Obama to name John Brennan to lead CIA
January 7th, 2013
07:10 AM ET

Obama to name John Brennan to lead CIA

By Pam Benson

If President Barack Obama's selection to lead the CIA is confirmed, it will be a homecoming of sorts.

John Brennan, the president's chief homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, spent 25 years at the Central intelligence Agency distinguishing himself as a Mideast and terrorism expert.

But moving back to Langley would be a big change.

He's spent the past four years at the White House, where he has had Obama's ear.

If there is an act of terrorism against Americans anywhere in the world or a mass shooting at home, Brennan is often the one who picks up the phone or walks into the Oval Office, day or night, to tell the president about the calamity.

He has been the president's trusted counterterrorism and homeland security aide who can be seen in photographs briefing Obama on such incidents as the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, or the Times Square bombing attempt in 2010. He's with the president in the Situation Room during crisis deliberations.

Now Obama wants him to be the CIA director, and many see his time spent in the West Wing as a plus.

"He knows what the president wants from his intelligence community," said Bill Harlow, a former senior CIA official. "And he also knows how to deliver it from having worked at the agency ... There'll be no learning curve for him."

Peter Bergen, CNN's terrorism analyst, said Brennan would lose his immediate access to the president, but added, "he already enjoys such close relations with President Obama that I don't see it being a situation where he won't have the president's ear on a regular basis."

Brennan, 57, joined the CIA after responding to a want ad in the newspaper and spent 25 years there developing a deep knowledge of the Mideast and fluency in Arabic.

He was the CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia when terrorists bombed the Khobar Towers in 1996, killing 19 American servicemen. He also traveled extensively around the region developing ties with officials there.

He served a stint as President Bill Clinton's daily intelligence briefer and moved into senior management positions at the agency. He was CIA Director George Tenet's chief of staff before being named deputy executive director of the agency.

In 2003, Tenet asked him to start what would eventually become the National Counterterrorism Center, a multiagency center intended to bridge the gaps in intelligence apparent after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

When the Bush administration passed him over as the permanent head of the counterterrorism center, he left the agency in 2005 for private business.

In 2008, he signed on to be Obama's intelligence adviser during the presidential campaign.

After the election, he was touted as the shoo-in to become CIA director, but it was not to be. Harsh attacks from critics who claimed he supported the Bush administration's policy of harsh interrogations prompted an embittered Brennan to drop out of consideration for the job he coveted.

In a letter to Obama, Brennan wrote, "It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics."

But soon afterward, at Obama's request, Brennan agreed to be the president's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism. He assumed what has turned out to be a very powerful role within the White House: the point man on all things regarding counterterrorism policy.

Last year in an interview with the Washington Post, Brennan talked about his close relationship with the president.

"Ever since the first couple of months, I felt there was a real similarity of views that gave me a sense of comfort," Brennan said. "I don't think we've had a disagreement."

Brennan has shaped the White House's strategy to aggressively pursue suspected terrorists - dramatically escalating the use of armed unmanned aircraft, often referred to as drones - and to kill them in the ungoverned territories of Pakistan and in Yemen. Small teams of special operations forces have been deployed to critical locations.

Civil liberties and human rights groups who refer to the missile strikes as extrajudicial killings have harshly criticized the drone program.

Brennan became the first government official to publicly discuss the use of drones in a speech last year at the Wilson Center.

"We conduct targeted strikes because they are necessary to mitigate an actual ongoing threat–to stop plots, prevent future attacks and save American lives," Brennan said.

He said the drone strikes are destroying al Qaeda, and as the terrorist threat fades, he hoped the United States would rely less on such killings.

Brennan was intimately involved in the run up to the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound in May 2011.

Bergen interviewed Brennan and other administration officials for his book, "Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad."

He tells the story about one particular debate on whether bin Laden could be at the compound.

"At one point the analysts said whoever is living in this compound has a dog. And of course, very observant Muslims don't have dogs. But Brennan has been on the bin Laden account himself for 15 years, and he remembered that bin Laden in fact had a dog when he was living in Sudan."

Brennan supported the decision to go ahead with the raid even though it was not certain that bin Laden was in fact there.

In a briefing after the assault, Brennan got into some hot water for implying that bin Laden was armed - he was not - and for suggesting that bin Laden used a human shield - he did not.

"There was a female who was, in fact, in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield bin laden from the incoming fire," Brennan told reporters.

More recently, the White House has been criticized by some Republicans for the leaks of sensitive information on counterterrorism operations that made the administration look good during the presidential campaign. Brennan has called the leaks devastating and vehemently denied that administration officials were involved.

The controversy over leaks, the drone program and his position on the CIA's interrogation and detention program could make for some rough moments during Brennan's confirmation hearings.

The fact he is coming from the West Wing and frequently talked about the president's views on camera could make him political fodder, Frances Fragos Townsend, CNN's national security contributor, told Security Clearance.

"John came out time and again and did a lot of press early on that angered Republicans on (Capitol) Hill," Townsend said. "Do I think Republicans will treat him not as a former career professional? He's got to expect that the Hill is going to treat him as a political person who is fair game now, rightly or wrongly."

None of the former officials and experts CNN spoke to believes Brennan's nomination would be upended by any of the criticisms of him.

Harlow thinks Brennan is a hard-working, no-nonsense type with the experience to run the agency.

"John's the kind of guy who is the catcher on the team that gets all dinged up, takes his hits but gets the job done," Harlow said.

CNN's John Berman contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • CIA • Intelligence • White House
soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. massoud

    I like Chuck Hagel,, not so sure about this guy

    January 8, 2013 at 2:24 am | Reply
    • Open

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      May 4, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  2. Humberto

    Any Drone armed with a weapon belong in the military only. The CIA is a civilian organization and untrustworthy to say the least as the 911 attack on the twin towers proved. It was no secret about the attack on the USS Cole and the government still allowed these people passports despite probable cause.

    January 7, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Reply

    world war III isnt supposed to happen

    January 7, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  4. John Tighe

    Bremer, and not Brennan was in charge of Iraq for a while.

    January 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  5. Carlson

    Evil oozes out of his pores.

    January 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  6. saeed

    how many times do i need to repate this russia needs to nuke ireland dublin cork and ghana kumasi and accra then drop a nuke on basque country of spain cut down the filth.

    January 7, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  7. Sick of MIC

    Looks like the kind who could go thermonuclear all by himself. ("The Bomb, Henry!")

    January 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  8. R. Huggett

    They picked the wrong Brennan, they should have asked Margaret Brennan (CBS News).

    January 7, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  9. Jack

    what about his stellar job in Iraq he single handedly screwed the transition

    January 7, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  10. Ej

    Well, at least it's not another military prima-donna like General Betrayus. Just hope he stops calling Jerusalem "al-quds."

    January 7, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  11. Jerry

    Just another hypocritical liar like his clueless boss!

    January 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Reply
    • Star-Spangled Bullsh!t

      You lost. Again. Suck it.

      And yes – this guy is a d0Uche-bag.

      January 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Reply
    • RJ

      I totally disagree - call him whatever names you want, but this man protected our country and got bin Laden.

      January 7, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  12. Mete Krop

    These GOP always want to rejects all who are nominated by Obama in his Cabinet. Do they think that this cabinet is working for them? They are working for the Obama. So, this all depends up on his choice. There is no need for confirmation hearing. Obama can choose whomsoever he wants to choose. Do they want him to choose the GOPs for his cabinet. This is just silly.

    January 7, 2013 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • Zack

      Clearly you don't understand how things work. The President simply cannot do "whatever he pleases, whenever he wants." I guess, according to your logic, he can just choose supreme court justices too, can't he?

      January 7, 2013 at 11:45 am | Reply
      • Steve

        You mean the President doesn't set the gas prices after all?!

        January 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  13. thomas

    Good choice. I hope he remembers that there is more to Intelligence than counterterrorism and homeland security.

    January 7, 2013 at 11:12 am | Reply
  14. USAPeasant

    Not a bad choice. Only concern is he tries to fix details and cover stuff up. I think besides that Brennan is a decent choice. He just has to understand that in today's Information Age you absolutely can't cover anything up. I don't think any real American is really going to care if he drone strikes the terrorists or puts a cap in bin Laden. Just please don't fudge the details or attack our valiant heroes in the armed services for telling the truth.

    Besides John Kerry the fool being nominated, I'd say Obama has made some decent picks for replacements.

    January 7, 2013 at 10:41 am | Reply
  15. 111Dave111

    I think Obama could go back in time and nominate Ronald Reagan, and these people would object, just to object.

    The Objectionist Party

    January 7, 2013 at 10:28 am | Reply
  16. Suq Madiq

    So you know his age and how many years he's worked at the CIA and a few other things. Not much of a biography.

    January 7, 2013 at 10:02 am | Reply
  17. John Tighe

    Nice long article. One problem though, where did he work in the private sector from 2005-2008? Why do you leave that out?

    January 7, 2013 at 9:49 am | Reply
    • Sick of MIC

      Good Call.

      January 7, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  18. Mike Davis

    Can we stop saying "taps"? What an utterly pedestrian colloquialism.

    January 7, 2013 at 9:47 am | Reply
  19. trex

    .......WHAT IS IT............about the Tea Party ultra right wing SMALL faction................to you halfwits, there are CONSPIRACIES EVERYWHERE except Fake News.................What a bunch of Pakistani style OLD GABBERING BIDDIES........ with nothing between their ears except the slop put out by Limnutz.......................

    January 7, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
  20. trex

    .....Brennan is UBER QUAILIFIED...................................so.......the Ttards will certainly DISAPPROVE...............

    January 7, 2013 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • CosmicC

      Do you have some extra period keys on your keyboard that you just like to use? If you're going to attack tea-baggers for the ignorant rabble they are, please do so in a coherent manner. All of the extra punctuation made me want to ignore your post.

      January 7, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  21. rs1201

    He was definitely part of the obama coverup in Benghazi....I'm sure he'll be asked about that.

    January 7, 2013 at 9:40 am | Reply
  22. michaelfury

    What say you, Mr. Brennan?


    January 7, 2013 at 8:09 am | Reply
  23. mcwsunshine

    ....or perhaps this is the guy's reward for not testifying that he informed the President of the slaughter at Bengazi, right before he left for Vegas.

    January 7, 2013 at 8:02 am | Reply
  24. mcwsunshine

    Soooo, is this the guy who informed the President of the calamity at Bengazi, right before the President left for Vegas to hang out with his Hollywood pals? The Presidents "coolin" with Beyonce that night was not exactly a fitting tribute to four Americans murdered on American soil, by terrorists and an American embassy complex and flag burned to the ground.

    January 7, 2013 at 8:00 am | Reply
    • Star-Spangled Bullsh!t


      Funny how it isnt "murder" when one of our drones, operated from thousands of miles away by one of our brave warriors, wipes out innocent civilians.

      January 7, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Reply
      • Observer

        BBS remember look up, their coming for you. 🙂

        January 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  25. on Brennan

    who does he really work for? is he ours or does someone else just use us as a cover? is he an actual american born person or a bankster plant?

    January 7, 2013 at 7:49 am | Reply
    • on Brennan

      military industrial complex maybe, but seems more like banksters.

      January 7, 2013 at 7:50 am | Reply
      • Humberto

        They all don't have their own minds anymore.

        January 7, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  26. Humberto

    The US Supreme Court having a case before it and shrrking its responsibility of due process concerning corrupt science creating human embryos for destruction by unqualified, non doctors who cause harm for a living, says it all.

    January 7, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Reply

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