Video: CIA spooked over Panetta

updated 1/8/2009 1:57:12 PM ET 2009-01-08T18:57:12

President-elect Barack Obama is laying plans to dissolve a White House security panel created in the wake of 9/11 and restructure counterterrorism policy under intelligence veteran John Brennan.

The White House Homeland Security Council will remain for a while at least, until Obama finishes a review of its mission, two officials close to the incoming administration said Thursday. Ultimately, however, it could be folded into the long-standing National Security Council, with all counterterror policy overseen by a single adviser reporting directly to the president.

For that job, Obama has tapped Brennan, a career CIA official who was the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the intelligence agency's locus for terrorism strategy and analysis.

Brennan had been considered Obama's leading candidate for CIA director, but bowed out late last year after critics said he was too close to the Bush administration's interrogation policies. Obama has turned to veteran Washington administrative hand Leon Panetta to head the agency.

Brennan's appointment is expected to be announced as soon as Friday, said the two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it had not yet been made public.

Currently heading up intelligence issues for Obama's transition team, Brennan held several senior posts at the CIA until his 2005 retirement, including serving as President Clinton's daily intelligence briefer and chief of staff to former CIA Director George Tenet.

Obama was widely believed to have decided on Brennan to run the CIA until some civil rights and human rights groups argued that he had not been outspoken enough in condemning President George W. Bush's counterterrorism policies, including interrogations and extraordinary renditions — operations in which suspected terrorists were snatched and flown to U.S. prisons or to foreign allies.

Video: Ex-CIA Baer on intel pick politics Brennan is highly respected among fellow career intelligence officials, and will have the most intelligence experience of any of Obama's top advisers, including Panetta and National Intelligence Director retired Adm. Dennis Blair. In his role at the NSC, Brennan would also work closely with retired Marine Corps. Gen. James Jones, chief of the NSC.

Although the NSC would absorb Homeland Security's counterterrorism functions, it is not expected to handle disaster preparedness. "It would be challenging at best for General Jones to handle both the national security and homeland security portfolios," said Dan Kaniewski, a former special assistant to the president on the Homeland Security Council.

Created by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Homeland Security Council initially was assigned to advise the president on all domestic terrorism issues. With the 2003 creation of the Homeland Security Department, however, the White House-based council also oversaw other domestic security issues, including issuing a report on the government's botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

In its early days, the Homeland Security Council was involved in nearly everything the Homeland Security Department did. But as the department has matured over six years, the White House played less of a role in day-to-day operations.

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Merging the two councils has been discussed for years among experts, who believe it would streamline security efforts and eliminate overlap. The administration has resisted a merger.

Obama's new Cabinet?"The department has matured and, as a result, no longer needs the type of attention it did from HSC in the early days," said Don Kent, former assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the department. "However, I would hope that the new administration does not de-emphasize the importance of homeland issues, and I don't expect they will. They have to find the right balance and I think they are right to take a fresh look."

Earlier this week, Homeland Security Adviser Ken Wainstein said the current system works well but "I invite the new administration to take a fresh look at it."

"Where do you draw the line between the responsibility of each adviser and each security council? That's the question I had when I came over and I've seen that it works fairly well," Wainstein told an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank. He added: "When you look at the organization chart you see it's not the cleanest org chart around."

Having two separate councils made sense six years ago when the department was brand new, but now it's time to think about national security issues more holistically, said James Carafano, a fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"Danger doesn't respect borders, whether you're talking about natural disasters or economic disasters," he said, adding that there's almost no homeland security issue that doesn't have an international angle to it.

The key is giving the national security adviser strong deputies to handle the issues, he said.

Brennan's selection was first reported in Thursday's editions of the New York Times. He is expected to start in his new role on Jan. 20.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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