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The CIA Brennan Inherits: More Military, Less Espionage


Despite the controversy we just heard about, John Brennan was confirmed by the Senate, making him the next director of the CIA. Scott Shane covers national security and intelligence issues for the New York Times. We asked him what kind of CIA John Brennan will inherit.

SCOTT SHANE: Well, he's walking into a very different agency than the one that existed before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It is much more of a paramilitary organization. When I say paramilitary, I mean it is essentially a military function being carried out by a civilian organization. They are actually, you know, launching missiles from these drones, which is obviously a lethal military action and not just the traditional espionage and intelligence gathering and analysis that the CIA has done over the years.

MARTIN: John Brennan was under pressure in his confirmation hearings for his role in the Obama administration's targeted killing program using drones to target members of al-Qaida. You wrote recently in an article for the New York Times that Brennan's going to have to deal with another controversial issue when he takes the helm, and this is the agency's history with enhanced interrogation techniques. Can you explain?

SHANE: Yes. The Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a 6,000-page classified study of the interrogation program that began after 9/11. This is the program in which interrogators used, in some cases, brutal method such as waterboarding, slamming people into walls, nudity, cold, sleep deprivation on al-Qaida suspects. The report is still secret, so we don't know exactly what it says. But from what some senators have said and others who are familiar with its contents, they say it's a really blistering critical study of that program.

I think what's complicated for John Brennan is that its picture of the interrogation program was totally at odds with what he had been told about the program and what he thought he knew about the program. So, his job is to go out there and organize the CIA's response. However he goes, he's sort of walking a treacherous line. If he rejects the report and defends the program, he will be courting the ire of some Democrats on the intelligence committee who feel very strongly about this report and think it's very well done. On the other hand, if he embraces this report, he's joining in very, very strong criticism of a program that was at the heart of the CIA's campaign against al-Qaida for some years. And there are many CIA rank-and-file officers, midlevel folks, who were involved in that program.

The so-called enhanced interrogation methods - waterboarding and so on - really divided the CIA as much as those methods divided the Congress, the public. And so some people will probably - at the CIA - probably be quietly cheering this report. Others will be infuriated by it. And it will fall to John Brennan to manage this very difficult process.

MARTIN: John Brennan has been intimately involved with the drone policy as the counterterrorism advisor for the White House. Does this mean, now that he is moving on to the CIA, because he has such a close relationship with the White House and the president himself, will this give the agency greater leeway, greater autonomy?

SHANE: There's some uncertainty about this. We're told that Mr. Brennan actually has some qualms about the sort of paramilitary takeover at the CIA and feels that in general, you know, under conventional circumstances that the CIA should do intelligence and leave lethal action to the military. And so he might be inclined to try to find a way to gradually downsize the CIA's role in these drone strikes and transfer it to military. On the other hand, he has at the White House been this sort of czar over this program of targeted killings in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia. So, it's not clear that he would really want to give up some degree of control over those killings.

MARTIN: Scott Shane. He covers national security and intelligence for the New York Times. Scott, thanks so much for taking the time.

SHANE: You're very welcome.


MARTIN: We'd like to hear where you stand on the use of drones at home and abroad. We've got a conversation going on our Facebook page. That's You can also find me @RachelNPR. Coming up, we head to the Vatican where workers are transforming the Sistine Chapel into a surveillance-proof space that would make Dan Brown proud so cardinals can get down to choosing the next pope. And later in the program, Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi and the soundtrack of a single day.


MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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