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White House: Intelligence Agencies

John Brennan, Director, CIA


(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

When Brennan returned to the CIA as its director earlier this year, he was heading home. And since he took over, it's become clear that one of his overriding goals is to return the agency to what he sees as its true role: gathering and analyzing intelligence, as opposed to overseeing paramilitary operations like drone strikes. Brennan has said on several occasions that "leading the CIA—where he started his career—is the greatest honor of his professional life," says CIA spokesman Preston Golson. Brennan, 57, stated plainly in his confirmation hearing that the CIA's job is to be the best intelligence-accumulation machine it can in order to "prevent strategic surprises," and that it "should not be doing traditional military activities and operations." It hasn't been an easy road to the top for Brennan. A native New Jerseyan with a B.A. in political science from Fordham and a master's in government and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Texas, the career intelligence officer was forced to withdraw the first time he was tagged for CIA director, in 2008, thanks to a media maelstrom over his alleged role in permitting the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" as a top CIA official in the Bush administration. So the Arabic-speaking Brennan took on the role of counterterrorism coordinator in the White House, which didn't require confirmation. Since then, Brennan has been President Obama's go-to guy on counterterrorism, overseeing the president's dramatic escalation of drone warfare. In the spring of 2012, Obama pressed the camera-shy Brennan into a role as the chief defender of the "targeted killing" program; visibly discomfited, Brennan made history when he became the first senior U.S. official to publicly acknowledge that drone warfare existed, in a prepared speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. Now, according to people who know Brennan's thinking well, he wants to move most of the drone program to the Pentagon to allow greater congressional and public scrutiny. And in contrast to his reputation for reticence, Brennan wants "to increase transparency where possible to help Americans understand how the CIA defends the nation," Golson says. Since he took over, Brennan has also pushed for greater ethnic diversity and new roles for women at the agency.

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