1. News & Issues

Hagel, Brennan Nominated For Defense, CIA Spots

Controversy Follows Both To Confirmation Hearings


Hagel, Brennan Nominated For Defense, CIA Spots

President Obama announces Chuck Hagel (second from left) for Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan (second from right) for Director of the CIA. Joining them are departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (left) and acting CIA Director Michael Morrell.

Photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House
Updated January 21, 2013

On January 7, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to become the new secretary of defense and John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. If they win Senate approval, both will lead agencies that are central to the implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

Hagel is expected to replace departing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta; Brennan is expected to take over for CIA head David Petraeus, who resigned in late 2012 amid a sex scandal. Neither Hagel nor Brennan, however, are without their own controversies.

Here is a brief biography of each man.

Chuck Hagel

Hagel, 66, is a Republican who served as a Nebraska senator from 1997 to 2009. If approved for the Defense job, he will, of course be serving a Democratic president. That's nothing new in the Obama administration -- in his first term, the president kept aboard Republican Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, also in the defense secretary's spot.

Hagel knows his way around military issues. He served in Vietnam (as did secretary of state nominee John Kerry) receiving two Purple Hearts, and he has worked in the Veterans Affairs administration. While in the Senate, he was (again like Kerry) on the foreign affairs committee.

Hagel is the founder of Vanguard Cellular Systems, which was the second largest cell phone company in the U.S. The business made him a millionaire several times over.

Just because he is Republican does not mean Hagel is a party lackey. He disapproved of George W. Bush's foreign policy, calling it "cavalier." While he initially approved of the Iraq War he did not approve of its later handling.

Hagel is also in favor of a trimmed-down U.S. military, having once called it "bloated."

Hagel's Controversy

Hagel long ago irritated many gay rights activists. In 1998, Hagel opposed James Hormel, who President Bill Clinton's nominee for ambassador to Luxembourg. Hagel said he was "openly, aggressively gay," and that his sexual orientation would inhibit his ability to do the job. LGBT groups also claim his senate voting record did not support gay issues.

When Hagel's name began to float as Obama's defense nominee, he apologized for the Hormel comment. He also said he supported the recent repeal of don't ask, don't tell military policies. The military's newly liberalized gay policies may mean Hagel still has obstacles in front of him.

Other Hagel opponents claim he is not dedicated to the defense of Israel, largely because he has not supported unilateral sanctions against Iran to halt its nuclear program. Regardless, in the Senate he consistently voted to continue military aid to Israel, and he has said he will not let Iran develop a nuclear weapon.

John Brennan

Brennan, 57, is one of Obama's chief counter-terrorism advisers. Brennan began working for the CIA in 1980. He served in various positions, including political officer as the U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and director of the CIA's counterterrorist center. He has also been chief of staff to former CIA Director George Tenet and CIA Deputy Executive Director.

From 2005-2009, Brennan was president of the Analysis Corporation. In 2008 he became intelligence adviser to Obama in his first presidential campaign. Since Obama's first inauguration he has been the president's assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

Brennan is known as one of the chief architects of Obama's reliance on drones in the war against Al Qaeda and terrorism.

Brennan's Controversy

Brennan was Obama's first pick for CIA director after his election in 2008. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration, however, when controversy erupted over his role in the Bush administration's use of the so-called enhanced terrorist interrogation techniques that intelligence agents have used on captives in the War on Terror since 9/11.

Other Brennan opponents have questioned the legality and ethics of drone usage in warfare.

Hagel's Senate confirmation hearings are expected to begin January 31, 2013. Brennan's are set for February 7.

  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. US Foreign Policy
  4. Defense
  5. Hagel, Brennan Nominations

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.