John O. Brennan, nominated by President Obama to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is a crafty character. Not surprising for a spy.
The Washington Post says that his nomination may generate a debate about the policy of using drones to kill terror suspects, and that there's some dispute about what Brennan's position was on the use of torture during his lengthy career in the spook business. But the fact that his own role in the torture debate is even subject to disagreement is just the beginning of this gentleman's craftiness.
It actually gets much, much more interesting. Brennan's nomination is a great time for the public -- and its elected representatives -- to demand answers to a host of questions, not just about Brennan's values and activities, but about whether the resources of the presidency are routinely used for nakedly political purposes.
Man From R.I.Y.A.D.H.
As Obama's counterterrorism adviser, Brennan played a central role in two episodes that provided the President with much needed image-boosts. In one, Navy SEALs bagged the numero uno prize, Osama bin Laden. In the other, Navy SEALs rescued a young American woman from Somali pirates.
As we noted here previously, neither of these operations is free of controversy. You can see some of the issues we raised on the Abbottabad raid, shortly after it took place, here, here, here, and later here.
With the bin Laden operation, Brennan has provided a shifting panoply of details concerning what went on that have never been rationalized, and that raise fundamental questions. In that linked article, we reported that...
"Brennan...was the principal source of incorrect details in the hours and days after the raid. These included the claim that the SEALs encountered substantial armed resistance, not least from bin Laden himself; that it took them an astounding 40 minutes to get to bin Laden, and that the White House got to hear the soldiers' conversations in real time.
"Almost all that turns out to be hogwash -- according to the new account produced by The New Yorker three months later. An account that, again, it seems, comes courtesy of Brennan. The minutes did not pass like days. Bin Laden was not armed, and did not take cover behind a woman. And the commandos most certainly were not on the ground for 40 minutes. Some of them were up the stairs to the higher floors almost in a flash, and it didn't take long for them to run into and kill bin Laden."
Perhaps the most troubling of many troubling assertions was the final explanation Brennan provided for why Osama bin Laden's body was hastily dumped in the ocean -- rather than being made available for autopsy and identification procedures, or buried somewhere unknown to the public but where the body could later be exhumed if necessary (a common occurrence when identity issues arise). Here's what Brennan said: he consulted the Saudis on what to do with the body, and they said sure, good idea to toss the terror leader into the deep.
Brennan, it should be noted, has close ties to the Saudi leadership from his years running the CIA station in Riyadh, 1996 to 1999. (He then returned to Washington and was CIA deputy executive director at the time of the September 11 attacks.)
There's a great deal of irony in taking advice from the Saudis on deep-sixing a valuable piece of evidence, given questions about the Saudi leadership's knowledge of what was afoot with the 9/11 hijackers. For one thing, there's the well-known rapid departure of Saudi royals from around the United States immediately following the carnage in New York and Washington.
But there's a meatier, documented Saudi connection. If you're not familiar with it, be sure to read our multi-part piece here. As we reported, in the weeks prior to the attacks the alleged hijackers were hanging out at the Florida house owned by a top lieutenant in the Saudi hierarchy. Is Brennan not interested in that? Shouldn't some Senator ask him about it?
And why did the SEALs kill the unarmed bin Laden, when it would have seemed strategically wiser to exert every effort to capture him alive? Imagine what stories this Saudi black sheep could tell! To explain why he was summarily killed, we were first told that he was armed, then we learned he was not, then that his fate was left up to the SEALs themselves.
Brennan -- who ran the National Counterterrorism Center for George W. Bush while Bush was seeking re-election in 2004 and pushing the "terror alerts" button like crazy -- has plenty of questions to answer.