Policy & Strategy

Obama’s CIA nominee to face tough questions about ‘enhanced interrogation’

President Obama’s pick to head the CIA could face a rough road to confirmation in the Senate due to his involvement in the “enhanced interrogation” techniques of the George W. Bush administration.

The president on Monday announced he would nominate John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism chief, to lead the top spy agency following the recent departure of David Petraeus.

{mosads}“John knows what our national security demands — intelligence that provides policymakers with the facts, strong analytic insights, and a keen understanding of a dynamic world,” Obama said at the White House.

But the nomination is already being met with resistance in the Senate, where a number of lawmakers remain angry about the “enhanced interrogation” techniques that Brenann and other intelligence officials helped oversee during the Bush years. Critics say those techniques amounted to torture.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he has “many questions and concerns” about Brennan’s role in overseeing the interrogation programs, “as well as his public defense of those programs.” 

“I plan to examine this aspect of Mr. Brennan’s record very closely as I consider his nomination,” said McCain in a statement Monday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that will weigh the nomination, said Brennan has the “qualifications and expertise” to be CIA director. 

But Feinstein also said she would bring up the committee’s recent review of the Bush-era interrogation techniques and ask Brennan “how he would respond to the [review’s] findings and conclusions.” 

The Intelligence panel’s long-awaited review of the interrogation techniques was approved last month and remains classified, pending a review from the Obama administration. 

Senators are also voicing concerns about Brennan’s role in the CIA’s accelerated use of armed drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere. Some claim the administration’s aggressive use of drone strikes has resulted in numerous civilian casualties, which the White House denies.

Anticipating the criticism of his nominee, Obama on Monday stressed that Brennan has worked to ensure that U.S. intelligence operations take place under a “strong legal framework.”

“He asked the tough questions” and insisted on “rigorous standards” in each administration he served under, Obama said.

Brennan said he would strive to make sure the CIA “always reflects the liberties, the freedoms and the values that we hold so dear.”

Decision makers at the agency and on Capitol Hill “must work as a team” in order to maintain the right balance between national security and civil liberties, Brennan said. 

“While the intelligence profession oftentimes demands secrecy, it is critically important that there be a full and open discourse on intelligence matters with the appropriate elected representatives of the American people,” he said.

— This story was updated at 4:16 p.m.

Tags Dianne Feinstein John McCain

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