Brennan had indicated that he wanted to see big changes in control of the drone program even before his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Under his watch as White House counterterrorism coordinator, Brennan’s former employer, the CIA, has become much more of a “paramilitary” organization, and he wants to return the agency to its roots. “John thinks that the traditional role of the CIA is to be the biggest, baddest, most effective human-intelligence collection facility on the planet,” says a senior administration official, who would discuss Brennan’s views only on condition of anonymity. “That’s the tradition of the CIA he grew up in, and that’s what he thinks the CIA in its essence should be.”
“A lot of what’s driving Brennan, from what I’ve heard, is that he feels the [drone] program has run its course as a CIA operation,” says Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism official. “He feels that basically the collateral damage is causing more problems than any success coming out of the program.” Meanwhile, the debate over the ethics — and, perhaps more significantly, the efficacy — of targeting rogue American citizens and others abroad is going to grow more intense, too. “My sense is there is a growing recognition that these strikes can hurt organizations but they are rarely the main reason for the end of the organization,” says Seth Jones, a counterterrorism expert at the Rand Corp.
According to other people who know Brennan’s thinking well, he also believes that moving drones to the Defense Department will allow greater congressional and public scrutiny. He fears that if the United States does not lead in developing an ethical and legal policy framework on the use of drones, decades’ worth of international law will be undermined and other countries that are close to developing their own drones, particularly China and Russia, will abuse them.