John Brennan, White House homeland security advisor and deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism, has been nominated to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Since David Petraeus resigned from the position on November 9, it had been rumored that the position was Brennan’s for the taking. Several people in the administration believed he would defer the move to the CIA's Langley headquarters, since it would effectively be a demotion from his current position, which allows him to meet with President Obama constantly as — according to Obama administration officials — ”a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Obama.”
Moreover, Brennan would at times call CIA officers directly from the White House, without clearance from Petraeus; a practice one suspects he will not appreciate if he occupies the director’s seventh floor office.
After previously serving in the Intelligence Community for a quarter-century — including as the chief of staff to former director George Tenet — overseeing the CIA may have been too prestigious a job to turn down. It was also said that he was exhausted by all the duties of his current job unrelated to intelligence or counterterrorism, like coordinating the inter-agency response to Hurricane Sandy, and drafting an executive order on cyber security regulations, because Senate Republicans were unwilling to endorse even minimal responsibilities for the private sector to protect their computer systems. As one White House counterterrorism official told me recently, Brennan was by far the hardest-working individual among hard workers, and genuinely a nice guy.
Brennan has been at the forefront in the Obama administration’s vast expansion of its program of targeted killings in non-battlefield settings. Whereas there were roughly 50 targeted killings in the presidency of George W. Bush, there have been approximately 360 under President Obama.
Brennan has overseen and managed the hundred-person interagency process that nominates and vets suspected militants and terrorists for the United States’ various kill lists—implemented by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command. Moreover, as an executive branch appointee, he has been unaccountable outside of the executive branch for his decisions, since he is not required to appear before Congress or to answer a congressional subpoena. However, he has made several public speeches and statements about limited aspects of the program, some of which are preposterous and in no way supported by reality.
Behind the scenes Brennan has been one of the administration’s stronger proponents for partially explaining certain justifications for the targeted killing program. The reason for this is that many veteran policymakers recognize that the Bush administration’s policy of denying the existence of late-night explosions in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia was unsustainable. To protect the program from externally-imposed limits via domestic or international pressure, the Obama administration had to provide its own carefully crafted policy and legal justifications. Where controversy or probing questions arose, such as whether the United States conducts signature strikes against anonymous suspected militants, the Obama administration has remained silent.
The Bush administration engaged in the extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects to third-party countries, torture, and warrantless wiretapping. Ultimately, domestic political pressure led to significant reforms or termination for all three. Brennan and others fear this could happen with targeted killings as well.
It is not clear whether Brennan would or could provide greater openness of the targeted killing program from Langley than his office in the White House basement. First, the Obama administration is not sure if or how they might further “reveal” aspects of the program, though they expect tougher questioning from the UN special rapporteurs and when they next subject the United States to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process. Second, since agency operations are covert, meaning they cannot be acknowledged by the U.S. government, it is unlikely that Brennan can make drone strikes suddenly more transparent where the CIA is the lead executive authority. Third, if the director of national intelligence James Clapper exercises his statutory authority as the boss of the CIA director (which he was reluctant to do under Leon Panetta and Petraeus), then Brennan will have less ability to speak directly with the White House and probably less influence.
Brennan will continue to have wide discretion over who, when, and how often the CIA conducts drone strikes in Pakistan, but this was already the case under Michael Hayden, Panetta, and Petraeus. As the Wall Street Journal reported a senior intelligence official saying, Petraeus voiced “caution against strikes on large groups of fighters what CIA officers call ‘crowd killing’,” and “has occasionally overruled recommendations of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and declined to authorize some strikes that could create friction with Pakistan.”
However, as Greg Miller revealed regarding the Obama administration’s “Disposition Matrix,” the targeted killing program really has become institutionalized, with clear lines of authority, processes, and rules. Hundreds of people have been exposed to it, and ensure its sustainability, making it far bigger than any one person—even John Brennan. As one senior official stated in October: “What is scary, is the apparatus set up without John to run it.”
It is worth noting that when it was leaked that Brennan would be nominated as CIA director in November 2008 (which made Obama furious), this was strongly resisted by progressives, human rights groups, and psychologists (opposed to the CIA’s use of torture while Brennan was a senior official), who sought a clean break from Bush’s global war on terror approach.
Brennan withdrew from consideration for the position in a November 25, 2008, letter to Obama, complaining: “I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and actions…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.”
Nobody can say he has not been directly and intimately involved with the Obama administration’s controversial policies and actions. It will be interesting to see if these same progressives and human rights groups oppose Brennan’s nomination 50 months later, and very revealing if they do not.
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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