Don't Disqualify Brennan Over Interrogation
CIA directors aren't about the individual, they are about the experience
January 10, 2013
Let's not talk about individuals, let's talk about what we would want in a CIA director. If you track CIA directors—there have been 22 since the agency was founded—you quickly notice that the ones who have done best are those who have an intelligence background, with some understanding of espionage. Skills, knowledge, and experience count for a lot in this line of work. So if you are picking a CIA director, someone with time in "the community," has an advantage.
It helps to have a director that the president knows. There have been cases, not many, where directors did not have that relationship and this created an awkwardness that made the agency an appendage rather than a vital tool for foreign policy. Except during rush hour, it is a 15 minute drive from CIA headquarters to the White House, but there has to be an invitation.
Anyone who has been involved in counterterrorism and intelligence since 2001 will have some connection to detention, interrogation, and war. This cannot be a disqualifier unless we want to disqualify everyone with experience. If you don't like drone strikes, you could object, but drone strikes have disrupted an organization that killed almost 3,000 people in America, and they have done nothing like that since. The strikes may not fit with 19th century rules for warfare, where people wore uniforms now reserved for high school marching bands and formed up in straight lines to fight, but this is not the 19th century.
A new director will need to guide the agency as it transitions to different mix of priorities. The CIA has been rightly consumed with war and terrorism, but as Iraq and Afghanistan finally wind down, it needs to reorient to more traditional (and for some young officers, more boring) collection tasks. Support for the military will not be job number one—a new director will need to juggle counter-terrorism and espionage without dropping either. The tempo of analysis and action against groups like al Qaeda can't slacken, but there are other challenges that will require reprioritization of missions and reallocation of resources. This is not a job for amateurs, nor is this the time of on-the-job training.
This is, of course a, rational approach to selection and Washington at these levels is not rational. Let's hope for the best.