John Brennan, who was Bill Clinton’s daily intelligence briefer and George Tenet’s XO, and who ran the National Counterterrorism Center for its first two years, has lately become something of a pet villain for Obama supporters. Judging by the blogospheric reaction to the news of his possible nomination as the head of CIA, you’d think he’s nothing less than a raving mad torture advocate.
I wanted to look him up, but there isn’t much to go by. Googling Brennan mostly turns up anti-Bush denunciations, and even the most eloquent ones, like the Sullivan post I linked to above, seem to recycle the same two interviews referenced in a Wikipedia article.
So, just for the hell of it, I decided to consult my personal GWOT library to see what those in the know actually know about Brennan. To my surprise, out of the 16 books I considered relevant*, he is mentioned — in passing — in just two, Woodward’s State of Denial and Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine.
My question is this: how does one execute a leap from obscurity into notoriety without so much as a raised eyebrow — without leaving a trail of bad decisions, without ever being identified as an actor in a controversial context, without popping up in any of the most authoritative accounts of the post-9/11 upheaval?
As far as I can figure, there are only three possibilities:
- Brennan was a silent lackey who made sure his name would never be tarnished by Tenet’s screw-ups; or
- Brennan is an extraordinarily talented spook; or
- Brennan is guilty only by association, i.e. he just happened to be a Company man at the worst possible time.
I don’t have the answer. But hey — maybe, just maybe, we ought to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.
* Clarke: Against All Enemies; Coll: Ghost Wars; Goldsmith: The Terror Presidency; Gordon & Trainor: Cobra II; Hersh: Chain of Command; Isikoff & Corn: Hubris; Mayer: The Dark Side; Ricks: Fiasco; Sands: Torture Team; Suskind: The One Percent Doctrine, The Way of the World; Wittes: Law and the Long War; Woodward: Bush at War, State of Denial, The War Within; Wright: The Looming Tower.
[Update — three days later: Thankfully, at least Spencer Ackerman gets it.]