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America has a new spymaster in John Brennan but he comes with major baggage

John Brennan has been approved as the new CIA chief. Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

So America has a new spymaster.

Finally, after a great theatrical performance by his critics in the Senate, Congress has approved John Brennan as the new CIA chief.

He takes over from David Petraeus, the man whose meteoric military and CIA career was spectacularly halted by a sexual liaison with his biographer.

David Petraeus with biographer Paula Broadwell. Credit: Reuters

Brennan knows the CIA and how it works. He also understands the White House.

But he comes to the job with major baggage. He is closely associated with America's controversial drone programme and "targeted killings."

These assassinations from the sky - choreographed by Brennan but ultimately approved by President Barack Obama - have decimated al-Qaeda. But critics say the killings can prove counter-productive by inflaming anti-American sentiment.

President Barack Obama must approve drone strikes. Credit: Reuters

Brennan is also taking over at the CIA just as the Agency comes to terms with the fact that its "enhanced interrogation" of terror suspects has been widely discredited. Even many inside the intelligence world accept this was torture by another name and not worthy of the United States.

So the new CIA chief must juggle two critical missions:

  • Rebuild confidence in a demoralised Agency.
  • Continue to keep Islamic militants from coalescing into a credible force that can once more strike the American homeland.

Many people question whether Brennan is the right man for the job. Certainly he has a ruthless streak and the ear of the President.

But does he have the moral compass? Can he judge when a counter-terrorism strike does more harm than good?

We had better hope so.