Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

C.I.A. Nominee Faces a Changed Agency ; Should Counterterrorism or Traditional Espionage Be Focus of Operations?

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

C.I.A. Nominee Faces a Changed Agency ; Should Counterterrorism or Traditional Espionage Be Focus of Operations?

Article excerpt

John O. Brennan, if confirmed by the Senate, may have to decide whether the C.I.A. should remain at the center of secret U.S. paramilitary operations or rebuild its traditional espionage capabilities.

President Barack Obama's nomination of John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency puts one of his closest and most powerful aides in charge of an agency that has been transformed by more than a decade of secret wars and that seems likely to see further change in the years ahead.

The question that now faces Mr. Brennan, if he is confirmed by the Senate, is whether the C.I.A. should remain at the center of secret American paramilitary operations -- most notably drone strikes against suspected terrorists -- or rebuild its traditional espionage capabilities, which intelligence veterans say have atrophied during years of terrorist manhunts.

Four years ago, Mr. Brennan bowed out of consideration as Mr. Obama's C.I.A. director after some rights advocates claimed that he had approved, or at least failed to stop, its use of brutal interrogation methods. He denied the accusations and ended up as the president's counterterrorism adviser, a job thought to carry a much lower profile.

By some measures, however, Mr. Brennan wielded as much power as if he had led the agency all along.

Some C.I.A. veterans and outside experts now question whether Mr. Brennan, 57, who has been immersed in counterterrorism for years, is the right person to return the agency to its core mission of stealing secrets from foreign governments and providing long-term analysis.

"He's going to have to think not just, 'How do I hunt the latest terrorist?' but 'Where do I want this agency to be at the end of my term?"' said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior C.I.A. official.

Other current and former officials say that Mr. Brennan himself has worried that counterterrorism operations have consumed the C.I.A. and that he may welcome the chance to take a broader perspective.

"This is a great opportunity for him to step back and view the agency's mission strategically," said Michael E. Leiter, who haw head of the National Counterterrorism Center in both the Bush and Obama administrations.

By sending Mr. Brennan to the C.I.A., Mr. Obama will be placing at the agency's helm a man he trusts implicitly, one who oversaw the sensitive escalation of drone strikes in Pakistan in 2010 and was the principal architect of secret counterterrorism operations in Yemen.

But he is also sending an insider who spent 25 years at the agency and is unlikely to face the inbred skepticism and hostility that has sometimes greeted outsiders there.

Mr. Brennan spent most of his C.I.A. career as an analyst, but during the 1990s served a tour as station chief in Saudi Arabia. From 1999 to early 2001, he was chief of staff to George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, as the position was then called. In 2004 and 2005, Mr. Brennan set up what is now the counterterrorism center.

Mr. Brennan's nomination Monday won swift praise from influential lawmakers. Both Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, her counterpart in the House, expressed support.

But Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and has taken a strong stand against coercive interrogations, expressed reservations, particularly about any role Mr. …

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