WASHINGTON — John Brennan, President-elect Barack Obama's top adviser on intelligence, took his name out of the running Tuesday for any intelligence position in the new administration.
Brennan wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Obama that he did not want to be a distraction. His potential appointment as CIA director has raised a firestorm in liberal blogs that associate him with the Bush administration's interrogation, detention and rendition policies.
Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, helped establish the National Counterterrorism Center and was its first director in 2004. He has privately and publicly said that he opposed waterboarding and questioned other interrogation methods that many in the CIA feared could be later deemed illegal.
"It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration such as the pre-emptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding," he wrote. "It is with profound regret that I respectfully ask that my name be withdrawn from consideration for a position within the intelligence community. The challenges ahead of our nation are too daunting, and the role of the CIA too critical, for there to be any distraction from the vital work that lays ahead," Brennan wrote.
An Obama adviser said Brennan made the decision to withdraw on his own and that he will remain heavily involved in the transition. The adviser is not authorized to discuss internal deliberations so asked not to be named.
Obama's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Obama accepted Brennan's decision and "is grateful for John's continuing assistance as a valuable member of our transition team."
However, a group of about 200 psychologists published an open letter to Obama on Nov. 22 opposing Brennan's leadership of the CIA. They cited several media interviews in which they deemed Brennan insufficiently opposed to rendition and harsh interrogation to make a clean break with the Bush administration's policies.
They noted that he told the National Journal in March that he would favor "continuity" in intelligence policies in the early days of the Obama administration.
"I would argue for continuity in those early stages. You don't want to whipsaw the (intelligence) community," Brennan said. "I'm hoping there will be a number of professionals coming in who have an understanding of the evolution of the capabilities in the community over the past six years, because there is a method to how things have changed and adapted," he said.
In a 2005 interview on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," Brennan defended rendition as "an absolutely vital tool." In 2007 on CBS News, he said the CIA's harsh interrogation program, which included waterboarding on at least three prisoners, produced "life saving" intelligence. Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning.
Brennan has spoken out publicly against waterboarding.
"The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored," he wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. "Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current administration only to be rebuffed by the White House."
One former intelligence official said Bush in 2005 rejected nominating Brennan, then interim National Counterterrorism Center director, as the actual director.
"The politicos at the White House said no because they thought he was too outspoken in his criticism of the administration and not sufficiently on board with their program," he told AP.
National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell in 2007 had Brennan on a short list to become his principal deputy director, the second-highest position at the organization. The White House again rejected him, intelligence officials said.
(This version CORRECTS that letter was from psychologists, not psychoanalysts.))