Gregory D. Johnsen: John Brennan is the wrong man for the CIA

Gregory D. Johnsen, a Princeton scholar who has emerged as a key Yemen analyst, explains why promoting John O. Brennan to CIA director following David Petraeus’ resignation is counterproductive:

Mr. Brennan is the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser and the architect of this model. In a recent speech, he claimed that there was “little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for A.Q.A.P.,” referring to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Mr. Brennan’s assertion was either shockingly naïve or deliberately misleading. Testimonies from Qaeda fighters and interviews I and local journalists have conducted across Yemen attest to the centrality of civilian casualties in explaining Al Qaeda’s rapid growth there. The United States is killing women, children and members of key tribes. “Each time they kill a tribesman, they create more fighters for Al Qaeda,” one Yemeni explained to me over tea in Sana, the capital, last month. Another told CNN, after a failed strike, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined Al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake.”

Rather than promote the author of a failing strategy, we need a C.I.A. director who will halt the agency’s creeping militarization and restore it to what it does best: collecting human intelligence. It is an intelligence agency, not a lightweight version of Joint Special Operations Command. And until America wins the intelligence war, missiles will continue to hit the wrong targets, kill too many civilians and drive young men into the waiting arms of our enemies.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. One hopes that Obama will not be so foolish as to seriously consider John Brennan (or Mike Morell) to lead the CIA. Like Petraeus, Brennan has been a master of prevarication and false pretense while leading his team of assassins in pursuit of a pathological and counterproductive policy- and he has done with the cynical and hapless support of Senators like Feinstein, McCain and Lindsay Graham. Morell has been a ‘made as instructed’ assistant DCIA who has been more ready than not to tailor the intelligence to the policy (i.e, like George Tenet, and Petraeus).

    As Ray McGovern has previously noted, Obama now has the opportunity to begin to fix the Agency and choose someone like Chas Freeman, who was so shabbily treated by Congress when he headed the National Intelligence Council for a day in 2009. The public is not aware of this man’s extensive experience and huge contributions to the nation while serving in the Foreign Service and as an Assistant Secretary of State, nor do they fully comprehend the full scope of his background and knowledge re: China, the Middle East and Africa, areas of the world where our government must have better vision and exercise much more foresight and prudence in its policies, if we are to be able to survive and compete over the long term.

    Another candidate that Obama should consider is Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, who also would be eminently qualified for the position. The nation needs someone with their experience, skills, integrity and toughness. If Obama shows some courage and vision this time around, the country might be extricated from the morass in which it is mired, but if he squanders his limited opportunities, the country will suffer for another four years and his Presidency will most assuredly go up in smoke.

  2. An additional thought- Paul Pillar, with his years of experience heading up the CIA’s Middle East group- he has since retired and is now teaching at Georgetown- together with his insight, judgment and diplomatic skills, would be another excellent choice, either as DCIA or as an Assistant Secretary of State (with Chas Freeman a good selection for Secretary or DCIA)

    On the other hand, Jane Harmon now being touted by the neocons to head the CIA, would be a disaster, especially given her ignominious relationship with AIPAC and departure from Congress after being caught on tape by the FBI, apparently agreeing to intervene and assist someone under investigation. That she inherited the Sidney Harmon fortune and can pay her way, and has been chief housemother at the Wilson Center (even hosting John Brennan to lecture at one of its events) should not be enough to rehabilitate her for a run at the job.

    As for Susan Rice for Secretary of State? She is another mistake Obama should avoid, and not merely because of what she said or didn’t say about Benghazi, but rather because of her lack of judgment, and poor understanding of the consequences of our policies, as well as her abrasive and unprofessional style of diplomacy. If Obama fights for her confirmation in order to preserve “face”, and is successful, it will be a pyrrhic victory, and the country will be the loser.

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