Why We Should Say No to Brennan

As Obama puts together his transition teams for various departments and looks to future appointments, and we approach the exciting day of January 20th, I think it is important to be clear and to provide a strong body of resources for progressive opposition to John Brennan.  

I think it is important to recognize that we can do a lot better than John Brennan.  The purpose of this diary is to collect important sources, show evidence of Brennan's complicity in the worst of the Bush administration's programs, demonstrate Brennan's association with the most conservative aspects of the intelligence community, and show that there are better experts out there.

Thanks to the people who authored these sources, and esp. to BTD for bringing up Brennan in the first place.  I hope this is not too repetitive but I think it is important to gather all this information in one diary/place.

Part I:  Brennan's Career and Personal Views

From the Intelligence and National Security Alliance:

Mr. Brennan served as the CIA's daily intelligence briefer at the White House in 1994 and 1995. Mr. Brennan was the Executive Assistant to then-DDCI George Tenet from 1995 to 1996, and he served as Chief of Station in a major Middle East capital from 1996 to 1999. Mr. Brennan served as DCI Tenet's Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2001 and as Deputy Executive Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from March 2001 to March 2003.

Need I remind anyone that George Tenet is a nutcase?  Brennan's association with Tenet is extremely questionable, as I will expand upon below.

As far as Brennan's personal views go, we can start with two main areas of concern:  FISA and torture.  Here is Brennan on FISA from a Shane Harris interview as of March 2008 (h/t BTD):

Brennan: 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. I do believe the Senate version of the FISA bill addresses the issues appropriately. [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell, I think, did a very good job trying to articulate the distinctions between the old FISA law, the FISA understanding under the Protect America Act, and then the House and Senate versions.

That Brennan thinks McConnell did a good job should alarm you.  McConnell, who believes in telco immunity and drummed up support for FISA by saying that if it wasn't improved, Americans would die.  (h/t Spencer Ackerman).  Who lied about FISA stopping a terrorist attack.  (h/t Matt Corley/Think Progress).  Here is Greenwald on McConnell:

In any event, the two honorable, apolitical, completely trustworthy Bush cabinet members -- DNI Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey -- yesterday released a letter addressed to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes which is basically a written adaptation of the scary 24 video produced this week by the House Republicans, breathlessly claiming that the nation "is now more vulnerable to terrorist attack and other foreign threats" because of the PAA's expiration.

Yeah, great job McConnell!  

So Brennan is wrong on FISA.  Now let's explore where Brennan is wrong on torture or at the very least, wrong as a reformer against torture.

Although Brennan is currently against waterboarding and says it is "not going to be allowed under an Obama presidency," (Washington Times) there is simply no question that he was aware of the program as it came into being and supported it.  Jane Mayer tells the story in the New Yorker:

Among the few C.I.A. officials who knew the details of the detention and interrogation program, there was a tense debate about where to draw the line in terms of treatment. John Brennan, Tenet's former chief of staff, said, "It all comes down to individual moral barometers."


Without more transparency, the value of the C.I.A.'s interrogation and detention program is impossible to evaluate. Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, "All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus."

Consider that waterboarding was conducted between 2002 and 2003, when Brennan was Executive Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  We need to know more about his involvement in this torture program, especially when his opposition to it NOW is that it doesn't work very well.  It appears that he wasn't a dissenter regarding the program at the time.  Why does he say no waterboarding now?  Simply assuming it is because he is virtuous due to his association with Obama is no good.  Melvin A. Goodman writes in the Baltimore Sun of Brennan:

Mr. Brennan, as chief of staff and deputy executive director under Mr. Tenet, was involved in decisions to conduct torture and abuse of suspected terrorists and to render suspected individuals to foreign intelligence services that conducted their own torture and abuse. Mr. Brennan had risen through the analytic ranks and should have known that analytic standards were being ignored in Mr. Tenet's CIA. He was also an active defender of the illegal program of warrantless eavesdropping, implemented at the National Security Agency under the leadership of Mr. Hayden, then director of NSA.

This guy went along with torture as a leader of the CIA program.  Do we want him to lead an Obama CIA?

In a Nov 2007 interview with CBS, Brennan states:

BRENNAN: I think it is, certainly, subjecting an individual to severe pain and suffer, which is the classic definition of torture.  And I believe, quite frankly, it's inconsistent with American values and it's something that should be prohibited.  

but also

BRENNAN: Yes, and a sort of classic water boarding, and I'm not saying the CIA has ever used water boarding, but there would be a constant stream of water and a volume of water that is going to be continuous. Here they stop in between on occasions.

Now let me just say that this interview was granted on November 2, 2007.  THIS IS AFTER WE ALREADY KNEW THE CIA DID WATERBOARD.    What is the date on Mayer's article?  AUGUST 13, 2007.  Even Scarborough was spreading the news.  My question to Brennan is, how stupid do you think we are?  If you're going to oppose torture, do it.  

Finally, let's get down to the wingnutty community of which Brennan has been a part to demonstrate that he does not belong in a progressive Obama administration.

Part II:  Brennan and His Friends

As I wrote above, Brennan is tied to George Tenet and Mike McConnell.  These guys embody some of the worst the Bush Admin has to offer in intelligence.  Brennan isn't just their associate - as he says himself, McConnell did a great job of explaining FISA.  A big Brennan thumbs up to you, Mike.

But also of interest is Brennan's current work.  He is chair of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a fine club that extended its William Oliver Baker Award to The Honorable George J. Tenet in 2003.  Truly a great year for Tenet!

And to further extend the Tenet love, Brennan cosigned an Open Letter defending Tenet's career.  Bill Conroy from the Narcosphere presents the case for Brennan's loyalty to Tenet in this article, and writes "But there can be no mistake from the copious public record that Brennan is a Company man, and if he owes any loyalty, it is to the people who have enabled his career: George Tenet, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush."

Conroy excerpts from this Salon article:

Tenet's ties with contractors were underscored last week in a dispute between two groups of former CIA officials over Tenet's legacy. On April 28, six former intelligence officers wrote to Tenet, saying he shared culpability with President Bush and Vice President Cheney for "the debacle in Iraq," and suggesting he donate half the royalties from his book to Iraq war veterans and their families. All of the signatories had severed their ties to U.S. intelligence, although three of them, Phil Giraldi, Larry Johnson and Vince Cannistraro, work as consultants for news organizations, corporations and government agencies outside of intelligence.

A few days later, six recently retired officers responded. They called the first letter a "bitter, inaccurate and misleading attack" on Tenet and pointed out that it was drafted by officers who "had not served in the Agency for years." Tenet, his supporters said, "literally led the nation's counterterrorism fight." And three of its six signatories were directly involved in that fight -- as contractors. They included John Brennan of the Analysis Corp.; Cofer Black, Tenet's former counterterrorism director and vice chairman of Blackwater, the private military contractor; and Robert Richer, the former deputy director of the CIA's clandestine services. Richer recently left Blackwater to become the CEO of Total Intelligence, a new company formed with Black and other ex-CIA officials to provide intelligence services to corporations and government agencies.

IMO, Tenet does share culpability.  Here is a perfect illustration of Brennan's views:  when given the opportunity, he comes down on the WRONG side of progressive battles.

Here is the letter against Tenet (warning:  PDF).  Here is Brennan's letter.  

Compare Letter 1, from Phil Giraldi, Ray McGovern, Larry Johnson, Jim Marcinkowski, Vince Cannistraro, David MacMichael:

We agree that the war of choice in Iraq was ill-advised and wrong headed. But your lament that you are a victim in a process you helped direct is self-serving, misleading and, as head of the intelligence community, an admission of failed leadership. You were not a victim. You were a willing participant in a poorly considered policy to start an unnecessary war and you share culpability with Dick Cheney and George Bush for the debacle in Iraq.

You are not alone in failing to speak up and protest the twisting and shading of intelligence.  Those who remained silent when they could have made a difference also share the blame for not protesting the abuse and misuse of intelligence that occurred under your watch. But ultimately you were in charge and you signed off on the CIA products and you briefed the President.

Compare Brennan's letter:

A recent public letter by six former CIA employees is a bitter, inaccurate and misleading attack on Former CIA Director George Tenet's leadership and, ultimately, on the CIA itself. That letter came from officers many of whom had not served in the Agency for years and in some cases decades. For the most part, these few individuals did not bear the burdens of rebuilding an agency that had been battered by resource cuts in the 1990s, battling terrorism in the run-up to 9/11 and in its aftermath, or wrestling with the complex problems associated with US involvement in Iraq.

Their letter was written from the comfortable confines of hindsight and from afar. We note they launched their attack before any of them could have had an opportunity to read Mr. Tenet's book.

In contrast, what we saw during the seven years Mr. Tenet was Director was a very different picture than the one presented by these former officers.

We saw a Director who worked tirelessly and passionately to restore, modernize, and enhance the nation's intelligence capabilities.

Brennan is NOT OUR ONLY OPTION nor is he Obama's.  In Part III I will contrast Brennan on FISA, torture, and the intelligence community with a much better friend to progressives, Rand Beers.  I am not sure if Beers is who exactly I want in a top intelligence job (IOW I am sure he has baggage), but I think he would be better than Brennan and he is certainly qualified.

Part III:  Rand Beers

Who is Rand Beers, and why is he better?  When the clown McConnell was saying Americans would die if he didn't get his way with FISA, Beers was writing a letter addressed to him saying that "that recent comments have distorted rather than enhanced this conversation" and that "The sunset of the Protect America Act (PAA) does not put America at greater risk" and "The intelligence community currently has the tools it needs to acquire surveillance of new targets and methods of communication."  While Brennan maintains his ties with a conservative intelligence community, Beers formed an organization called the National Security Network that self-identifies as progressive.  Beers has signed on to the Campaign to Ban Torture.  And he left the National Security Council days before the war in Iraq out of disagreement with the Bush administration.  (CommonDreams/Boston Globe).  He went on to advise Kerry, and now advises Obama.  

So there you have it.  Two advisors to Obama.  One on the national security transition team; one on the homeland security transition team.  

But it is Brennan who, according to the NYT is being considered for "Director of national intelligence or the Central Intelligence Agency."  This echoes the maligned speculation of the WSJ article BTD posted about.  Have you been hearing any trial balloons about Rand Beers?  No.  He may not be the perfect progressive candidate for the job, but he is certainly the more progressive guy in the Obama transition team, and no trial balloons have been floated about him.  Hmm.

As Digby writes today, there are political ramifications to choosing someone like Brennan as well:

I do think it's preferable for members of his administration to be beholden at least in part to the Democratic side of the aisle if only to show that it's not only Republicans who have credibility, especially in foreign affairs. If Obama keeps Gates at defense (which I sincerely hope he does not) then I think he has to pick a Democrat for State and pull from the more progressive ranks for the national security posts at CIA and elsewhere. The same is true for the economic jobs. Otherwise, he's just reinforcing the GOP's main argument that only Republicans can be trusted in such positions. If he has to bring in Republicans, put them in charge of HHS or some other counterintuitive place. Put Democrats in charge, succeed, and then you can longterm political power.

Beers was brave to jump onto Kerry's team and be an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and torture.  He identifies as a Democrat.  Politically, he's better for us as well.

There are three big reasons - FISA, torture, his friends - why we should all oppose a future for Brennan in the Obama administration.  Stop looking to defend this guy and put the pressure on him NOW.  Unless you like Brennan and his buddies, it is time to get them out of here.  For good.

Thanks again to BTD for starting this discussion.

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    I tried to update this (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by lilburro on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 12:22:39 AM EST
    but could not figure it out.  So...

    UPDATE:  Considering Rand Beers further, I think he deserves more credit in this diary for his willingness to state his views.  Check out the Campaign to Ban Torture's Declaration :

    Duty to Protect
    We acknowledge our historical commitment to end the use of torture and cruelty in the world.  The US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

    He is against extraordinary rendition, which we should NOT assume of John Brennan.  Check out the accountability section as well.  Oh and check the National Security Network:  Beers is against warrantless wiretapping as well:

    * We will faithfully honor the letter and the spirit of our Constitution. We will never sanction torture, and we will never tolerate spying on law-abiding citizens.

    Beers is a million times better than Brennan.