The Corner

That Brennan Pick

My New York Post column today looks at President Obama’s — inevitable — choice of John Brennan to lead the deeply troubled Central Intelligence Agency. Both left and right have already started chiming in, the lefties objecting to Brennan’s Bush-era contributions to the War on Terror, the conservatives to his amoral operation of the death-drones program his boss so enthusiastically employs. But there’s a larger issue:

In short, despite Brennan’s on-paper qualifications for the job, it’s a nomination that ought to be stopped — and for reasons that go far beyond one man.

When the CIA was established under the National Security Act of 1947, it was designed strictly as an intelligence agency, without police or military powers. Yes, it always had a Directorate of Operations — but nothing like the warmaking force it has now.

As covert operations have expanded in the wake of 9/11, the agency has evolved into a para-military outfit capable of waging covert warfare without congressional authorization or even much oversight, and beyond the reach of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or the Geneva Conventions.

In effect — and especially as employed by the Obama administration — the CIA has become the president’s private army, with a classified budget, contracts with some extremely dubious operatives and under-the-table relations with thuggish and oppressive foreign governments. With its fleet of armed drones, it regularly rains death from the skies on enemies (some of them American citizens).

That’s a power that ought to be under the control of the regular military, not directly under the chief executive and his national-security henchmen.

No one epitomizes the problem more than John Brennan, who’s been overseeing the drone executions from the White House for years now. Confirming him for CIA would only ratify this extra-constitutional power grab; that’s why his nomination should be opposed on both sides of the aisle.

I continue regard Bush’s response to the attacks of 9/11 as not only inadequate but deeply wrong. In effect, it criminalized the entire American people, subjecting them to the goonish whims of the TSA and exposing them to government snooping on a massive scale — and if you don’t think so, you can just ask the NSA’s Black Widow, and hope you haven’t already fallen afoul of this program:

As the nation’s top counter-terrorism officer, Brennan oversaw last year’s decision (approved by Attorney General Eric Holder) — to allow the NCTC to access the government files of any US citizen, even without probable cause that they’re involved in terrorist activities.

That’s right — despite the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Federal Privacy Act of 1974, which was designed to prevent just such a thing — everything the feds know about you is now fair game for the spooks. (And they can keep it in their files for five years.)

Many pundits express wonderment at the fact that Obama has left almost the entire Bush domestic surveillance protocol in place. But why should that surprise anybody? If the shoe fits, wear it — especially when it’s on the other foot.

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.


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