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Leaks! Torture! Drones! Obama’s CIA Pick Faces Skeptical Senators

By Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman
2:48 PM

The chances are high — astronomically high — that the Senate will confirm John Brennan’s nomination as the CIA director. But Brennan may face tougher-than-expected questions from the senators on everything from drones to torture to leaks that exposed one of America’s only undercover agents in al-Qaida.

As perhaps the President’s most important national security aide, Brennan has been a key general in the shadow wars that the U.S. has been fighting around the globe during the first Obama administration. He’s also been in a position to disclose secrets surrounding those espionage, sabotage and paramilitary operations. And many of those secrets have in recent months leaked out into the public.

Of particular concern to some intelligence committee senators is a teleconference that Brennan held with TV counterterror pundits on May 7, after the U.S. foiled an attempt by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to detonate an underwear bomb. According to Reuters, Brennan said during the call that the attack was never a major threat, because the U.S. had “inside control” over the plot. Commentators took that to mean that the American government had a double agent within the terror group, and talked about a likely U.S. mole on television. That effectively ended what was arguably the most successful human intelligence operation against al-Qaida in 11 years since 9/11. The double agent had to be pulled from the terrorists’ ranks.

It wasn’t the only leak. White House officials began disclosing details — sometime erroneous details — about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound just hours after the terror leader’s death was confirmed. Over the late spring and early summer of 2012, minutiae about how the White House selects its targets for robotic assassination began appearing in newspapers and books. According to one of those books, Dan Klaidman’s Kill or Capture, Brennan was one of three men at the center of that decision-making process, along with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. “Hoss” Cartwright and the President himself. “The three form[ed] a kind of holy trinity or targeted killings,” Klaidman writes.

Then unnamed U.S. officials told The New York Times that the American government was behind the wave of cyber attacks sabotaging the Iranian nuclear effort. Both the President and Brennan publicly railed against the leaks. Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein called for hearings into the leak. The Justice Department launched an investigation, which continues to this day.