Political Animal


February 05, 2013 12:44 PM Brennan’s Reading List

By Ed Kilgore

So you think Chuck Hagel had a tough Senate confirmation hearing? It may turn out to be child’s play compared to the grilling CIA Director nominee John Brennan could face later this week, not just from Republicans but from Democrats, as the L.A. Times’ Ken Dilanian explains:

Republicans plan to grill Brennan about leaks of classified information and the administration’s characterization of the intelligence surrounding September’s attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Ah yes, Benghazi, the GOP’s Great White Whale. But Senate Democrats, perhaps still smarting from Hagel’s apparent lack of preparation for his hearing last week, are upset that Brennan may not be taking their own concerns seriously enough:

Some Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon, were miffed that John Brennan had not read the 300-page executive summary of a Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program before meeting with them recently….
Brennan, who began advising Obama during the 2008 campaign after a long career as a CIA analyst, withdrew his name from consideration as CIA director four years ago after critics sought to tie him to harsh interrogation tactics that many consider torture. Udall and other Democrats are not focusing on Brennan’s role in the interrogation program, officials familiar with their thinking say, because he did not have a policymaking role in the CIA when the program was developed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Brennan was deputy executive director, an administrator.
But Democrats want Brennan to address some of the key findings in the 6,000-page classified Senate report — that the interrogation program was mismanaged, and that CIA officers did not always level with their bosses or the White House about what was being done to detainees.

And now there’s another inflammatory item on Brennan’s reading list: the internal Justice Department “white paper” just published by NBC providing a justification for drone strikes on U.S. citizens abroad who are deemed (under shadowy guidance at best) “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaeda or “an associated force.” As NBC’s Michael Isikoff notes, it will be impossible for Brennan to avoid questions on this vague and (to many) alarming policy:

The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director. Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, calling them “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.”

Perhaps Senate Intelligence Committee senators can get their act together to examine Brennan in a coordinated way, unless Republicans decide to interrupt questions on interrogation methods and drone strikes with: “But—but—but—Benghazi!”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • JoyousMN on February 05, 2013 12:52 PM:

    I couldn't get past the line, "300 page Executive Summary."

    WTF? Seriously? A "summary" is 300 pages? I realize that the subject matter is dense, but is this typical?

  • c u n d gulag on February 05, 2013 1:14 PM:

    If it was a summary by Republicans, it would be 10 pages long, 8 of which would be graphics and pictures.

    Btw - today is the 10th Anniversary of Colin Powell showing the UN the Bush mis-adminstrations "evidence" for an invasion of Iraq.

    Powell had a chance to be a great SoS, like George Marshall.
    Instead, he ended up more like Ollie North.

  • gdb on February 05, 2013 1:37 PM:

    If Brennan and Hagel are the best that BHO can find, Progressives need begin the process of looking to elect a Dem for president in 2016. It's going to be a tough four years, starting with the sequester where BHO will propose a conservative Republican solution compared to a radical Republican solution advocated by House and Senate Repubs.

  • Neo on February 05, 2013 2:29 PM:

    The notion, that the the drone-strike memo shifts the burden of proof to the target rather than the government, is a throwback to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919 which killed at least 400 unarmed men, women and children.

    When asked about children being in the crowd at the inquiry, Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer said that his troops were prepared to render aid any that petitioned, but couldn't explain just how that could be done.

    The Nobel Committee should be proud.