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Senate panel greenlights CIA nominee Brennan

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The US Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday gave its approval for John Brennan to be the CIA's next director, after the White House turned over secret memos on the targeted killing of Americans.

Senators in a closed-door hearing voted 12-3 to approve Brennan, putting him on track to be President Barack Obama's third major national security nominee to be confirmed, after Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants a full Senate vote on Brennan's confirmation this week.

"No one is better prepared to be CIA director than Mr. Brennan," Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the committee, said in a statement announcing the vote.

Brennan has been subjected to a two-month confirmation process, with some US lawmakers insisting that questions remain about his nomination.

Republicans acknowledged that they hoped to extract more information from the White House about its secret drone program, the targeting of US citizens in counter-terrorism operations, and the attack on US diplomats on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya.

They got much of it on Tuesday, when an under-pressure White House agreed to release materials to senators, including classified Justice Department documentation that may have been used to justify the president's ability to authorize the targeted killing of Americans.

"Just last night I reached agreement with the White House to review all OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) opinions on targeted killings of Americans," Feinstein said.

"It was unfortunate these issues delayed the process, but I am confident that they have been resolved."

The committee's top Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss, said he voted against Brennan due to "inconsistencies" in his testimony last month.

"I think we've got to have a stronger trust relationship with the CIA than what I felt like Mr. Brennan could bring," he told reporters after the vote.

But he said he would not encourage his colleagues to try to hold up the nomination, saying "I think it will run its normal course and he'll probably be confirmed."

Brennan, 57, is a 25-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency.

For the past four years he has worked in the White House as Obama's chief counter-terrorism expert, but he is most contentiously known as the architect of the US drone war in countries like Pakistan and Yemen.

He faced repeated questions at his confirmation hearing over the targeted killings, some of which have involved Americans not charged with a crime.

At the hearing, Brennan spoke of the "agony" that US intelligence operations go through to ensure against "any collateral injuries or deaths."

"We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives," said Brennan.

Democratic senators like Ron Wyden demanded the administration share more information about the strikes with Congress and the public.

Wyden, fellow Democrat Mark Udall, and Republican Susan Collins claimed victory Tuesday in their push for greater access to the documents outlining Obama's authority.

"We believe that this sets an important precedent for applying our American system of checks and balances to the challenges of 21st century warfare," they said in a statement.

"In our view, the appropriate next step should be to bring the American people into this debate and for Congress to consider ways to ensure that the president's sweeping authorities are subject to appropriate limitations, oversight, and safeguards."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130305/senate-panel-greenlights-cia-nominee-brennan