Brennan: Second Time Around


The Dish fiercely opposed the appointment of John Brennan to be CIA director in 2008 because of previous dubious statements about the Bush-Cheney torture program. Well, four years later, he's up for it again. I'm not as inclined to oppose him this time around, in part because torture has ended, and in part because he is increasingly one of the good guys on the drone program. From Dan Klaidman's Newsweek cover:

Brennan, a tough-minded spook who spent 25 years at the CIA, is unapologetic about the secret drone program. Indeed, he has been in many ways its most energetic public defender (if obliquely, since it remains covert). ?But behind the scenes he has also been an advocate for more transparency, placing counterterrorism operations on a firmer legal footing, and imposing reasonable restraints on the CIA’s operators…

Brennan’s “playbook” is more than simply an effort to enshrine the rules of the road for targeted killing. He is seeking to fundamentally reform the process by which targeted-killing decisions are made. One key proposal, according to three administration officials who have been briefed on the matter, is to harmonize the CIA’s and the military’s decision-making process for lethal strikes. This would not be just a bureaucratic rearranging of the deck chairs…

A common decision-making process with more uniform standards would almost certainly force the CIA to behave more like the military—that is, to operate with far less freedom. To take just one example: the CIA engages in a controversial practice known as “signature strikes,” targeting groups of military-age males whose identities are not known but who bear certain characteristics—or signatures—associated with terrorism. Under new protocols, the strikes, sometimes referred to as “crowd killing,” may still be permitted but would likely be more heavily regulated.

People change. If Brennan has Obama's trust in restricting and managing drone strikes with much less lee-way for the CIA, he's performing a vital service in morally re-callibrating the war against the remnants of al Qaeda.

(Photo: John O. Brennan, White House counterterrorism advisor, speaks during a memorial service for the Pan Am Flight 103 Lockerbie bombing at Arlington National Cemetery December 21, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia. By Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.)