How the Netroots Brought Down Obama's Spymaster

Aldrich Ames, the veteran CIA officer and chief of Soviet counterintelligence who single-handedly set the espionage efforts of the United States and many of its allies back decades, knew the weaknesses inherent in the American intelligence community. He exploited those weaknesses for nine years until he was finally caught, early on a chilly February morning in 1994, unmasked and captured by a combined CIA/FBI dragnet.

As Ames was placed inside an unmarked FBI sedan and whisked away to a glamorous new life spent in America's SuperMax federal penitentiary system, John Brennan was arriving at work on the other side of the Potomac, in Langley, Virginia. At that time he was serving as executive assistant to the deputy director of central intelligence and occupied an office that featured a portrait of the then-President Bill Clinton. In the days after the Ames arrest, Brennan would be intimately involved in the attempts made to assess the damage the renegade officer had inflicted.

A lifelong Republican, it would have seemed fanciful to ponder that, in just 14 years, Brennan would not only be organizing intelligence transition for a Democratic presidential contender's campaign, but also be the hot favorite for the next director of central intelligence (DCI). It would have been even more unbelievable, perhaps, to suggest that this opportunity would be thwarted by writers whom nobody had ever heard of, reaching a readership of millions via a medium that did not yet exist.

But that is exactly what has happened. Against all predictions, John Brennan, a man with decades of intelligence experience, who is well-versed in the intricacies of counter-terrorism, educated in the cultures and languages of the Middle East, and who has earned the respect of officials on both sides of mainstream politics, will not be the next DCI.

How did this happen? Just a few weeks ago, his nomination was as good as in the bag. Everybody thought so.  I certainly did, and was working on an in-depth profile piece on Brennan to be published in the Australian Conservative when his nomination process eventually began. Doing research and gathering opinions, I came across a near-universal chorus of journalists, editors, and former spies who felt Brennan to be a shoo-in.

On November 15, Marc Ambinder in the Atlantic pointed out that Brennan had already taken steps to prepare for a major career transition. Pamela Hess, writing for Associated Press claimed that he was considered a likely candidate for both the DCI slot and the director of national intelligence (DNI) position.