Today President Obama announced that former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel will be his nomination for Secretary of Defense. Additionally, Obama announced that John Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser and career Central Intelligence Agency officer, as his nomination for Director of the CIA. While Sen. Hagel has had a very public career and has had an active role in crafting US foreign policy, Brennan’s role in American foreign policy is far less known. So who is the man taking over the CIA?
Originally from North Bergen, New Jersey, Brennan received a bachelor’s in political science from Fordham in 1977 after studying Arabic and Middle Eastern studies in Cairo. Then he earned a Masters in government and Middle East studies from the University of Texas in 1980. Brennan went to work for the CIA that same year.
Brennan worked his way up the ladder in the CIA, and held positions both stateside and abroad. He worked in Washington on Near Eastern and South Asian analyses, and was intelligence briefer for President Bill Clinton. In the 1990s, he led counterterrorism efforts for a variety of programs and in 1996 was CIA station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Brennan worked closely with CIA Director George Tenet, who appointed him as his chief of staff in 1999 during the Bush Administration. Brennan left the Bush Administration in 2005 to work in the private sector.
Brennan’s current official title is Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Assistant to the President, but his role in the administration is much more intimate. Brennan was an advisor to then Senator Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign. Over the past four years, Brennan has had a major role in fundamentally changing America’s counterterrorism policy. According to reporting by the New York Times, Brennan has become one of Obama’s most trusted advisors and that administration officials said that “C.I.A. job was his for the asking.”
In a speech to the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Brennan outlined the administration’s counterterrorism strategy. This included a type of fusion between the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, which was the hallmark of the recent counterterrorism activities by the CIA. “We increased the size of our Special Forces, sped up the deployment of unique assets so that al-Qa’ida enjoys no safe haven, and ensured that our military and intelligence professionals are working more closely than ever before,” said Brennan.
Danger Room compiled a list of the 15th Most Dangerous People in the world, and Brennan was near the top of that list. In writing why Brennan is the 4th most dangerous person in the world, Spencer Ackerman wrote that Brennan “is the deadliest man in the U.S. government. John Brennan doesn’t command any armies. But as President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, he’s arguably more powerful than the generals who do. Brennan runs the shadow wars against al-Qaida, a global campaign of lethal drone strikes and command raids.”
Brennan has been one of the principle architects of how the Obama Administration has prosecuted the War on Terror and how targeted assassinations have been carried out. According to reporting by the Associated Press, Brennan’s role was to create so-called kill list of alleged terrorism suspects, and make recommendations to the President on who should be the next target. The formal policy name of the kill list is reportedly the “disposition matrix.” Senior administration officials told the AP that they were uneasy with “how easy it has become to kill someone.”
Despite Brennan’s direct involvement in the Obama Administration’s extrajudicial targeted assassinations and the Global War on Terror’s shadow wars in general, some on the right are already criticizing Brennan as being soft on terrorism. Michelle Malkin thinks that apparently you can order the assassination of hundreds of people – whether they are alleged terrorists, American citizens, or children – and still be called the “wet nurse” or counterterrorism.
The right’s critics of Brennan seem to be entirely partisan. The left has been generally quiet about the Brennan, with a few exceptions. Glenn Greenwald has been highly critical of Brennan’s endorsement of torture and his embrace of drone warfare. “As it typically does in the US National Security State, all of that deceit and radicalism is resulting not in recrimination or loss of credibility for Brennan, but in reward and promotion,” writes Greenwald.
Obama’s embrace of the Bush’s foreign policy has made the two administrations difficult to tell apart – except that the faces and names are different. But, even some of the faces and names are not so different. Obama kept Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates in place until 2011, and Obama put General David Petraeus in charge of the Afghanistan war before tapping him for Director of the CIA. Perhaps the best way to describe Brennan’s role in the administration is Obama’s Dick Cheney – someone who’s willing to go to the dark side.
Photo: President Barack Obama speaks with John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, while dining in the President’s private dining room, Feb. 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)