may be in dispute, nothing should be taken off the table when American lives are at stake," he wrote in February 2016.

We have to err on the side of security [with surveillance].
Donald Trump, May 31, 2015

Meanwhile, he opposes President Obama's efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, saying that, if elected, he would probably expand the number of detainees held there.

After the December 2015 attacks in San Bernadino, California, he proposed temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the country.

This post appears courtesy of CFR.org.

By Council on Foreign Relations

March 1, 2016