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The Seven Deadly Sins of John Brennan

Author: Micah Zenko, Senior Fellow
September 18, 2012
Foreign Policy


Last week, I introduced readers to John Brennan, the U.S. president's closest advisor for intelligence and counterterrorism issues. Although Americans know little about Brennan, he plays an essential role in shaping and implementing the expansive, unprecedented targeted killing of suspected terrorists and militants. He is, the New York Times reported, citing administration officials, the "priest whose blessing has become indispensable" to Obama. After Brennan lost out on the nomination for CIA director, he became the White House's homeland security advisor and deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism. As Michael Hayden -- the holdover CIA director until Leon Panetta was confirmed -- once observed, "John Brennan's the actual national intelligence director."

Not only does Brennan oversee Obama's vision of targeted killings, but he is their public face, defending the policies in major speeches, appearing on Sunday morning talk shows, and providing on- and off-the-record interviews to journalists. According to current and former administration officials, Brennan has embraced this role because he believes that the United States must be more transparent about the legal and ethical foundations for targeted killings. Whereas George W. Bush's administration never discussed any aspects of its targeted-killing policies, Barack Obama's administration has been marginally more forthcoming, beginning with its first official acknowledgment of the practice of targeted killings by drones in a speech this April by Brennan.

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