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John Brennan, Obama's Counterterrorist

February 7, 2013 |
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When Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates advised President Barack Obama in late April 2011 that sending a Navy SEAL team into Pakistan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden was not worth the various risks that this operation entailed, John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, urged the president to authorize the raid.

It's that kind of call that has made Brennan the president's go-to guy since the beginning of Obama's first term on all matters related to terrorism and has also thrust him into a broader policymaking role in the Middle East and in South Asia. From his windowless office deep in the bowels of the West Wing a few steps from the Situation Room, Brennan has been at the center of every important decision in the war against al Qaeda.Brennan is a serious, taciturn man who grew up in New Jersey and attended Fordham University in New York, where at one point he contemplated becoming a priest.

Instead, he joined the CIA and spent more than two decades in the shadows, rising to take on important positions such as Bill Clinton's intelligence briefer and CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia. Three years after 9/11, Brennan became the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center, which shapes overall strategy against al Qaeda and its allies across the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community. After he retired, Brennan went into the private sector, where he played an early role in advising the Obama campaign in the run-up to the 2008 election.It's this long history with Obama and his depth of experience in the intelligence community that have made Brennan the president's pick to run the CIA.

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