President Obama nominated his current top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, as his next director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Monday.
Brennan has spearheaded the Obama administration’s extraordinary expansion of the secret drone program, literally steering the targeting process and the legal and logistical architecture of the drone wars, which have killed more than 3,000 people, mainly in Pakistan and Yemen.
Brennan was vetted for the CIA position in 2008, but there was blacklash against Obama for Brennan having been Bush’s counter-terrorism adviser too, and having alleged connections to the CIA’s torture program.
“Brennan oversees and manages the one-hundred-person interagency process that nominates and vets suspected militants and terrorists for the United States’ various kill lists—implemented by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command,” writes Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Moreover, as an executive branch appointee, he is unaccountable outside of the executive branch for his decisions, since he is not required to appear before Congress or to answer a congressional subpoena,” Zenko adds. “However, he has made several public speeches and statements about limited aspects of the program, some of which are preposterous and in no way supported by reality.”
Some of the preposterous claims Brennan has made include propaganda about drones never killing civilians and local populations in Pakistan and Yemen actually not minding getting persistently bombed – two assertions that are demonstrably false.
“We see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP,” Brennan said in August. “In fact, we see the opposite. Our Yemeni partners are more eager to work with us.”
But experts who aren’t toeing the government line disagree. Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, responded to Brennan’s claim: “The idea that the deaths of civilians in Yemen doesn’t lead to recruits to AQAP is either deliberately negligent or incredibly naive.” He added: “I think the US is, at least publicly, drastically underestimating blow back and revenge coming from Yemen.”
A Washington Post article back in October described how Brennan’s kill lists, under his leadership, have evolved into something called a “disposition matrix” which secretly collects information on targeted individuals and the efforts to kill or capture them.
“Among senior Obama administration officials,” the Post reported, “there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade” which is a “timeline [that] suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism.”
Brennan has left a lasting mark on how the Executive Branch, through the covert actions of an increasingly paramilitary CIA, conducts extrajudicial assassinations of suspects without charge or trial, even if they are American citizens.
As the Post explained, Brennan has helped Obama manage “the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”