Published December 22, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama has shown almost perfect pitch in crafting his new administration, aptly choosing old hands instead of fresh faces and bringing in the experience he lacks.
But there is one glaring void. Obama has yet to name key intelligence officials to manage the war against terrorism.
And one of the central reasons he hasn't come forward with a pick for one of the top jobs is because he's running into pressure from an unexpected source -- left-wing bloggers.
John Brennan, Obama's chief intelligence adviser and anticipated CIA chief, was recently forced to withdraw his name. There was no drumbeat of opposition to Brennan from the front pages or on cable. Rather, the pick was torpedoed by the blogosphere.
"Apparently there is a lot of pressure on the Obama team from a blog saying that Brennan couldn't be made the director of the CIA because he was involved in torture and renditions, which he wasn't," said Mark Lowenthal, former assistant CIA director.
The turn of events only emphasizes the influence of the Internet on the operation of a president-elect whose campaign was powered in large part by the Web.
"Blogs do have significant influence," said blogger Glenn Greenwald, one of those critical of Brennan. "I think the Obama team would be foolish if they just ignored what happened on blogs, and I know for a fact that there are people high up in the Obama campaign and now the transition team who read blogs regularly."
As a result, say knowledgeable sources, the Obama transition team pushed Brennan to withdraw his name. "Their knees buckled," one intelligence veteran said.
Brennan once served as George Tenet's chief of staff and later took an administrative role at the CIA, before moving on to what became the National Counterterrorism Center.
Greenwald and other bloggers blamed Brennan, though, for condoning harsh interrogation methods, as well as rendition -- the practice of capturing terrorists, like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and taking them to the U.S. or other countries for interrogation and imprisonment.
But many say Brennan had no control over those policies.
"This is one of those Washington drive-by shootings that we have from time to time where someone is near a policy issue that's controversial and is dragged down by the conventional wisdom," said Douglas Paal, former CIA senior analyst.
Brennan did say rendition was a vital tool -- after all, without it, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others might still be free.
But when he withdrew his name from consideration, he wrote a letter to the president-elect, obtained by FOX News, in which he described himself as a Bush critic on many fronts.
"It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding," Brennan wrote in the Nov. 25 missive.
And Brennan said that as a result of his opposition to Bush policies, he was "twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current administration only to be rebuffed by the White House."
In that sense, it would seem Brennan was the perfect man for a job with Obama -- but not good enough for the critics.
Greenwald said Brennan's support for rendition and "all of the other enhanced interrogation techniques beyond waterboarding" makes him "unqualified" for the job.
Intelligence veterans, however, say that sets an impossible standard.
"If you were involved in a senior position in the intelligence community during the war on terror, you can't be nominated for another senior position," Lowenthal said.