By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 4:47 PM
A former CIA official who was in the running for a top intelligence post in the Obama administration withdrew his candidacy today after coming under criticism from several groups who accused him of being closely tied to the agency's interrogation policies.
John Brennan, who held several senior positions during a nearly 25-year stint at the spy agency, notified Barack Obama of his decision in a brief note, saying he no longer wished to be considered for any job in the intelligence agencies. Brennan was widely reported to be a contender for either CIA director or director of national intelligence.
"The challenges ahead of our nation are too daunting, and the role of the CIA too critical, for there to be any distraction from the vital work that lies ahead," Brennan wrote.
Brennan's withdrawal came three days after a group of about 200 psychiatrists and academics wrote to Obama opposing his appointment, saying Brennan was tainted by his association with some of the CIA's most controversial policies of the Bush era. They include the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods against captured al-Qaeda leaders in secret CIA prisons.
"Mr. Brennan served as a high official in George Tenet's CIA and supported Tenet's policies, including 'enhanced interrogations' as well as 'renditions' to torturing countries," the coalition stated in the letter. The group said Brennan's appointment would "dishearten and alienate those who opposed torture under the Bush administration."
Brennan, who served as director of the CIA's Terrorist Threat Integration Center before leaving the agency in 2003, defended his record in the letter to Obama, saying he had been a "strong opponent" of many Bush-era policies, including the war in Iraq and the use of coercive interrogation practices. He noted that his criticism of the policies within the CIA had twice prompted the Bush administration to block his promotion to more senior leadership positions.
"I am extremely proud of my 25-year record of intelligence work," he said.
Brennan, who is now chief executive of the Analysis Corp., a Fairfax-based private intelligence company, had been an early supporter of Obama, and his candidacy was backed by many intelligence insiders.
"It's a tragedy," said one former senior intelligence official after learning of the decision. "There are very few people who are both willing to take the job and truly qualified to do it."