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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Cabinet Update: John Brennan Nominated to Head the CIA

by Toni Johnson
January 7, 2013

John Brennan in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington October 29, 2010. (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)


President Obama has nominated John Brennan (Politico) to be head of the CIA, a post that has remained vacant since David Petraeus resigned in November (NBC) after disclosing an extramarital affair. Brennan is currently a chief White House aide on counterterrorism.

Brennan has worked in a number of major national security positions (AP) including as deputy executive director for the CIA for the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003.

He has been at the forefront in the Obama administration’s expansion of targeted killings in non-battlefield settings, and his nomination to head the CIA could inflame human rights advocates, writes CFR’s Micah Zenko. Employed by both the Pentagon and the CIA, targeted killings are a central component of U.S. counterterrorism operations around the globe, as this CFR backgrounder explains.

In August 2012, Brennan told a CFR meeting about triggers for targeted killings:

[T]here are individuals within al-Qaeda that are determined to kill Americans, whether it’d be in the U.S. homeland or in Yemen or in other parts of the world. We go to great extent to try to thwart those attacks, and we very much hope that we’re able to do it short of the use of any type of direct action or lethal force, either by our partners or by us or in concert one another.

When we don’t have those opportunities to, in fact, prevent these individuals from carrying out those attacks, if our only recourse is to take lethal action in concert with partners and provide our partners some assistance in that regard or to do things with them that we’ll mitigate threat, we do it, but it’s because it presents a terrorist threat to U.S. persons, properties, entities.


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