Tags: cia | brennan | obama | side | multiple | crises

CIA Chief Brennan Stayed at Obama's Side Through Multiple Crises

Thursday, 11 December 2014 07:08 AM

John Brennan has been as close as anyone to President Barack Obama on his most sensitive national security decisions, from drone strikes to the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

That helps explain why Obama isn’t abandoning his Central Intelligence Agency director despite some calls for his resignation following release of a Senate report detailing the CIA’s brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects during President George W. Bush’s administration. Brennan was a top official at the agency under Bush and then served as head of the National Counterterrorism Center before going to work for Obama.

“The president has relied for years now on John Brennan,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said today, calling the head of the nation’s spy agency a “dedicated professional.”

Brennan’s durability owes to a combination of his own prowess as an inside political player, his ability to keep the nation’s most closely guarded secrets for Republican and Democratic presidents, and Obama’s reluctance to abandon the handful of advisers who influence his decision-making, according to people who have worked with him in the government.

As Obama’s White House counterterrorism adviser during the president’s first term, “He had tremendous influence and respect and was given a great deal of responsibility, probably surpassing anyone who was in that position in recent memory,” said Daniel Benjamin, who was the State Department’s top counterterrorism official at the time and now is director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Bin Laden Hunt

Brennan, 59, was the president’s point-man on the hunt for al-Qaeda leader bin Laden and was at his side through crises such as the Arab Spring, the meltdown of a Japanese nuclear plant, and a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner. He came to a White House short on inner-circle military and intelligence veterans with a 25-year career in the CIA and experience as the agency’s Saudi Arabia station chief.

“The president had a real closeness to John,” said William Daley, Obama’s former chief of staff. The president values “his directness, his low key.”

“When I first met him I thought this guy must have been a cop for years,” Daley added. “He isn’t a pretentious guy. Some of the intelligence professionals can carry themselves that way, that they know more than anybody else. He is basic, normal, not a high-faluting Washington spook type.”

Defending Agency

While he agreed with Obama’s 2009 decision to end a program of brutal interrogations that the White House has characterized as torture, Brennan defended the agency in a June 2013 letter to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders, accusing them of reaching a “flawed conclusion regarding the lack of any intelligence that flowed from the program.”

Brennan succeeded Leon Panetta as CIA director shortly after the start of Obama’s second term, after undergoing a tough round of questioning on Capitol Hill.

During his confirmation, he portrayed himself as a fringe player in the CIA’s interrogation program.

Chain of Command

“I did not take steps to stop the CIA’s use of those techniques. I was not in the chain of command of that program,” he said of his days as the agency’s deputy executive director during Bush’s first term. “I had responsibility for overseeing the management of the agency, and all of its various functions. And I was aware of the program. I was CC’d on some of those documents, but I had no oversight of it.”

He said he voiced opposition to some of the techniques being used on terrorism suspects, “such as waterboarding, nudity, and others,” but did nothing to stop them because it was being done elsewhere in the agency “under the authority of others.”

Harold Koh, the legal adviser at the State Department during Obama’s first term, said that while he didn’t always agree with Brennan, he described him as a “person of great integrity.”

“Many in the human rights community blamed him for things without understanding what his role was,” said Koh, now a professor at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. “I thought he was a force for the rule of law and human rights.”

Great Influence

In his memoir, “Duty,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recounts how Brennan, then the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, exercised his influence behind the scenes, speaking at National Security Council meetings only when asked a direct question by Obama or then-National Security Adviser Jim Jones.

Brennan “came to have great influence in the Obama White House,” Gates wrote.

Brennan’s growing influence as an advocate for the CIA over the Pentagon in the early years of the Obama administration frustrated Gates, who concluded from it that the White House’s national security apparatus had become too operational and that Obama’s aides were micromanaging the military.

Gates told then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that “I was ticked off” that Brennan had “told the president that additional Reaper drone” missions in Afghanistan “should be transferred from the military to CIA, without me knowing anything about it,” according to the memoir.

“Those were the Defense Department assets, I said, and no one in the White House had any business going to the president with such a recommendation without going through the established interagency process,” Gates wrote.

Drone Strikes

Brennan, designer of the president’s drone program and designator of its targets, is all but certain to outlast Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall, a critic of many of the administration’s covert programs who has called on Brennan to resign.

“The president needs to purge his administration of high- level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program,” Udall, who lost his re-election bid last month, said yesterday on the Senate floor. “For director Brennan, this means resigning.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Allen in Washington at jallen149@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Gordon at cgordon39@bloomberg.net Joe Sobczyk, Justin Blum

© Copyright 2019 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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John Brennan has been as close as anyone to President Barack Obama on his most sensitive national security decisions, from drone strikes to the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.That helps explain why Obama isn't abandoning his Central Intelligence Agency director...
cia, brennan, obama, side, multiple, crises
Thursday, 11 December 2014 07:08 AM
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