John Brennan's Senate hearing: what we learned about CIA man

Feb 8, 2013

The man likely to become new CIA chief defends drone strikes, but says he's opposed to torture

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JOHN BRENNAN, the man picked by President Obama to be the next director of the CIA, made a confident impression at his Senate confirmation hearing in Washington DC last night, the BBC’s Jonny Dymond says. The 57-year-old, who was a senior CIA official under President George W Bush prior to becoming Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, "spoke clearly and often with vigour" as he was grilled over a range of contentious issues including the Unites States’ use of drones to kill Americans working with al-Qaeda and the abduction and torture of suspected terrorists. Dymond says Brennan is almost certain to be approved by the panel of senators at the hearing and by the full Senate at a later date. Here are five things we learned about Brennan from the hearing:
He believes the US only uses drones to kill enemies who pose an "imminent" threat: The US has ordered about 350 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, but Brennan denied suggestions the US was carrying out targeted killings of suspected terrorists to punish America’s enemies for "past transgressions". He said drones were only used to target people when they posed an imminent threat. "We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there's no other alternative to taking an action that's going to mitigate that threat," he said. Brennan also said the US was careful to avoid civilian casualties.
He defended the killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki: The radical Muslim cleric with links to al-Qaeda, who enjoyed joint Yemeni and US citizenship, was killed in a drone strike in 2011. Brennan said al-Awlaki's involvement in “efforts to kill Americans” made him a legitimate military target.
He’s opposed to torture techniques: Sleep deprivation and waterboarding – a form of torture which makes the subject feel as if they are drowning – were "popular" ways to extract information from suspects during the George W Bush presidency, Al-Jazeera says. Brennan told the hearing he "did not take steps to stop the CIA's use of those techniques" because he was “not in the chain of command of that programme”. He said he had expressed his “personal objections and views [about the techniques] to some agency colleagues".
He wants the CIA to go back to its traditional role of gathering and analysing intelligence: A Brennan-led CIA is "likely" to hand over duties such as "running a global paramilitary air force" and operating "detention sites" to the Pentagon, the Economist says. At the hearing he "described a dangerous world which meant that America needed good intelligence and analysis more than ever” and seemed “anxious” to steer the CIA back to that role.
He looks the part: The Economist says Brennan is "a casting agent’s idea of a spy boss" thanks to his "hunched shoulders, pugilist’s jaw and slightly menacing good manners".

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