WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama on Monday nominated John Brennan, his chief counter-terrorism adviser, to be the next CIA director.
Brennan is “one of our nation’s most skilled and respected intelligence professionals,” Obama said at the White House.
Brennan, 57, has been Obama’s assistant for counter-terrorism and homeland security since 2009.
“John is legendary even in the White House for working hard,” Obama said. “He is one of the hardest working public servants I have ever seen.”
Obama announced Brennan’s nomination at the same time he tapped former Sen. Chuck Hagel to become defense secretary.
Brennan has shaped the White House’s strategy to aggressively pursue suspected terrorists — dramatically escalating the use of armed unmanned aircraft, often referred to as drones — and to kill them in the ungoverned territories of Pakistan and in Yemen.
Brennan: Drone attacks are legal, ethical
He was also intimately involved in the run-up to the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound in May 2011.
If the Senate confirms the nomination, Brennan will replace retired Gen. David Petraeus, who stepped down from his job as CIA director in November amid revelations that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with his biographer.
Michael Morell, a career intelligence officer who was serving as the spy agency’s deputy director, has been acting CIA director since Petraeus’ resignation.
Petraeus resigned on November 9 amid an FBI investigation into whether his biographer, Paula Broadwell, had inappropriate access to classified information.
A list of White House talking points obtained by CNN describes Brennan as a close adviser to the president who has led efforts to target al Qaeda’s leadership.
Brennan also has a deep understanding the CIA, where he worked for decades, the talking points say. “He has no party affiliation, and has worked around the clock to protect our country.”
After the 2008 election, Brennan was touted as a shoo-in for CIA director, but attacks from critics who claimed he supported the Bush administration’s policy of harsh interrogations prompted him to drop out of consideration for the job.
Returning to the CIA would be a homecoming of sorts for Brennan.
Brennan joined the agency after responding to a newspaper want ad, and he spent 25 years there, developing a deep knowledge of the Mideast and fluency in Arabic.
“He knows what the president wants from his intelligence community,” said Bill Harlow, a former senior CIA official. “And he also knows how to deliver it from having worked at the agency. … There’ll be no learning curve for him.”
But debate over the drone program and Brennan’s position on CIA interrogations could make for some rough moments during his confirmation hearings.
The fact he is coming from the West Wing and has frequently talked about the president’s views on camera could make him political fodder, said Frances Fragos Townsend, CNN’s national security contributor.
“He’s got to expect that (Capitol) Hill is going to treat him as a political person who is fair game now, rightly or wrongly,” she said.
At least one official outside Washington was singing Brennan’s praises Monday.
“None is more qualified, dedicated, or experienced,” New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement. “He understands fully that New York City remains in the crosshairs of terrorists overseas, and he is committed to undermining them there before they have an opportunity to strike here.”