WASHINGTON—After a controversial nomination process, the U.S. Senate confirmed John O. Brennan as head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Thursday.
The Senate voted 63–34 after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that he was satisfied with the response he had received from the Obama administration on its drone strike program. Paul had delayed a vote the day before over his concerns.
Brennan has worked for the CIA for 25 years and was most recently chief counterterrorism adviser to President Barack Obama. His nomination was originally delayed over concerns about his support for the CIA’s past use of torture in interrogations, but delays to the nomination persisted when concerns about drone strikes were raised.
Brennan is chief architect of the Obama administration’s drone program.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee had said that they would support Brennan after receiving requested information from the administration earlier in the week, but a Senate floor vote was unexpectedly delayed Wednesday when Paul undertook a close-to-13-hour filibuster.
A libertarian popular with Tea Party conservatives, Paul wanted more clarity on whether the White House would use unmanned drones to target American citizens on U.S. territory. Paul, particularly concerned about taking a citizen’s life without due process of law as outlined in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, questioned the legality of drone strikes on noncombatants.
In a brief letter sent Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder made the administration’s position clear.
“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ Holder wrote. “The answer to that question is no.”
Paul said that he was happy with the response.
“I’m disappointed it took a month-and-a-half and a root canal to get it,” he told CNN, “but we did get the answer. And that’s what I have been asking all along.”
Following the vote, Obama issued a statement applauding Brennan’s confirmation and recognized his qualities: “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.”
Obama stressed the important role the CIA plays in difficult times.
“Timely, accurate intelligence is absolutely critical to disrupting terrorist attacks, dismantling al Qaeda and its affiliates, and meeting the broad array of security challenges that we face as a nation,” he said. “John’s leadership, and our dedicated intelligence professionals, will be essential in these efforts.”
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