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Obama, Brennan, the CIA and a Compounding Misunderstanding

Shane Harris of National Journal has a good, short piece about John Brennan’s withdrawal from consideration for CIA director. (Unfortunately, it’s behind NJ’s subscription wall, so I’ll have to use a screencap to pull what I consider the relevant text.)

The nickel version is that CIA people are astonished that criticism from bloggers like Glenn Greenwald over torture drove Brennan out — they mean that derisively — and they worry that it means Obama won’t support the agency’s operators:

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I myself equivocated on Brennan, and consider the ultimate test about the guy — who I’d heard described in exactly these torture-opponent terms — to be dependent on a full declassification of how the torture policies actually came together.

But here’s the thing: it’s not inconsistent for Obama to want his intelligence team to represent a clean break from Bush’s, contra the implication of the ex-official who asked if Obama would stand behind CIA operatives when they’re “asked to do tough things.” If Bush dumped Brennan, that would be inconsistent. Obama is under no obligation to continue the Bush administration’s policies — indeed, he was elected to reverse them.

You can say that it’s not fair for Brennan to be a part of Obama’s team. But it’s groundless to say that it augurs some kind of CIA sellout. The agency, however, lives in fear of this sort of thing, as its history is one of taking the fall for the cockamamie and illegal schemes of presidents. And so this perception is as good as reality — as anyone who’s ever bickered with a spouse over a misunderstanding knows — and Obama’s probably going to have to send a CIA director to Langley with flowers, jewelry and gift certificates to the spa.

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