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Brennan confirmed as CIA director by Senate

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Having spent 25 years as a CIA analyst and overseas operative, John Brennan is one of the few career spies ever to lead America's premier spy service.

The Senate voted 63-34 on Thursday to confirm Brennan as CIA director after weeks of delay — and a dramatic 13-hour talking filibuster on Wednesday — as lawmakers from both parties pushed the Obama administration for access to secret documents about the targeted killing of militants overseas and the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Brennan, 57, a burly, blunt-speaking New Jersey native, replaces David Petraeus, the retired Army general who ran the CIA during the intelligence failure in Benghazi, and who resigned in a sex scandal in November. Michael Morell, a veteran analyst, has served as acting director since then.

In a White House statement, President Obama said, “The Senate has recognized in John the qualities I value so much — his determination to keep America safe, his commitment to working with Congress, his ability to build relationships with foreign partners, and his fidelity to the values that define us as a nation.

“Timely, accurate intelligence is absolutely critical to disrupting terrorist attacks, dismantling al-Qaida and its affiliates, and meeting the broad array of security challenges that we face as a nation,” Obama added. “John's leadership, and our dedicated intelligence professionals, will be essential in these efforts.”

Brennan takes over at a sensitive time for the CIA. He must review a 6,000-page classified report by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee that sharply criticizes the CIA's use of coercive interrogation tactics, including waterboarding and painful stress positions, of suspects captured overseas after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

If Brennan endorses the scathing report, he will be seen as censuring hundreds of CIA officers who worked on or supported the now-closed interrogation program, including at least two former directors. If he does not, he may face difficulties gaining credibility with Democrats on congressional oversight committees.

Brennan also arrives as the Obama administration debates whether to pare the CIA's targeted killing of militants and suspected terrorists abroad, and transfer more of the armed drone operations to the military, which also flies drones. Proponents argue the CIA needs to focus more on other priorities, including espionage and intelligence analysis.

As White House counterterrorism adviser for the last four years, Brennan oversaw a sharp escalation in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Former colleagues describe him as a moderating force in internal debates, arguing for restraint on who was put on a secret “kill list” and targeted.

“I actually think he's done more to if not limit it, than at least manage the program, than anybody,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who would not be quoted discussing the classified program.

Brennan's grilling by the Senate intelligence committee on Feb. 12 allowed lawmakers to air concerns for the first time in public about targeted killings, and to demand classified legal opinions that the White House used to authorize drone strikes against Americans overseas. The White House ultimately surrendered all the secret memos to the committee.

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