Obama Is Reported Set to Revise Counterterrorism Efforts
By PETER BAKER/NYT/1-8-09
WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to scrap the way President Bush oversaw domestic security in the White House and name a former Central Intelligence Agency official to coordinate counterterrorism, people close to the transition said Wednesday.
The plan being discussed would eliminate the independent homeland security adviser’s office and assign those duties to the National Security Council to streamline sometimes overlapping functions. A deputy national security adviser would be charged with overseeing the effort to guard against terrorism and to respond to natural disasters.
Democrats close to the transition said Mr. Obama’s choice for that job was John O. Brennan, a longtime C.I.A. veteran who was the front-runner to head the spy agency until withdrawing in November amid criticism of his views on interrogation and detention policies. His appointment would not require Senate confirmation. ...
“It’s pretty clear they’ve made the decision,” said Frances Fragos Townsend, who was homeland security adviser under Mr. Bush and has talked with the Obama team about the issue. “It’s a question of timing and how they’re going to roll it out.” ...
The likely selection of Mr. Brennan to take over domestic security issues in the White House represents a turnaround. Mr. Brennan, a former C.I.A. officer in the Mideast who served as the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center, was seen as the favorite for C.I.A. director after the Nov. 4 election. But he abruptly pulled out after critics of Mr. Bush sharply criticized Mr. Brennan for past comments that seemed to defend C.I.A. operations after Sept. 11. Mr. Brennan defended his record and called himself an opponent of the harsh interrogation methods used in recent years.
In his new capacity, Mr. Brennan would report to Gen. James L. Jones, the retired Marine commandant slated to serve as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. Dozens of aides now working for the homeland security adviser would largely be incorporated into the N.S.C. staff. The cabinet Department of Homeland Security would not be affected by any of these moves.
The idea of merging the two councils has been recommended by a number of reports, most notably in November by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and by Third Way. Among those preparing their report were John D. Podesta, Mr. Obama’s transition co-chairman, and members of his team.
The report argued that domestic security is inextricably tied to the nation’s broader foreign and military policy making.
“It was an artificial distinction to begin with,” said Matt Bennett, vice president of Third Way. “Homeland security is a function of national security in its purest form.” ...