Unlike Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, a known Washington commodity, White House counterterrorism advisor John O. Brennan, the new nominee to lead the CIA, is a less familiar figure. But as one of President Barack Obama's closest advisers, Brennan has unsurprisingly featured as an important role-player in many of the insider accounts written about the administration's national security policies. The portrait that emerges from the books on Obama's first term is one of a man intensely loyal to the president whose trust he enjoys, sometimes to the point of alienating his colleagues. Among the insights gleaned, the former Riyadh CIA station chief and fluent Arabic speaker is clearly one of the most knowledgeable and well-connected senior U.S. officials when it comes to the Middle East, but he has a habit of sometimes speaking publicly without all the facts. And he has also taken on the seemingly contradictory roles as one of the most outspoken champions of the U.S. drone program while pushing within the administration to limit the use of American force. Here's a look at what we know about Brennan so far, culled from seven of the best recent books on U.S. foreign policy:
THE TORTURE PROBLEM
Brennan's CIA appointment is probably one that Obama wanted to make four years ago, and it seems he would have if not for the concerns of his own Democratic base over the former Bush administration official's ties to some of the most controversial post-9/11 CIA policies. Brennan advised Obama during the campaign and the presidential transition and the two enjoyed an unlikely rapport from the start, as James Mann recounts in The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power:
In mid-November, Brennan flew to Chicago to meet Obama, and the two men talked for about an hour. Brennan was able to bond with him on the subject of Indonesia, where Brennan had traveled for a summer in college and where Obama had lived for a time in his youth. Brennan, who was neither a Democrat nor a Republican and generally mistrusted ideologies, concluded that Obama was a pragmatic and appreciated the complexity of intelligence issues.
But complications soon emerged:
When the plan to appoint him [CIA director] became public, there was immediate opposition, mostly from Obama supporters. Obama had promised a dramatic break from the policies of the Bush administration, but Brennan had been on the job as a top adviser to George Tenet when the agency's most controversial policies were adopted, including the creation of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the "enhanced interrogation" techniques. In public interviews after leaving the CIA, Brennan had supported the need for change in some of the agency's practices, such as waterboarding, but he had also defended the practice of rendition and other parts of the post-2001 program. "We do have to take the gloves off in some areas," he had explained....
As a result, at the end of November, Brennan withdrew his name from consideration for CIA director. Instead the administration brought him into the White House in a newly created position as special adviser for counterterrorism and deputy national security advisor, a position that did not require Senate confirmation. He would soon come to have more direct and frequent access to Obama than the CIA director or any other intelligence official, and in many ways more power as well.
Brennan is less of a presence in Bush-era literature. He doesn't appear in the memoirs of Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, or Donald Rumsfeld, and gets only passing mention in his old boss Tenet's book about the period. Brennan has often seemed somewhat ambivalent when it comes to the question of waterboarding. In Jane Mayer's The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, he's quoted as vaguely saying, "It all comes down to individual moral barometers."
Bush-era interrogation methods continued to be an issue for Brennan in the first year of the Obama administration during the debate over whether to release the so-called "torture memos" produced by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel. As Daniel Klaidman writes in Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, he again seemed to be on the fence:
Holder and Craig were the earliest and most passionate voices in favor of making the memos public. Holder told the president that "if you don't release the memos, you'll own the policy." John Brennan initially agreed. But a CIA lobbying campaign ginned up by former director [Michael] Hayden persuaded Brennan to reverse his position.