Yesterday, President Barack Obama nominated his chief counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, to become the next Central Intelligence Agency director despite numerous controversies since his services in the Bush administration, and now, the Obama administration. Obama called Brennan "one of our nation's most skilled and respected intelligence professionals."
Brennan is 57-years-old and has been with the CIA for nearly half his life. He created and lead the National Counterterrorism Center. He was also the president and CEO of the Analysis Corporation, which provided intelligence information to government agencies. Most recently, he's served as the president's Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor since 2009.
Obama said yesterday, "In moments of debate and decision, he [Brennan] asks the tough question and he insists on high and rigorous standards. Time and again, he’s spoken to the American people about our counterterrorism policies because he recognizes we have a responsibility to be [as] open and transparent as possible."
Rendition and waterboarding
According to an article by The Washington Post, when it comes to drone strikes, "it is Brennan alone who takes the recommendations to Obama for a final sign-off."
"It is tragic that the person who is responsible for the counterproductive, illegal drone strike strategy that has killed so many innocent people and unleashed such fierce anti-American sentiment around the world is being tapped to head the CIA," CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin said in a press release. "We condemn President Obama for making this nomination and call on the Senate to reject it."
Obama picked Brennan to head the CIA after he won the election in 2008, but he declined the position due to criticism. On Nov. 22, 2008, dozens of psychologists signed a letter written to President-elect Obama asking him not to choose Brennan. Part of the reasoning was due to Brennan's praise of rendition. Rendition is when the government moves a prisoner or detainee to another country so that they can interrogate them in ways that would be illegal in the US.
Part of the letter said, "As psychologists and other concerned Americans, we ask you to reject Mr. Brennan as Director of the CIA. His appointment would dishearten and alienate those who opposed torture under the Bush administration. We ask you to appoint a Director who will truly represent 'the change we need.'"
In a Nov. 25, 2008 letter to Obama, Brennan wrote that he was against the Iraq war and waterboarding during the Bush administration. He said that he had no part in the decision making process for the CIA's "controversial policies and actions" and that he was denied a more senior-level position twice by the Bush administration. He asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration among the criticism.
Brennan watched bin Laden raid live, but gave incorrect information to reporters
Brennan was photographed alongside President Obama and others who watched the Osama bin Laden raid unfold live via a video feed. On May 2, 2011, when asked whether they considered capturing bin Laden alive, Brennan told reporters, " ... The concern was that bin Laden would oppose any type of capture operation. Indeed, he did. It was a ﬁreﬁght. He, therefore, was killed in that ﬁreﬁght and that’s when the remains were removed."
When asked if bin Laden actually fired a weapon, Brennan said, "He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know."
Brennan also said that bin Laden's wives shielded him from the SEALs, " ... here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield."
According to The New York Times, when the SEALs reached the top floor of the compound, they entered a room containing bin Laden and one of his wives. They said the woman "rushed" one of the SEALs and was shot in the leg, then bin Laden was shot and killed. Other news sources report that bin Laden was killed first and then his wife was shot after she lunged at the SEAL. Brennan said that bin Laden's wife died in the raid, but it was later revealed that she didn't.
Brennan said the US had "differences of view" with the Pakistani government, but Brennan and Obama praised Pakistan for its role in fighting terrorism. Days later, questions arose after Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein told TIME that they learned bin Laden lived in the Abbottabad compound for five to six years before the US raid.
According to the Bangkok Post, the Pakistani government concluded an 18-month investigation into how bin Laden lived in Pakistan undetected. The report was submitted to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf last Thursday and he will decide whether to make it public or keep it classified.
Brennan supports immunity for phone companies that help intelligence agencies spy on Americans
In a National Journal interview in 2008, Brennan said: "There is this great debate over whether or not the telecom companies should in fact be given immunity for their agreement to provide support and cooperate with the government after 9/11. I do believe strongly that they should be granted that immunity, because they were told to do so by the appropriate authorities that were operating in a legal context, and so I think that's important. And I know people are concerned about that, but I do believe that's the right thing to do."
Brennan did say that he believes there should be probable cause to tap US citizens' phones, but according to documents obtained by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), through AT&T, all customers' phone calls and text messages are routed through the National Security Agency. Though they've been granted immunity by the federal government, the EFF filed a lawsuit against AT&T.
2003 Christmas terror scare based on false information from Brennan
On Dec. 21, 2003, the Homeland Security Advisory System was raised from yellow to orange which indicated a high risk of terrorist attacks. Dozens of international flights were cancelled.
Homeland Security said that it was because, "The U.S. intelligence community has received a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports. These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond."
According to Defense News, the information that was used to justify the heightened alert came from a computer software contractor. The contractor said that they intercepted information encrypted through Al Jazeera television broadcasts. It later turned out that it wasn't true.
At the time, the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center director called the information "crazy" and said that he was very skeptical. According to sources in the Defense News story, Brennan knew the information was false, but brought it to the White House anyway, possibly to further his career.