Adviser Withdraws From Consideration As CIA Head
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A leading candidate for the position of CIA director in an Obama administration has asked that he not be considered. In fact, he doesn't want to be considered for any intelligence position. John Brennan is a 25-year veteran of the agency. He's been serving for months as Barack Obama's top advisor on intelligence issues, but liberal bloggers recently mounted a campaign against Brennan, charging that he was too closely associated with harsh interrogation practices. NPR intelligence correspondent Tom Gjelten has been following this story. He's on the line. Tom, good morning.
TOM GJELTEN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Are the protests the reason that Brennan took his name off the list?
GJELTEN: Yes, it's this campaign that was being waged against him. Apparently - at least that's what he said in the letter he wrote to President-elect Obama. He said he feared that the hubbub that these liberal groups were raising about him would prove to be, quote, "a distraction to the work of the intelligence community at this time."
INSKEEP: Well, let's set aside the distraction for a moment and talk about the facts. How, if at all, is John Brennan associated with harsh interrogation practices.
GJELTEN: Well, Steve, he's been at the CIA, as you said, for a long time. He was a station chief in Saudi Arabia. He was the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center. And for a time he was President Clinton's intelligence briefer. But he was also chief of staff to CIA Director George Tenet at the time when the CIA was getting involved in those harsh interrogation practices. There is no evidence he had any role in actually approving those practices, but that association with Tenet at that critical time was apparently enough to provoke loud complaints from critics of the agency.
INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Tom Gjelten about the news that a leading candidate for CIA director doesn't want in - a top advisor to Barack Obama on intelligence issues. This does raise a question, Tom Gjelten. Given that the intelligence community at one time was linked with harsh interrogations of one kind or another, is it going to be hard to find somebody who's experienced who is not in some way seen as tainted?
GJELTEN: Well, I think, Steve, it's going to be hard to find anyone who has served in the CIA during these last few years, since 9/11. I mean, the truth is that John Brennan is pretty much in the mainstream of intelligence professionals. As far as the positions he's taken, he's not by any means a hardliner in intelligence issues. So I think it could be hard to find someone with recent CIA experience who is more acceptable to critics of the agency. One Democrat on Capitol Hill with whom I spoke said it was sad that Brennan felt he had to withdraw. As you say, he'd been Obama's intelligence advisor throughout the campaign. He was highly regarded within the Obama team and among Democrats on Capitol Hill who deal with intelligence matters.
INSKEEP: Well, who else is in the running for this top job, CIA?
GJELTEN: Well, we've been reporting that Robert Gates is going to stay on at - is likely to stay on at the Pentagon for a few months. It's possible that the CIA director, Michael Hayden, could be kept on for a few months. I think, you know, they see it as important that there's continuity. Or Hayden's deputy, Steve Kappes, could move up. The other thing is you could look at some of the people who have been mentioned as possibilities for the new position director of national intelligence in the last few weeks - some former military people. One of those could be in contention for the CIA job.
INSKEEP: And what's the Obama campaign saying about all this?
GJELTEN: I think they were a little bit caught off-guard, Steve. They - late in the day they did put out a brief statement saying Brennan is a man of talent and integrity who has served the nation with honor. But it said President-elect Obama would accept Brennan's request not to be offered an intelligence position.
INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.
GJELTEN: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten. He covers intelligence matters for NPR News. And his latest reporting involves a man named John Brennan, who was a veteran of the agency and also an advisor to Barack Obama. He has taken himself out of the running for the possible position of CIA director or in fact any intelligence job after a campaign by liberal bloggers against him questioning his involvement with interrogations. This is NPR News.
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