Friday, February 8, 2013

John Brennan's job at CIA

I must admit that I didn't know much about John Brennan until yesterday. I had heard that he worked in the CIA under Bush/Cheney (cause for concern) and that he had minimized the collateral damage from drone strikes under the Obama administration. I also have to admit a bias against the CIA. It seems to be an inherently secret and corrupt institution. So I had grave doubts about Brennan but figured that President Obama had the right to pick who he wanted to run it.

And then yesterday morning I ran across quite the scoop from Spencer Ackerman.
The head of the United Nations inquiry into drone strikes and targeted killings believes the chief architect of those efforts will rein them in at the CIA.

Ben Emmerson, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism, tells Danger Room he’s giving his qualified backing to John Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser and nominee to become CIA director.
That news turned my head a bit. But the article is full of information I didn't know about Brennan.
“By putting Brennan in direct control of the CIA’s policy [of targeted killings], the president has placed this mediating legal presence in direct control of the positions that the CIA will adopt and advance, so as to bring the CIA much more closely under direct presidential and democratic control,” Emmerson says...

“Warts and all” conversations with current and former Obama administration officials convince Emmerson that Brennan tried to steer the drone program from a “technology-driven process” to one that attempted to balance the interests of the law, counterterrorism, and the agencies involved in implementing it. “There are significant elements within the CIA who are unhappy about Brennan’s appointment,” Emmerson says. “These are the hawkish elements inside the CIA who would rather have as a director someone who reflected their agenda, rather than someone who is there to impose the president’s agenda.”...

As central as Brennan has been to the U.S. targeted killing program, his supporters have insisted to the press that he’s an internal skeptic of it. Brennan “professed dismay at the transformation of the CIA into a paramilitary entity with killing authority,” according to a Washington Post profile in October. In the Daily Beast, Daniel Klaidman wrote that Brennan is an “often-moderating influence in the war on terror” who “passionately supports civil liberties and wants to fight terrorism within a framework of law.”
When you read Ackerman's article as well as those two links - as I did - a whole different picture of Brennan emerges.

But on the specific policy front, its important to note that two different drone programs have at the Pentagon (which is overseen by President Obama and Brennan) and one at the CIA. Its also clear that Brennan's nomination is meant to reign in the latter.
Brennan is leading efforts to curtail the CIA’s primary responsibility for targeted killings. Over opposition from the agency, he has argued that it should focus on intelligence activities and leave lethal action to its more traditional home in the military, where the law requires greater transparency.
Klaidman points out the irony.
...when Obama asked him to take over the CIA, Brennan couldn’t say no. And that, despite the loudly voiced objections to his nomination, might end up being good news for the civil-liberties crowd. “John embodies the principle that aggressive counterterrorism and first principles can exist side by side,” says a former administration official who worked closely with him. Yes, improbable as it may seem, John Brennan—a bona fide hawk who believes deeply in targeted killing and has spent the past four years ordering people executed—may end up doing more than anyone else to rein in the war on terror.

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