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Torture Worries Bring Down Top Obama CIA Choice

About two weeks ago a considerable amount of information was leaking from the incoming Obama administration (and those close to it) about possible choices to lead the intelligence community. That steady trickle dried up until today, when the New York Times published a story claiming that the top candidate to head the CIA, John Brennan, withdrew his name from consideration after some of Obama's base slammed him for allegedly having a role in harsh interrogation techniques.

Brennan was an early supporter of Obama’s and served as one of his foreign policy advisors. He was chief of staff for former CIA head George Tenet, and served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He remains chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a Washington advocacy group for the intelligence community.

Retired Adm. Dennis Blair, former head of Pacific Command, seems to remain a candidate for Director of National Intelligence, although a former senior intelligence official criticized the idea. "He's not an intelligence professional, and I'm not sure what the message is if the entirety of the intel apparatus in our nation can't produce a person worthy of being the DNI," the former official said.

Here are the top remaining possibilities for CIA director. Former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.), who helped sponsor the legislation that created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, and co-chaired the commission, is still hanging in there. Roemer, a senior member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence before leaving Congress to lead the commission, was a fairly early supporter of Obama, endorsing him in late January. He is president of the Center for National Policy. a Washington thinktank with Democratic tendencies.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif), a Blue Dog Democrat who House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) forced off of the HPSCI, could be either head of CIA or DNI. Harman, who is chair of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, information sharing and terrorism risk assessment, represents the district where most of America’s highly classified spy satellites and keeps a close eye on legislation affecting these assets. Given the success of left-leaning Obama supporters in sidelining Brennan, Harman may face an uphill battle.

The dark horse candidate for CIA, Christopher Tucker, is senior vice president for national programs at erdas (formerly known as Leica Geosytems). He was the founding chief strategic officer at In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital fund. Tucker serves as a board member of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

Obama's intel transition team doesn't seem to have many likely candidates for the senior intel jobs. Brennan's co-leader of the transition team, Jami Miscik was former deputy director for intelligence at CIA and is now global head of sovereign risk at Lehman Brothers. Miscik led the agency’s analysts when they produced the infamous National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq probably possessed weapons of mass destruction. Her role in the NIE, not to mention her association with the now bankrupt Lehman, would probably kill any chances she would have of getting Senate confirmation.

Another woman, Jennifer Sims, would appear to have a better chance. She was the State Department’s first coordinator for intelligence resources (1998-2001) and planning and is now Georgetown University’s highly regarded director of intelligence studies. Before working at the State Department, Sims was a professional staff member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee and an aide to former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.).

There is one currently-serving intelligence professional on the team. Caryn Wagner, budget director of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was chief financial officer for the Director of National Intelligence and serves on the board with Brennan at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Harding, former director of operations at the Defense Intelligence Agency and deputy to the Army’s Chief of Intelligence, is the last name we know of on the transition team. He is now head of his own firm, Harding Security Associates. If anyone knows more about him, feel free to let us know.

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