Fordham Alumnus Considered for Obama Administration Withdraws His Name

Criticisms Arise Over His Support of Interrogation Techniques


Published: December 11, 2008

John O. Brennan, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’77, who was being considered for a top intelligence position within the Obama Administration, has withdrawn his name from consideration after controversy about his support of waterboarding and other controversial interrogation techniques emerged.
“It is with profound regret that I respectfully ask that my name be withdrawn from consideration for a position within the intelligence community. The challenges ahead of our nation are too daunting, and the role of the CIA too critical, for there to be any distraction from the vital work that lays ahead,” wrote Brennan in his Nov. 25 letter to the President-elect.

Brennan, who majored in political science at Fordham and has 25 years of experience in intelligence, has worked with Obama on his campaign since early on, according to his New York Times profile. He was expected by many insiders and pundits to be tapped for one of the two top intelligence positions within the CIA. He also serves on Obama’s transition team, which was formed after Obama’s victory on Nov. 4.
Obama advisors were reportedly concerned that Brennan’s beliefs in regard to interrogation techniques used by the CIA under the Bush administration were not a significant enough departure from the former administration and that he is “insufficiently opposed to rendition and harsh interrogation,” according to

A Nov. 24 open letter written by 200 psychologists entitled “Open Letter to President-elect Obama: Break with the Dark Side. Do Not Nominate John Brennan as CIA Director” expressed a concern that Brennan is “a supporter of the ‘dark side’ policies” and cited a 2006 Frontline interview in which Brennan talked about ensuring legal justification for tactics intelligence officers might use.

“In order to restore American credibility and the rule of law, our country needs a clear and decisive repudiation of the ‘dark side’ at this crucial turning point in our history,” the open letter stated. “We need officials to clearly and without ambivalence assert the rule of law. Mr. Brennan is not an appropriate choice to lead us in this direction. The country cannot afford to have him as director of our most important intelligence agencies.”
Brennan’s comments in the Frontline interview that were the impetus for the letter dealt with his work under George Tenet, CIA director for the Bush Administration until 2004, and comments he made about ensuring protection for CIA operatives who are “taking actions against individuals who are either known or suspected to be terrorists.”
Brennan said to Frontline, “Sometimes there are actions that we are forced to take, but there need to be boundaries beyond which we are going to recognize that we’re not going to go because we still are Americans, and we are supposed to be representing something to people in this country and overseas. So the dark side has its limits,” he said.Maureen Sweet, FCLC ’12, a political science major, said, “It seems to me that the only reason that he felt forced to withdraw his name regarded public opinion about his approval of certain interrogation methods used by the CIA. Although he can, to some extent, be connected with waterboarding, there also seems to be a large amount of evidence showing that he did not approve of it,” she said.

Brennan wrote in his letter to Obama, “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. The fact that I was not involved in the decision making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored. Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current administration only to be rebuffed by the White House.”

Sweet said, “I do, however, understand Brennan’s reasoning in choosing to withdraw his name. I hope that he will, nonetheless, have some kind of significant involvement in the Obama administration; our country really cannot afford to totally lose someone with his amount of experience and expertise.”