Sullivan is uninclined to oppose Brennan because "people change," though Sullivan neither possesses nor presents any evidence that Brennan has changed. Sullivan adds that the Brennan confirmation hearings could be useful. "We have an unusual opportunity to grill a nominee over the vital issues of torture and accountability, drones and secrecy," he argues. "We need more sunlight – including public access to the Senate Intelligence Committee's definitive report on the torture program under Bush-Cheney. But the Brennan hearings are a start."
So will Sullivan pledge to oppose Brennan's nomination until we fill the significant gaps in information about his role in torture and his prosecution of Obama's secretive, unaccountable drone war? Or will Sullivan support Obama's choice even if the confirmation hearings don't result in what he agrees is important information being made public? I suspect he'll back Obama's choice regardless, as he's already begun to do, and the fact that so many Obama supporters will behave that way is part of the reason transparency advocates are unlikely to get answers.
Actually, I do have evidence that Brennan has changed, in so far as I take Dan Klaidman's reporting seriously, and my own inquiries about his position on the legal framework for the drone war. That the head of the CIA is at the forefront of checking the president's powers to kill by drone seems to me an encouraging development. But, sure, I'd like a grilling of Brennan on whether this is true, why he has begun to worry about the drone program, and his views on its future. And if he has nothing salient to say, or gives us the usual spook-speak, I may well be inclined to change my mind. That's what hearings are for. But if he asserts the need for more transparency and buy-in from other branches of government, that's a plus, right? Serwer's view:
Everything that civil-liberties advocates feared might have come to pass if Brennan had been appointed at the CIA happened anyway. Which is to say that it's impossible to make a case against Brennan running the CIA that isn't also a case against Obama. It's Obama, not Brennan, who is ultimately responsible for the policies of the past four years. Those won't change unless Obama wants them to, whether Brennan runs the CIA or not.
David A. Graham wonders whether or not Brennan will succumb to the desire to work "within the system":
Will he continue to work to restrain the role of intelligence agents in killing suspected terrorists? Or, once he's ensconced at the agency, will he decide that perhaps he's still the best person to oversee the program after all — even if that requires a de facto delegation of authority over it to the CIA? Panetta was reportedly viewed with wariness when he arrived at the CIA, but quickly won loyalty for pushing back at liberal demands for serious investigation and sanctions over the torture program. Brennan might feel compelled to defend agency turf, as well — but he also might feel empowered to go his own way, relying on his quarter-century career to grant him legitimacy.
Meanwhile, Ackerman and Shachtman write that "Brennan suddenly looks like the most powerful member of Obama’s national security team."
(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama, left, listens as his nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, White House chief counterterrorism adviser, speaks during an announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. By Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)