Who Is John Brennan, Obama's Choice to Succeed David Petraeus at the CIA?

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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

With the news that John Brennan will be appointed to head the CIA, Obama’s second-term national-security team is now taking on full shape.

Here’s what to know about the latest figure to participate in the national-security shuffle.

He got started in the CIA by answering a classified ad

In 2009, Brennan told the The Record, a North New Jersey paper, that he first applied to work in the CIA after reading a classified ad in The New York Times while riding a bus to Fordham University.

Other biographical highlights:

Brennan grew up in North Bergen, N.J., and is 57 years old. He has a B.A. in political science from Fordham University and a master's in government and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Texas (Austin). He is fluent in Arabic.

He worked in the CIA for 25 years

Brennan's positions included: Saudi Arabia station chief, chief of staff to then-CIA Director George Tenet, deputy executive director, and chief of staff of the National Counterterrorism Center under President George W. Bush.

President Obama thought about nominating him to direct the CIA in 2008

But the move drew criticism from liberals who thought Brennan was too closely tied to the enhanced-interrogation techniques directed under the Bush administration. As the Associated Press reports, Brennan denied being involved in the practices but withdrew his name for consideration. He went so far as to write to President Obama – and the rest of us – that he was “a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding.”

He’s vocally opposed to waterboarding, but has no regrets about his work in the CIA

In a 2009 podcast with ABC news, Brennan elaborated on his feelings about waterboarding.

“I personally was always opposed to waterboarding and certain types of techniques, and I think there were people who supported me in that and were able to acknowledge that I was a critic of that when I was in the agency,” he said.

He stands behind the work he’s done for the CIA, however, and says he doesn’t have regrets.

“I was involved in a lot of things supporting our national security. I felt good about them, and I wanted to maintain my involvement in these national-security initiatives and programs, so I don’t have any regrets about what I did while I was in the agency.”

Obama appointed him counterterrorism adviser in 2008

The formal title is assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. It is not a formal Cabinet position and doesn’t need Senate confirmation. The counterterrorism adviser serves on the National Security Council, “the president's principal forum for considering national-security and foreign-policy matters with his senior national-security advisers and Cabinet officials.”

He’s played a key role in setting the rules for U.S. drone warfare

“Brennan is the principal architect of a policy that has transformed counterterrorism from a conventional fight centered in Afghanistan to a high-tech global effort to track down and eliminate perceived enemies one by one,” The Washington Postwrote in an October profile of the counterterrorism adviser. Brennan is also said to be the final filter of the Obama administrations so-called “kill list.” As The Post reports, “it is Brennan alone who takes the recommendations to Obama for a final sign-off.”

He was the first U.S. security official to offer an extensive explantation of drone warfare

In April, Brennan spoke to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar, and defended U.S. drone strikes as "legal, ethical, and wise."

He was in the Situation Room during the Bin Laden raid


Obama trusts him, and vice-versa

Again, from theThe Washington Post profile:

“Ever since the first couple of months, I felt there was a real similarity of views that gave me a sense of comfort,” Brennan said. “I don’t think we’ve had a disagreement.”

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