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President Barack Obama and CIA Chief John Brennan (Photo: Chuck Hagel)

Obama Defends CIA Chief John Brennan Amid Resignation Demands

Obama says he has "full confidence" in CIA chief who oversaw illegal agency tactics

Nadia Prupis

As CIA chief John Brennan faces calls for resignation from critics in Washington, President Barack Obama has continued to give him his steadfast support.

According to The Hill, Obama's strategic friendship with Brennan, which began during Obama's first presidential campaign, is likely to withstand the backlash against the CIA director that arose in response to revelations that the agency spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"I think the president trusts him 100 percent and that’s the key here," an anonymous government official told The Hill. "He thinks he’s indispensable, and he’s probably right. There are few people who know more than Brennan about the intelligence landscape."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday criticized the White House for giving the CIA access to an upcoming Senate report on the agency's illegal detention and torture program, allowing agents to redact critical information and evidence before it is released to the public.

"After further review of the redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded that certain redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions," Feinstein said. "Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public."

Obama said during a press conference on Friday that he has "full confidence" in Brennan, who was in charge of the CIA when the agency spied on senators who were investigating the government's upcoming torture report.

According to The Hill:

The scuffle has only lowered Brennan’s esteem on Capitol Hill, where it was never particularly high to begin with.

A former senior administration official predicted Brennan wouldn’t be fired because Obama’s respect and trust for him would win out: “Brennan really put himself out there with this. He put himself on a limb, and his team cut it off behind him.”

“It doesn’t help this White House,” another former administration official stated. “And they must not be thrilled with him making that assessment and it being wrong. He did not help his cause with the Hill.”

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the CIA of hacking into senators' computers as the committee compiled damning evidence of the agency's illegal detention and torture program. Brennan initially denied the accusations, stating in March that "nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn't do that... that's just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do." But a few months later, an internal investigation determined that the agency had indeed broken into the computer network used by the committee's members. Agents had read through Senate investigators' emails and sent false criminal referrals to the Justice Department, a move that Feinstein said "undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function."

Brennan apologized privately to the committee and the CIA released a statement saying its employees "acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached" between the agency and senators in 2009, when the investigation began. But critics in Congress, including several senators on the panel, were enraged by the revelations and said that Brennan's apology is not sufficient enough to restore their faith in his ability to lead the agency.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) both called for Brennan's resignation. Udall said the CIA's actions were "unprecedented" noting Brennan's "abject failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the agency," while Heinrich said, "I think it would be better for the agency if Director Brennan stepped aside." Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the spying operation "unconstitutional." McCain said the agency's actions were "worse than criminal."

However, despite the overwhelmingly negative response to Brennan's lies and subsequent apologies, the White House disagrees that the CIA chief deserves to be fired, noting that he had called for the investigative report himself and promised that he was assembling "a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in July that Obama would continue to support Brennan despite the revelations of the agency's illegal spying operation against the Senate Intelligence Committee. Earnest used a common talking point to explain the CIA's actions, stating that Brennan has been occupied with safeguarding the country against threats of terrorism.

"He currently is operating in a very difficult environment to ensure the safety of the American public," Earnest said. "He is somebody who has a very difficult job, who does that job extraordinarily well."

Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the intelligence community, was Obama's first choice to head the CIA in 2008, but he withdrew his name from consideration after human rights groups said he had not done enough to end or even question the practice of waterboarding as an interrogation method. In 2007, he told CBS news that the torture program was "counterproductive" and that "these techniques would not be used again by the CIA if I were the director." Brennan became CIA director in 2013.


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