By Shane Harris
November 25, 2008John Brennan, President-elect Obama's intelligence adviser and the person many thought would head the CIA, has formally withdrawn his name from consideration "for a position within the intelligence community." (Read his letter to Obama here.)
Why is this important? Liberal bloggers and others on Obama's left flank have been furious over the idea that Brennan might get a senior post because he has been associated with some of the Bush administration's harshest intelligence tactics, including waterboarding, overseas detention and domestic surveillance. As the intensity of criticism increased, team Obama seems to have decided it was best for Brennan to stand down. This is an important victory for the left base, which was still feeling the sting of Obama's decision earlier this year to vote for enhanced surveillance powers.
In an interview with National Journal earlier this year, Brennan revealed that he differed with Obama over the thorny issue of immunity for companies that assisted the government with warrantless surveillance of Americans. In the wake of that interview and other reporting on Brennan's policy positions, bloggers launched a Web-wide campaign to scuttle his nomination.
In the NJ interview, conducted eight months before the election, Brennan distanced himself from some of the Bush policies and struck a pragmatic pose on surveillance policies:
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the threshold [for gathering intelligence about terrorist suspects], quite frankly, was low, because we didn't know the nature of the threat we faced here in the U.S. Every effort was made by the government to try to get as much understanding and visibility into what else might be out there that's going to hurt us again. Now that a number of years have passed, we need to make sure the calibration is important. But maybe in a period of heightened threat you have to recalibrate that based on new information you have -- new intelligence that's going to give you a better sense of where to aim your magnet.Brennan's departure could put a crimp in the transition team's plans to roll out its top security picks.
According to an Obama transition spokesperson, Brennan will remain on the team as an adviser during the transition period.
By Shane Harris
November 25, 2008