Beyond the sexual scandal-mongering and the spurious linkage to the spurious Benghazi issue, the main impact of the Petraeus resignation as director of the CIA is, of course, that the Obama administration will have to replace him, inviting a highly fractious confirmation process. And indeed, the CIA insiders who have been rated the front-runners for the gig were certain to attract a left-right crossfire, as Obama’s conservative critics would be joined by Members of Congress (and others) interested in a delayed reckoning over the interrogation and incarceration practices of the agency during the Bush years, not to mention the drone program of the current administration.
That’s almost certainly why the front-runner, CIA veteran John Brennan, took himself out of the running over the weekend. As Michael Isikoff notes at the Daily Beast, other candidates have the same problems as Brennan:
The big question is now who else might Obama select for CIA director (or director of National Intelligence) that does not have similar baggage? Consider Brennan’s co-leader on the transition team for the intelligence agencies—Jamie Miscik. She too served at the agency as deputy director for intelligence until 2004, during a period the CIA was colossally wrong about Iraqi weapons of destruction; and actively helped the president make his case for war. Another name that has been mentioned is John McLaughlin, a well-respected intelligence professional who nonetheless was the No. 2 in command during both the run-up to the war in Iraq and the approval of harsh interrogation techniques. Yet a third possibility that has been floated is allowing Michael Hayden, the current CIA director, to stay on the job for a while. But that too seems a non-starter: Obama voted against Hayden’s confirmation to be CIA director because of his prior role, as director of the National Security Agency, in implementing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. A spokesman for Hayden said today the director “serves at the pleasure of the president. If he’s asked to stay, he’d consider it, given his respect for the people he leads and his obvious interest in the mission of intelligence. But he’s not hanging around waiting for word.”
That doesn’t mean that others candidates won’t surface—or that there aren’t other intelligence community professionals out there who might fit the bill, and be free of any Bush administration “taint.” (One possibility: John Gannon, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council under President Clinton.)
Aside from Gannon, another possibility is Brian Sheridan, a former CIA analyst who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflicts in the Clinton administration. Like Gannon, he’s in a good position to understand the complex interconnections between military, diplomatic and intelligence missions of varying agencies, without complicity in the extralegal operations of the Bush years or the steady militarization of the CIA that seems to be continuing today.
Obama could obviously go outside the spook profession entirely and pick a pol like Democrat Jane Harman or Republican Mike Rogers. But since both were veteran members of the Intelligence Committee, neither appointment would represent a significant break with the policies and practices of the recent past. Additionally, Harman was conspicuous as a supporter of the Iraq War, and of the Bush’s administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. And Rogers was the primary sponsor of CISPA.
If Obama wants a nomination process that isn’t a relitigation of every intelligence, foreign policy, and civil liberties dispute of the last decade, and also wants to make a clean break that gives the CIA a chance to get back on track with a focus on its primary mission, he might want to take a long look at knowledgeable and respected candidates who have kept their noses clean. We’re a big country. It should not be that hard.