The Official John Brennan Story

The NYT has chosen to have someone who presented an outdated picture of drone targeting that covered up changes implemented under John Brennan report on John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA Director. The story is predictably imbalanced.

Take this claim, for example:

It is uncertain whether the torture issue will now cause any problems for Mr. Brennan. But he is a far more well-known figure than in 2009, having made many public appearances in the wake of terrorist plots and to explain the legal and policy arguments behind drone strikes.

It’s fair, as far as it goes. I do doubt that Obama will care that his CIA Director has protected the CIA’s torturers. I do think Brennan has seduced enough beltway journalists so as to withstand criticism for his views.

But Scott Shane suggests Brennan’s many public statements on drones were 1) accurate and 2) consisted of actual explanations for drone strikes.

This, coming from a guy who has noted Brennan getting caught lying about there being no civilian casualties from drones in the past.

And from a guy who knows well that Brennan’s drone targeting speech fails to explain signature strikes (which Brennan approved in Yemen).

Sadly, Shane didn’t note those past lies.

Then there’s this claim.

He has spoken out repeatedly about the need for strong oversight and review of counterterrorism actions.

It would be useful for Shane to note that Brennan’s plans to establish rules for drones faltered after Mitt Romney lost the election. It would also be useful to note that his idea of “strong oversight” consists of him–John Brennan–centralizing all decision making under himself, then operating within the oversight free National Security Council. All at the same time the Administration refuses to exercise real transparency (and doesn’t even share the “kill list” with the Gang of Four).

That is, it would be nice if Shane had distinguished the myth he has helped to create from the reality.

But it seems the real role of Shane’s article is to point this out.

During Mr. Brennan’s tenure as Mr. Obama’s top adviser on counterterrorism, Al Qaeda’s leadership has been devastated and Mr. Bin Laden been killed.

That, I suppose, is the plan to get Brennan confirmed: paper over the serial lies and instead repeat Osama bin Laden over and over again.

Well done, Scott Shane!

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    Shorter DC discussion of foreign policy these days:

    GOP: Bengazi! Bengazi! Bengazi!!
    WH: Bin Laden! Bin Laden! Bin Laden!!

    Never mind outdated pictures, actual explanations, and accountability-free oversight.

    “Move along, move along . . . nothing to see here . . .”

  2. What Constitution? says:

    The “story” in this appointment is, purely and simply, that President Obama so thoroughly has normalized the malevolence of the Bush Administration that Obama is now comfortable re-nominating the same guy whose prior nomination to a Senate-confirmed position had to be withdrawn over the nominee’s ties to Bush torture programs. The “issue” in this confirmation process ought to be why that’s even remotely considered to be OK.

    Is there a Senator who will explore this in the confirmation process? Is there a Senator who will demand that Brennan explain, as a condition of confirmation, exactly what “rules” he has been applying in overseeing drone attacks, how he claims the drone program meets constitutional muster, why he lied to the public about the killing of bin Laden? Is there a media that will make a dent in this nomination without noting the fact of his prior nomination’s withdrawal and conceding, right up front, that there’s “nothing that can be done”?

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    As I told @joanneleon in a comment at this site last November, the liberals do not have it in them to fight a Brennan nomination in 2013.

    It’s not that Brennan is any cleaner now than in 2009. But the liberals have accommodated so much to the Democratic Party agenda and their White House standard-bearer, they’ve compromised their own moral and political authority.

    For those who care to be reminded, here’s a link to the original letter by 200 psychologists and others protesting the possible 2009 nomination of Brennan to lead the CIA.'t_name_torture_apologist_john_brenner_cia_director/?page=entire

    I’m sure many on this list still oppose Brennan, but there are others who will have caved.

    As for me, this may surprise some, but I refused to sign the letter in 2009, and would not sign a 2013 version. There is no way to clean up the CIA. It has a uniquely secret role in the government, and has been involved in countless crimes for decades. It should be abolished, and no agency made so secret that its very budget is hidden from the citizens of a country.

    I will note that the proper place for Brennan is before a public investigatory body, along with all previous and current top CIA and Pentagon officials involved in the US torture program.

  4. What Constitution? says:

    @Jeff Kaye: My point, such as it is, is exactly that if nobody “has it in them” to make the arguments about Brennan and about Obama’s renomination of Brennan, then we “get the government we deserve”, don’t we?

    Of course, maybe this time the confirmation hearings will be dispensed with entirely “since” the evidence would all be state secrets, the President can justify this appointment as part of his “Article II war powers” and nobody has standing to contest the President’s or the CIA’s actions anyway. Wait, that’s not right.

    I have the deepest respect for all that you, and others, have have done for years now in the fight against the decimation of crucial principles by the Bush and Obama administrations. It has been a tragic litany and it may well be that the “public investigatory body” we all will have to rely upon acting will not be a US body — hell, even Glenn Greenwald is taking the pragmatic tack, this time around, of “bowing to the inevitable” with this nomination. There is nothing more certain, though, than that which everyone announces is inevitable even when they despise its suggestion. I do so hate the idea of having to listen to Cheney Lite doing another victory dance on Fox while her daddy sits for a portrait in front of Colbert’s eagle.

    Announcing this nomination under cover of the stupidity of the Chuck Hagel firestorm reactions may be a brilliant stroke by Obama, who once again is well-advised on media predictability. But the renomination of Brennan deserves to be opposed. The opposition may not succeed. It should be put on record, though, and as if it is believed to be the right position to take. Especially if, by asserting the opposition, there’s any chance of advancing the ball toward disclosure/transparency/answers that could be instructive in trying to facilitate some movement of this government in the direction of respect for the rule of law.

    Or not.

  5. Bill Michtom says:

    @What Constitution?
    “we ‘get the government we deserve’, don’t we?”

    That implies that we have any control over the government we get.

  6. P J Evans says:

    people might try harder on stuff like this, if they thought there was even half a chance of the government hearing them. As it is, it’s talking to a concrete fortress.

  7. ess emm says:

    Scott Shane doesnt note the lies because he really, really wants to believe the guys in power. Skepticism never crosses his mind.

  8. Jeffrey Kaye says:

    @Peterr: If they are thinking about it, I haven’t heard a peep.

    @WhatConstitution? – Congress passed Petraeus 97-0. Is Brennan better or worse than him?

    My point is that it doesn’t matter who the CIA chief is. They are all bad. It’s not about one person anyway, but an institution whose very existence warps democracy, even as it claims to be saving it.

  9. What Constitution says:

    @Jeffrey Kaye: Obama re-appointing Brennan at this time is, in my view, entirely different and entirely worse than Obama appointing Petraeus at the time he did. I respect the observation that “they are all bad” and agree that the institution of the CIA itself is warping democracy, but am unable to agree that the fundamental existence of the CIA is (or could be placed) “on the table” in any meaningful way right now — whereas a current re-nomination of Brennan squarely frames Obama’s immediate and future intentions regarding the United States Constitution, its relationship to the role of the Presidency and the cementing of Bush’s malevolencies as a New Normal. That Congress approved Petraeus is sad, but I’m not willing to accept that as an argument for acquiescing in Brennan’s re-nomination.

    It is absolutely correct to observe that Congress has a role to play here, and that the People ultimately have to demand change. It is abysmally plain that Congress has cowered away from its role of checking and balancing the Executive and only blindly defers to farcical “executive powers” arguments to rubber-stamp the excesses before us today. And although the majority of the Supreme Court unequivocally reaffirmed, in Boumediene, that Congress and the Executive cannot collude to circumvent the Constitution (because it is, in fact, the courts’ obligation to say “what the law is”), it has become the benchmark principle of the late Bush and vengeful Obama administrations not to “rationally explain” their actions, but instead to insist that nobody has the right to know what they’re doing or the authority to object or even to demand an explanation as to why. The lower courts, to their shame, have done backflips in seeking to abdicate their constitutional responsibility in this area and the battleground over the Constitution is going to have to be fought and won on that front first — our courts’ current refusal to entertain actual substantive constitutional analysis in the face of the “WOT” boogeyman has no historical analog since the days of Dred Scott. People like you, Mr. Kaye, will continue to be invaluable there.

    But back to the relationship of Obama’s re-nomination of Brennan to the larger picture. John Brennan is this century’s Rasputin and Obama has made him so. He is the focal point of what Cheney and Bush created, was confirmed to be so when Obama withdrew his previous nomination, and was then reconstructed as a pseudo-mystical seer/advisor invested with power to decide who lives and who dies by the Obama administration’s own path of non-confirmed presidential “advisory” appointment to posts wrapped in secrecy and manipulated by an orchestrated media meme describing his so-called “cultlike” characteristics in overseeing his black operations. And for Obama to announce he wants this man to be now re-presented for Senate confirmation as head of the CIA is nothing less than Obama announcing that he has now completed the process of eviscerating the Constitutional structure of the U.S. government to the point that a man who — even before he was invested with the power to determine who the President should kill and where on earth to have them killed — was considered to represent activities and principles that were considered too “questionable” to submit to public scrutiny.

    What has changed in the four years since Brennan’s name was last floated for this post? That, right there, is the most important question. Obama’s willingness to raise the name again reflects a hubris and a conviction that everything Brennan did before is now acceptable and, more than that, everything he has been allowed to do since (which the administration insists the American public has no right to know about) is equally acceptable. I don’t accept that. I would urge that objections to this nomination be presented.

  10. geoschmidt says:

    @Jeffrey Kaye:

    [“My point is that it doesn’t matter who the CIA chief is. They are all bad. It’s not about one person anyway, but an institution whose very existence warps democracy, even as it claims to be saving it.”]

    My point is that it doesn’t matter… good point that is!! because it don’t matter much if the bastards ain’t got no basic decency in the firsrt place!!

    How the hell are you gonna deal with monsters, didn’t you go to the monster movies, the horror films, them deals where we were scared to death back in the 50’s? Because… it really wasn’t so far fetched, nor was it fiction, as we are now figuring…. no not hardly, that was what will…. what is likely , if the people don’t circle their wagons and go after the monsters… ( My favorite one is: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with Kevin McCarthy”… in black and white… ).

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