Thursday, January 8, 2009

John Brennan Finds A Place

Reports about John Brennan withdrawing his candidacy for DNI or D/CIA occassionally carefully noted that it didn't mean he was withdrawing from all possible positions - just those two. It appears that that was a rather astute observation.

John Brennan, according to the NYT, is set to take over as deputy national security adviser, a new position the Obama administration intends to create. Quoting from the NYT:

"WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to scrap the way President Bush oversaw domestic security in the White House and name a former Central Intelligence Agency official to coordinate counterterrorism, people close to
the transition said Wednesday.

The plan being discussed would eliminate the independent homeland security adviser’s office and assign those duties to the National Security Council to streamline sometimes overlapping functions. A deputy national security adviser would be charged with overseeing the effort to guard against terrorism and to respond to natural disasters.

Democrats close to the transition said Mr. Obama’s choice for that job was John O. Brennan, a longtime C.I.A. veteran who was the front-runner to head the spy agency until withdrawing in November amid criticism of his views on interrogation and detention policies. His appointment would not require Senate confirmation."

If Brennan's position is actually deputy national security adviser - no.2 to Jim Jones - he will have a fair amount of power in the administration. The way the article is written suggests his influence will be limited to the domestic sphere - but his job title suggests room for growth into international affairs. My initial reaction was at least he is far away from rendition and interrogation policy. Now I wonder. I think his voice will have a great deal of influence over the Obama administration.

Here is a little wikipedia article on the office that Brennan's new office will be replacing.

If you think of Brennan as in charge of homeland security, the threat of his affecting foreign policy seems minimalized (after all, to our "credit" we do try our best not to torture in the 50 states) though his views on wiretapping are absurdly legitimized. But if you think of him as Jim Jones' deputy and a member of the National Security Council, his views on detention and interrogation are suddenly much more relevant.

What his position will look like, when it is created, is still murky.

Fran Townsend was recently in the position that Brennan's new position is going to replace. She seems happy to have stuck her nose into detention/interrogation. Here's some noise from her, from CNN:

BLITZER: we're joined by the White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend. She's joining us from the White House. You just heard this former inmate, this former detainee at Guantanamo Bay say I was beaten, shackled, spat at, kicked, punched, stripped naked, left in isolation, sometimes naked, hog-tied. What do you say to that charge that he's making, in effect, experts say, that amounts to torture?

FRAN TOWNSEND, W.H. HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Ok, let's back up and be very clear. You have heard Dana Perino say it today, you've heard the president say it numerous times, the United States does not torture. Do we have a program? Yes, we do. It is very limited. There have been fewer than 100 people in it, and the people who participate in that program are carefully trained with more than 250 hours of training. The average age of an interrogator is 43. They're not just interrogators who are part of the team. There are also subject matter experts and individuals who are there to monitor that the health and psychological well-being of the detainee himself. We start with the least harsh measures first. It stops after -- if someone becomes cooperative. And let's be clear, Wolf, this is a program that was used when Abu Zubaydah was in custody and not being cooperative. He had clearly been trained in resistance techniques to interrogation -- wait a minute, Wolf, these techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah, it produced actionable intelligence that resulted in the capture of Ramzi Binalshibh. These programs stop attacks.

BLITZER: All right, well let's go through some of the specifics and you'll tell us if you're doing that. For example, "The New York Times" says these memos authorize not only slaps to the head, but hours held naked in a fridge itself, days and nights without sleep while battered by thundering rock music, long periods manacled in stress positions. Or the ultimate water-boarding. Never in history "The Times" says had the United States authorized such tactics." Is that true?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, obviously, I'm not going to talk about each individual specific technique that we use. The director of central intelligence has talked to members of both intelligence committees in the House and the Senate. What he did was he understood this was not just a legal question, but there was a policy issue and there is a political willingness question. Frankly, Wolf, if Americans are killed because we fail to do the hard things, the American people would have the absolute right to ask us why.

BLITZER: Let me rephrase the question. Without confirming that you were actually doing those things, but those things as described in the "New York Times" today, if someone were doing those things, would that be torture?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, we adhere to the law, and the president has made clear his expectation that we will do that. No one has ever suggested that, say Miranda or the army field manual went to the limits that were legally permissible. The constitution does that, which is why we seek legal opinions from the office of legal counsel, but we don't talk about the specific techniques because we know they train against those techniques that they know we use.

BLITZER: Would it be appropriate if other governments captured Americans and used those techniques against Americans?

TOWNSEND: The fact is, Wolf, these are not people who wear a uniform or represent a state. And quite frankly, I'm a little bit baffled by the suggestion that somehow, if we didn't use harsh interrogation tactics that somehow, if our men and women in uniform were captured, they'd be treated better by al Qaeda --

BLITZER: That's what John McCain who himself was tortured when he was a POW in Vietnam, he says that if the United States uses these harsh interrogation techniques, then others will be encouraged to follow suit.

TOWNSEND: John McCain was tortured. We do not torture. And the fact is, no matter how we treat detainees, al Qaeda, when they capture our soldiers in uniform will still torture and behead them. How we treat detainees is not going to affect that.

BLITZER: How many detainees were given these kinds of harsh interrogation techniques? Are we talking about a handful? Are we talking about dozens, hundreds, thousands?

TOWNSEND: Well, we know from the director of central intelligence that fewer than -- there have been fewer than 100 CIA detainees in any type of program, and less than a third of those have ever used techniques against them. But I will say to you though, that less than a third produced 8,500 intelligence reports on threat information. We don't even consider putting somebody into this program, the director of CIA doesn't, unless we think one of two things is a factor -- either they have timely information about location of al Qaeda leadership or they have information about an imminent or a real threat to the United States and our interests.

BLITZER: You heard Paula Newton's report, saying that some of these detainees, some of these people who face these kinds of techniques, these harsh interrogation techniques, in the end, they'll say anything to simply stop the pain. And in the end, you really can't buy what they're saying. Some other foreign intelligence services say, you know what, torture really doesn't work because you're just going to get these guys to say whatever they think you want to hear.

TOWNSEND: We begin, as I said, Wolf, we begin with the least harsh methods first. There has to be an interrogation plan, it has to be approved by senior folks in the CIA. There's got to be reports and monitoring after each interrogation session, and when detainees are cooperative, the interrogation tactics stop and it turns into a debriefing.

BLITZER: We've got to wrap it up, but are these techniques, whatever they are -- and I know you don't want to describe them -- are they still being used?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, I'm not going to talk about the operational activity of the CIA. I will tell you that when we capture someone who is in a position to have location data on al Qaeda leadership or information about a relevant threat, we will operate within the limits of the law.

BLITZER: Was the "New York Times" story accurate?

TOWNSEND: Look, I'm not going to go through which parts of it were accurate and not. I will tell you, as I've said to you before, I think it is incredibly irresponsible to leak classified information that threatens our national security and the effectiveness of the techniques that we do have at our disposal. If we want the men and women of the intelligence community to be successful, we've got to give them the tools they need.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend is the president's homeland security adviser. Thanks for coming in.

TOWNSEND: Thanks Wolf.

Update: CBS reports "Brennan's appointment is expected to be made public Friday. Brennan, who has led Obama's intelligence-transition team, was originally a leading candidate to head the CIA, but withdrew his name from consideration after critics accused him of supporting the Bush Administration's harsh interrogation techniques. Brennan also served as the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and will be part of Obama's National Security Council and will be the point man for all counterterrorism issues." [emphasis mine]

I guess Obama will announce Brennan's appointment with that of Panetta's. I guess that's one way to say "suck it."

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