Senate committee approves Brennan for CIA post, 12 to 3


CIA director nominee John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
March 5, 2013

White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan moved closer to becoming the next CIA director on Tuesday when the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12 to 3 in favor of his nomination for the spy post.

The vote came after the White House agreed to give lawmakers access to additional secret Justice Department memos that lay out the Obama administration’s legal justification for the killing of U.S. citizens accused of collaborating with al-Qaeda overseas.

Brennan now faces a vote before the full Senate, where he is widely expected to win confirmation despite lingering concerns over aspects of his record and the administration’s refusal to let lawmakers see the full list of legal memos on targeted killing operations.

After the vote, which took place in a classified session, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the committee, said she believes that Brennan “will be a candid partner at CIA and a strong leader of that critically important agency.”

The committee’s vote marked the end of nearly two months of tense maneuvering during which lawmakers used Brennan’s nomination as an opening to scrutinize counterterrorism programs that the Obama administration has fought to keep secret for years.

In particular, the White House made new concessions over the weekend that will give lawmakers greater access to a collection of classified Justice Department opinions that spell out out the administration’s legal rationale for its campaign of drone strikes on al-Qaeda.

But the arrangement is confined only to memos on the legal rationale for the targeted killing of Americans accused of joining al-Qaeda and taking part in terrorist plots.

The administration let committee members see two of those memos earlier this year and has now agreed to show an undisclosed number of additional documents, congressional officials said. The White House also agreed to allow each lawmaker to have one staff member review the documents.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and others cited that concession as a reason for supporting Brennan’s nomination after previously threatening to delay or block it.

Even so, the White House has still refused to grant lawmakers access to other Justice Department memos on the killing of non-American terrorism suspects, a category that accounts for all but a handful of the thousands of militants and civilians killed in the U.S. drone campaign.

Feinstein has said she believes there are as many as 11 targeted-killing memos.

Civil liberties groups criticized the compromise over the Justice Department files as well as the Brennan vote.

“Instead of a slow drip of information when its back is against the wall, the Obama administration needs to publicly release all memos on targeted killing,” Zeke Johnson, a senior official with Amnesty International, said.

As counterterrorism adviser to Obama, Brennan has served as an architect of the administration’s drone campaign, which has expanded dramatically both in the number of strikes and the geographic scope over the past four years.

He was forced to withdraw from consideration for the CIA director job four years ago over objections to his role as a high-ranking CIA official when the agency began using brutal interrogation measures against terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Brennan would replace David H. Petraeus, who resigned last year after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer.

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