WASHINGTON - The possible release of detained Taliban leaders is likely to join Iran's nuclear ambitions at the top of a busy agenda when the top seven American intelligence chiefs testify before the US Congress this week.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper - as well as the heads of the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Counterterrorism Center and State and Homeland Security department intelligence units - will be grilled on "worldwide threats" at a pair of open hearings.
The hearings - before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and its House of Representatives counterpart on Thursday - are an annual ritual. But they offer a rare opportunity for legislators publicly to raise sensitive national security topics that are usually discussed only in secret briefings.
Lawmakers have expressed concern about the Obama administration's efforts to engage in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including consideration of the release of five Taliban leaders incarcerated at Guantanamo as a "confidence building" gesture, sources close to the committee said.