The process of confirming John Brennan as director of the CIA has brought forth a number of leaks and revelations that may help or hinder his confirmation.
John Brennan is clearly one of Obama's most trusted senior officials. Obama had earlier put forth Brennan's name to be head of the CIA. However, his service to the Bush administration during the period of rendition and enhanced interrogation techniques created so much opposition that he withdrew his name. There is no sign of his withdrawing this time around.
Frustrated in his attempt to make Brennan CIA boss, Obama appointed him as a key counterterrorism adviser. No doubt, Obama would say he wants to look towards the future rather than the past. As part of that future, Obama is extending his own executive power and the power of his key circle of advisers. The Obama administration has almost finished a manual on drone strikes that would make them an integral part of US policy. This manual was no doubt much influenced by the input of John Brennan: While Brennan's official title during Obama's first term was US Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, he was known to critics and supporters alike as "Mr Drone" - the official behind the administration's more than 350 separate drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia that have killed more than 3400 people, including an estimated 891 civilians.
Articles on the new manual helped create the impression that the drone program is closely monitored and regulated and in future will operate under clear rules and restrictions. This should all help Brennan who no doubt had considerable input into the manual's contents.
However, there was a split between those who wanted the CIA to carry on with their own program in Pakistan which allows them some independence in determining strikes and those who wanted to impose the new more restrictive rules with centralized control in the White House. The CIA program was exempted from the new rules for an indefinite period. Many in the administration think that the CIA should be out of the drone program entirely and that drone strikes should be only used by the military.
While there may be many who will want to stop Brennan''s appointment because he is a key adviser and confidant of Obama, there also may be some within the CIA who see him as limiting their independence and who also do not want him as boss. Finally, there are no doubt still a number of liberals who see Brennan as too closely associated with the Bush era and its human rights violations. These forces arraigned against Brennan may help explain recent leaks.
One leak has to do with the drone program, a program that Brennan has defended and with which he has close associations as Obama's adviser on counterterrorism. The US has been operating a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia for at least two years. A Washington Post article revealed the story. What is interesting is that this information was known to the New York Times as well but neither published it, as they were asked not to by the Obama administration. In other words, major news outlets simply keep information from the public at the request of the government. There is no need of censorship in the US system.
Of course, the newspapers were told that keeping the information secret was important for the war on terror. Now warring parties within the US need the information for their battles and suddenly it is OK to publicize that there is such a base. There are no doubt plenty of people who know about the details of the drone program. The only people who are not aware of it are the general public, who hear about it only from leaks and propaganda speeches by Obama and administration officials. There was another important leak of a paper that outlines the legal basis for the drone program. Perhaps this in turn was partly intended as a response to the UN announcement that it would do an investigation into the legality of drone strikes and civilians deaths caused by them.
Some speculate that the white paper on the legal grounds for killing American citizens in drone strikes was released by a disgruntled member of the Obama administration to hurt the chances of Brennan being made CIA director. While this may be, it could also be argued that the memo at least gives a legal rationale for the program and this may convince those wanting to be convinced that a program touted as quite successful is also legal. Those who take the view of Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU, may be in the minority:“It’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances. It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority — the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement.”
While many will think that the concept of "imminent threat" is extended in this document to a ludicrous degree, others will think that this is exactly the sort of legal updating necessary for the brave new world of the war on terror. What is needed as well is a concentration of power at the top, with Obama and his close advisers taking the place of cumbersome and expensive court processes. This will all make for more efficient killing of terrorists and also considerable collateral damage no doubt an inevitable cost of security in the minds of many.