President Barack Obama’s nomination of a former UT student to lead the CIA may prompt a public debate about the United States’ increased reliance on drone strikes in the War on Terror and past use of enhanced interrogation techniques, according to two UT faculty members.
On Jan. 7, Obama nominated John Brennan, who graduated from UT with a Master of Arts in 1980, to serve as CIA director. Brennan is chief counterterrorism adviser to the president and advised Obama on foreign policy during his 2008 presidential campaign. Prior to that, Brennan spent 25 years in the CIA and became deputy director of the CIA in 2001.
Obama previously nominated Brennan to head the CIA in 2009, but Brennan withdrew his name from consideration after concerns about his prior support of enhanced interrogation techniques and his possible role in allowing the use of those techniques during former President George W. Bush’s administration arose.
Bobby Inman, Lyndon B. Johnson Centennial Chair in National Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said Brennan may face questioning about the use of those techniques during Senate confirmation hearings. He said senators may show interest in the topic in part because of the release of “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film about the hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden that depicts use of enhanced interrogation techniques.
“That’s likely to become a hot topic again,” Inman said.
Inman, who served as deputy director of the CIA from 1981 to 1982, said Brennan may also face questions regarding the nation’s reliance on drone strikes, or using aerial unmanned vehicles to target and kill suspected terrorists, and the specifics of the drone program. Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge the program and defended the ethics and effectiveness of the program before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2012.
“The sense I have from a distance is that he’s been the principal architect of that program,” Inman said. “So far, there’s been no public debate on the program, so this might provide an opportunity for a debate.”
William Charles Inboden, assistant professor of public affairs and former senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council, said he thinks most senators support the drone program, but will use Brennan’s confirmation process to try to learn more about the program.
“Congress likes to assert its role as a check on the executive branch,” Inboden said. “They will sometimes look for a case to be involved in its decision-making process.”
Inboden said the Senate will likely confirm Brennan without much hesitation and will focus their scrutiny on Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, who has previously made statements interpreted as critical of Israel, a U.S. ally, and statements expressing opposition to some sanctions against Iran.
“Hagel’s nomination might provide cover for Brennan,” he said.
If confirmed, Brennan would succeed Michael Morell, current acting director and deputy director of the CIA. Morell became acting director in 2011 after Leon Panetta left the agency to become Secretary of Defense. Morell became acting director again in November when David Petraeus resigned after the FBI discovered an extramarital affair between him and his biographer.
Published on January 14, 2013 as "UT alumnus John Brennan nominated for director of CIA".