John Brennan likely to face Democrats' scrutiny at hearing
President Barack Obama nominates chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to be CIA director on January 7.
February 6th, 2013
09:42 PM ET

John Brennan likely to face Democrats' scrutiny at hearing

By Barbara Starr and Pam Benson

As President Barack Obama's pick for CIA director heads to Capitol Hill Thursday for his confirmation hearing, some in the president's own party are threatening to hold up John Brennan's nomination.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told reporters he would "pull out all the stops" to get answers about the legality of targeting Americans involved with al Qaeda overseas. Wyden was not satisfied with a confidential Justice Department memo that was sent to key congressional committees last year but only became public on Tuesday.

The 16-page white paper indicated the U.S. government could use lethal force against an American citizen overseas if the person is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates and an attack is imminent. But it was a policy paper rather than the official legal document, which the American Civil Liberties Union says is 50 pages long.

One of the questions the committee submitted to Brennan in advance of the hearing asked how it was determined that an individual was associated with al Qaeda and that a threat was imminent to justify military force. The question did not distinguish between Americans and others. Brennan responded in writing that those determinations were made on a "case by case basis through a coordinated interagency process."

Christopher Anders, the ACLU's senior legislative counsel told CNN: "Sen. Wyden was trying to find out that very basic information and has been denied that. So you know the most basic questions about a program that John Brennan has been the architect of and the orchestrator of for four years, the most basic details of it have been withheld."

The wind may have been taken out of the sails late Wednesday when an administration official said some lawmakers will have access to the Justice Department legal opinion. "As part of the President's ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the President directed the Department of Justice to provide the congressional Intelligence committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice White Paper," the official said. The president, it was said, is turning over the information because he believes the scrutiny and debate is healthy.

But there are other controversies Brennan faces at his confirmation hearing.

There is his role in administration leaks about covert operations like the so-called STUXNET cyberattack on Iran's nuclear program and a foiled al Qaeda bomb plot in Yemen involving a mole.

Brennan acknowledged in his written responses to committee questions that he voluntarily was interviewed by prosecutors about those two leak investigations. He said in both cases his counsel told him he was only a witness in those probes, not a target.

Senators also want to know what he knew about harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists when he was at the CIA during the George W. Bush years. Brennan, who was the deputy executive director of theagency at the time, said in his written responses that he "was aware of the program, but did not play a role in its creation, execution or oversight." He also said he privately discussed his objections to some of the program with some of his colleagues. Brennan promised "these techniques would not be used again by the CIA if I were the Director."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said last month there have been contradictions in some of Brennan's statements. "He says that he had opposed 'enhanced interrogations,' or torture, but there are statements that clearly he made several years ago where he supported it," McCain said. "I'd like to see that issue resolved."

Brennan acknowledged in the questionnaire that he still needed to review the conclusions of the committee's 6,000-page classified report on the agency's detention and interrogation program before the hearing, and he may be asked to elaborate further on his response to a question about whether he thought coercive interrogations were "effective in producing reliable intelligence that saved lives." Although Brennan said he opposed the enhanced interrogation techniques, "a lot of information, both accurate and inaccurate, came out of interrogation sessions conducted by the CIA, including those where EITs were employed."

Outrage over the interrogation program scuttled Brennan's chances to lead the CIA in Obama's first term. But now he says he is ready for the political heat.

When Obama nominated him for CIA Director last month, Brennan said, "Although I consider myself neither a Republican nor a Democrat, I very much look forward to working closely with those on both sides of the aisle."

As the president's top counterterrorism aide, Brennan continues to be seen as all-powerful.

"I do think John is regarded in terms of the intelligence community, even where he is now, as the first among equals," CNN contributor Frances Fragos Townsend said.

As CIA director, Brennan would report to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. But when there's a call for highly secretive covert action, he would have a direct path to the president, talking to him on the phone or walking right into the Oval Office to brief him.

"While the CIA director will keep the director of national intelligence apprised of what he is doing, it is actually the direct responsibility of the CIA director to respond to the president in terms of covert action," Townsend said. She added that she doesn't see foresee a problem because of their long-term relationship. "They know each other, they respect each other and I think they like each other."

As for the confirmation hearing, expect to see some Washington drama, but no state secrets revealed. Any discussion of intelligence crown jewels will happen afterward in a closed-door, classified session.

CNN's Tom Dunlavey and Lesa Jansen contributed to this report.

soundoff (76 Responses)
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  6. the middle man

    Why is it conservatives are suddenly concerned with civilian casualties--10 years too late?

    February 7, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  7. the middle man


    I Wonder who voted for the people that ok'd these drones in the first place?

    February 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Reply
    • Heywood

      id say people who want peace and security for their love ones, not clueless id iots who cannot understand the concept.

      February 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  8. Conrad Shull

    First, I did not vote for the current President and I disagree with much of his agenda. But, this drone issue in nonsense. I thought the conservatives, the Republicans, were all for this sort of thing: aggressively going after bad guys (and so what if some of them are nominal American citizens – they're traitors). That is, until they can use the issue to be contrary with the President. Now they're sounding like the freakin' ACLU.

    February 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  9. Heywood

    Who cares, it may not be legal, but it is justice. all the congressmen from places that are targets should have a say, not someone from oregon or new mexico. Spare me your holyer then though bs. we need to get to them before they get to us. sprout a spine and a pair of testicles.

    February 7, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      Wrong Heywood, there is nothing justifiable about butchering people with those ungodly drones, nothing at all. Please, get over your self righteousness!

      February 7, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
      • Heywood

        ill go out on a limb and say that you watched 9/11 on tv in the safety of your office or home. You probably dont know anyone who was in harms way that day or anyone who died. That being said, you have no understanding whatso ever of how it feels and how you would agree that your gvt can do anything, anything, to make sure it never happens again. If that is self rightous, so be it, but im not going to cry like a little baby for people who want to kill me, my family and my way of life. grow a spine and stand up for yourself.

        February 7, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  10. John Brennan

    Thank goodness for the current amorality in Washington D.C. or otherwise I wouldn't stand a chance of getting anywhere!!! What we can't use is compassion in government. I myself feel none of that!

    February 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  11. ive tried like 20 profanity, they WONT post my reply


    February 7, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  12. is cnn afraid to post my WHOLE comment?


    February 7, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  13. first of all, yes, I believe obama will opt for containment.

    post it already! jeeez cnn....

    February 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  14. sorry blah blah, they wont post my comments now. censorship


    February 7, 2013 at 11:58 am | Reply
  15. Gbwarren

    Innocent civilians die whether troops are on the ground or a drone strike is it not acceptable unless Americans die or are in danger? If your against war be against war...but to simply protest drone strikes doesn't really make sense...war is ugly, people die...When your family or loved ones are the 'boots one the ground' you won't mind

    February 7, 2013 at 11:57 am | Reply
  16. Steve

    What is the 0bama body count up to these days anyway? Doesn't the MSM report this on a regular basis? They used to. What happened to the antiwar movement?

    February 7, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
    • Merle McClung

      I can't for the life of me figure out what you Obama-haters have against using DRONES! They take out our enemies without killing our soldiers! The only people who suffer are the defense contractors who make millions on full-blown wars. And all you GOP follow them like sheep.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:21 am | Reply
      • dscon

        what are your feelings on water-boarding?

        February 7, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • johnk

      CNN is called pro Obama anti Republican . That means anyone who is not Democrat with liberal view is a target for CNN news in smear, blaming, and finding fault with, Get it!

      February 7, 2013 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • bankrupt1

      goto: costsofwar . org

      February 7, 2013 at 11:36 am | Reply
  17. Steve

    So let me get this straight,. George Bush wants to kill American citizens with drones WITHOUT a TRIAL? Those evil Republicans.

    Oh wait, it's 0bama that wants to kill Americans without a trial, but give trials in NY for Gitmo terrorist. I'm ok with that.


    February 7, 2013 at 10:52 am | Reply
    • bankrupt1

      they all belong to the same club

      February 7, 2013 at 11:51 am | Reply
  18. John Geheran

    This John Brennan is truly a national disgrace! This man is no better than many of the WW2 German war criminals. Whereas they were prosecuted for what they did, this creep is going to head the C.I.A. making him a shining example of just how fair life is not! He truly turns my stomach upside down!

    February 7, 2013 at 10:20 am | Reply
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      So are you trying to say that GWB is not a national disgrace and a war criminal? We targeted Two Americans who threatened to kill Americans. GWB killed Saddan Hussein's two sons in cold blood although these young men never ever did threaten to harm Americans. GWB has also murdered tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and thousands of American soldiers and you're trying to compare Mr. Brennan to Nazi war criminals??? You must be a conservatives. You're as racist, ignorant, arrogant and dumb as they come.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:52 am | Reply
      • bankrupt1

        i don't think many people are impressed with the previous administrations. mostly bush era from at least their grandpa's (preston) era. and this guy was pretty heavily involved in that. not sure what to make out of that. he knows what is going on. but is that good?

        February 7, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • bankrupt1

        seems like our foreign policy sucks pretty bad. buts so does everyone else's evidently.

        February 7, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Good posting, John. Thank you.

      February 7, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  19. mondrew

    Why are they wasting time and our tax money questioning why we should kill American citizens abroad who are involved with international terrorism, when we kill American citizens everyday! Cops kill criminals. SWAT & the FBI kill domestic terrorists. Is this just another example of the lack of common sense by our governing bodies?

    February 7, 2013 at 10:18 am | Reply
    • DavidSC

      The reason its BS – is that if these guys are traitors – they are still US citizens who deserve to be brought up on charges of treason, given a fair trial, and the summarily executed. I don't want some dude at the DOJ depriving a US doctor who might be going village to village providing medical care to be falsely accused of being an Al Qaida operative, and losing his life over it. Perhaps there are some extreme cases of urgency where you meet a traitor on a battlefield, or you have intelligence that they are planning on blowing up a nuclear bomb in 4 hours and you don't have time to launch an operation to capture them for trial. But these should be the rare exceptiojns. Heck, the DOJ sent guns to Mexican drug gangs. YOu really think they are compoetent to serve as judge, jury, and executioner of US Citizens?

      February 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  20. dscon

    It's not like Drones are gonna drop water on terrorists faces.........
    Obama just wants to outright kill them.
    Ahhhh.......liberal confusion is a wonderful thing?

    February 7, 2013 at 9:55 am | Reply
  21. john vance

    I am really torn about some of the issues mentioned here.
    I don't think torture is acceptable but I don't worry too much about targeting "treasonous" citizens overseas. INA 349b is ambigous about loss of citizenship in such conditions. If it were re-written in such a manner as to automatically rescind citizenship under preponderance of evidence my moral dilemma would assuaged.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:43 am | Reply
    • Scott

      Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
      Who sits as judge, jury, and executioner of these supposed US-born terrorists? Where is the evidence?
      The fact is, that a bunch of people sitting in a room look at grainy video footage and make a decision to end someone's life without any oversight.
      Liberals (rightly so) get all worked up about "enhanced interrogation" techniques (torture), and then fall into complete hypocrisy when it comes to not being outrages about these drone strikes because now it's the Chosen One leading the slaughter.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
  22. PJ

    Drones are a wonderful way to fight terrorism. They do not risk American lives. Nor do I have a problem using them domestically on the war on drugs or illegal immigration. Can't see what all the criticism is about and as for the ACLU it should focus just on American CIvil Liberties not what happens in Pakistan. Make more Drones.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • Jerem

      Yea, they only kill innocent bystanders all the time. Which in turn creates MORE militants.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:59 am | Reply
      • TB

        bankrupt1 – The accuracy of the drones is beyond your comprehension. The target has placed those around them in imminent danger just by their association. Don't blame the drones or those that deploy them, THEY are the good guys.

        February 7, 2013 at 10:31 am |
      • bankrupt1

        TB: i agree. same with diplomats on airplanes that get bombed. seems like you should get to know who's on the same plane as you.

        February 7, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  23. xyzthegreat

    Brenan and Obama are effective. They are getting results without high cost wars. Those who oppose have the onus to provide alternative solution as to how to deal with terrorists hiding in Pakistan and other trouble spots of the world.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:34 am | Reply
    • bankrupt1

      that seems more like brennan

      February 7, 2013 at 11:46 am | Reply
  24. palintwit

    Tea Party Patriots from south to south and east to west are in a panic now that Sarah Palin has been broomed from Fake News. One has only to take a casual drive below the Mason-Dixon line to hear the sound of bagger's heads exploding everywhere. POP... POP... POP !!

    February 7, 2013 at 9:01 am | Reply
    • catmeow

      You are so full of it. I proudly live in the south and I never hear her name mentioned. Where DO you libs get your information? BTW – Fox News is much better that MSNBC! Maybe that's your problem.

      February 7, 2013 at 10:40 am | Reply
    • Shane

      This is ignorant troll giberish that adds no value to the actual article.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply
  25. Dave

    The US has the right to defend itself against terrorists, regardless of nationality. If a terrorist overseas is an American, they should expect to be blown up with the rest of them. Don't start claiming American immunity from the bombs...don't work that way. You play with the bad guys you die with the bad guys...that simple.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:47 am | Reply
    • samot

      no disagreement ..... but total amazement that the same people so appalled over 3 foreign militants being waterboarded now love the idea of KILLING even US citizens suspected of being up to no-good.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
  26. Bob the builder

    We can kill all the terrorist we want.

    But don't you dare torture them. Because torturing them is bad. How dare you splash water on their face and play loud music to keep them up at night. You big meanie. It is my humane to put a bullet through their head or drop a bomb on their house.

    I don't see how people think you get bad information from torture. Arn;t we able to verify if the terrorist is telling the truth after he makes a statement? If he was lying, he gets the hose again.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:28 am | Reply
  27. Michael, Chapel Hill

    CNN is finding Brennen at fault. Why not the President. Clear evidence of the prevailing double standard of the media.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:23 am | Reply
    • Bob the builder

      Brennan is not black!

      February 7, 2013 at 8:29 am | Reply
      • samot

        LOL your comment actually makes sense !

        February 7, 2013 at 9:12 am |
      • catmeow

        That answers that!

        February 7, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  28. Skeptimist

    I figured all those drone reports are probably just exaggerated manufacturers' hype (like Windows OS upgrades). But when I used my remote car key and a fly exploded...

    February 7, 2013 at 8:22 am | Reply
  29. Barbara Morse

    Please explain to me how any American in the service to an enemy of the American government has civil rights. As far as I can see they gave those up once they joined up with and enemy. Use all the drones you can against them.nnIf the tables were turned they would use them against us.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:17 am | Reply
  30. speaking of drones, how bout obama..iran is just abusing him

    apprently, iran said yesterday that they are not interested in negotiating the nuclear issue...and before that, 2 days ago, ahmedinejad in egypt said that iran is already a nuclear country and the US or anyone else can forget about talks...

    and obama has said what??????? oh right- he then announced he was removing a 2nd aircraft carrier from the persian gulf....way to go obama...seems like you're going for containment after all.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:47 am | Reply
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      You're seriously mistaken. There are upcoming talks scheduled between the Iranian govt and the Atomic Agency. If there's no progress after that, the Obama administration has said that Secretary of State Kerry would then conduct direct talks with Iran as a last resort. That is a last resort before military intervention. Containment? Ludicrous!

      February 7, 2013 at 8:08 am | Reply
      • speaking of drones, how bout obama..iran is just abusing him

        im sorry, but obama came to office in 2008-09...he's had 4 full yrs to work his magic with has basically gone nowhere...the media talks as if sanctions are working, but thats just what they are told to say...yes irans economy is hurting, BUT, their nuclear program is going forward full steam...and everyone knows it...they are launching space vehicles, building new sophisitcated jets, submarines, ballistic missiles, and yet the media just keeps feeding us this you know that clinton first enacted sanctions on iran as far back as 1995? this is NO rush to war as some try to make you believe...the west and israel and the US have been ridiculously patient...I mean, do you think this will end? i'll tell you....iran is going to one day soon, conduct an underground nuclear test, announce they are nuclear, and obama will say, oh, well, we didnt know they were that far along and now we have to adjust our policy to one of watch...that is PRECISELY what he has been aiming for...he also know that iran, in negotiations will want one thing for them to "comply"(or lie), and that is, get israel to denuke, stop supporting them as an ally, and then iran will stop their program(which of course, they wont)....what is it with this media and their academic poodles? guys like steven walt at harvard and jim walsh at MIT...they will just say anything to avoid what cannot be avoided and THAT, is absolutely unethical...walt is just an anti semite, but whats walsh's excuse?

        February 7, 2013 at 10:28 am |
      • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

        @speaking of drones

        Some of what you said is accurate as far as sanctions and Iranian building up its military. But when you inherit two wars and an economic crisis, what do you do first? Do you start a third war without employing sanctions and going to war as a last resort? Be honest with you believe for one minute that the Obama administration will allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons? They have to have an underground test first and intervention may occur way before that ever happens.

        February 7, 2013 at 11:01 am |
      • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

        @speaking of drones

        And by the way, where as President Obama inherited two wars and an economic crisis, GWB inherited a surplus and a stable and thriving America and no foreign wars. However, he spent 8 years in office and what actions did he take against Iran? None!

        February 7, 2013 at 11:06 am |
      • bankrupt1

        speaking of drones, how bout obama..iran is just abusing him: you have to admit some of the stuff israel comes up with is pretty bad. not anti-semite so much probably as ... just don't like what they do.

        you're right that this stuff didn't start yesterday. i doubt the people that started this mess are even still alive. makes it more stupid.

        February 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • samot

      exactly ! BO is a wuss and is pro-muslim, anti Israel. He loves it that Iran will soon destroy Israel.

      February 7, 2013 at 9:15 am | Reply
      • Lt. John S

        Technically entire world asks what is wrong with that?

        We destroy other nations and everything in them. We have run out of gas or we would have destroyed a few more as well.

        February 7, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  31. bt

    Next time, pay your parking tickets.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:26 am | Reply
  32. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    And by the way Sen. Wyden, while you begin your interrogation of Mr. Brennan, could you please ask Sen. McCain and the GOP where are the WMDs??? I believe the families of more than 4,000 dead American soldiers and those of tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens want to know. O' and one more thing Senator Wyden, while you're doing your civic duty, could you please get to the bottom of why Gen. David Petraeus was allowed to comprise our national security by having an affair with two women while on duty and giving them unlimited access to classified information?

    We all know that Republican David petraeus was once considered to be a leading candidate to be Mitt Romney's running mate and also a possible Presidential candidate in 2012. With that being said, could you also get to the bottom of why Rep. Eric Cantor and the GOP kept the entire Petraeus scandal under the rug while he betrayed the President and compromised our national security??? As a concerned citizen I want these questions to be addressed.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:23 am | Reply
    • bankrupt1

      maybe they are drones?

      February 7, 2013 at 10:07 am | Reply
  33. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Don't worry Sen. Wayden! We'll remember to return all the guns we confiscated from the Afghans in the decade long war and when you and your family travel overseas, we'll make sure to hire these former al Qaeda operatives to provide security for your family.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:52 am | Reply
  34. Majav

    Ban highly secretive covert actions.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:40 am | Reply
  35. Majav

    Funny how your life could be in the hands of policy wonks. "Case by case basis through a coordinated interagency process", sounds more like qualifying for food stamps. Maybe Brennan should head the US Dept. of HUD instead.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:39 am | Reply
  36. bankrupt1

    is the new bankster lady going to sell off our natural resources to oil cartels?

    February 7, 2013 at 3:29 am | Reply
  37. bankrupt1

    that guy gets hard jobs. seems like he should get a fun job for once.

    February 7, 2013 at 3:19 am | Reply
    • bankrupt1

      but is there anyone that understands what is going on to the extent that he does?

      is he on our side?

      February 7, 2013 at 3:25 am | Reply
      • bankrupt1

        or banksters that would kill us too?

        February 7, 2013 at 3:27 am |
  38. bankrupt1


    February 7, 2013 at 3:18 am | Reply
  39. massoud

    Obama and Brennan will definitely give Bush and Rumsfeld a run for their money !

    February 6, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Reply
    • bankrupt1

      i think brennan was around in the bush era also.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:55 am | Reply

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