Last updated on: 4/3/2014 | Author:

John Brennan, MA Biography

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Pro to the question "Should the United States Continue Its Use of Drone Strikes Abroad?"

“As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and we may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense. There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose, or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.

Second, targeted strikes are ethical. Without question, the ability to target a specific individual from hundreds or thousands of miles away raises profound questions. Here, I think it is useful to consider such strikes against the basic principles of the law of war that govern the use of force.

Targeted strikes conform to the principle of necessity, the requirement that the target have definite military value. In this armed conflict, individuals who are part of al-Qaida or its associated forces are legitimate military targets. We have the authority to target them with lethal force, just as we target enemy leaders in past conflicts, such as Germans and Japanese commanders during World War II. Targeted strikes conform to the principle of distinction, the idea that only military objectives may be intentionally targeted and that civilians are protected from being intentionally targeted. With the unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a military objective, while minimizing collateral damage, one could argue that never before has there been a weapon that allows us to distinguish more effectively between an al-Qaida terrorist and innocent civilians.

Targeted strikes conform to the principle of proportionality, the notion that the anticipated collateral damage of an action cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. By targeting an individual terrorist or a small number of terrorists with ordnance that can be adapted to avoid harming others in the immediate vicinity, it is hard to imagine a tool that can better minimize the risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft.

For the same reason, targeted strikes conform to the principle of humanity, which requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering. For all these reasons, I suggest to you that these targeted strikes against al-Qaida terrorists are indeed ethical and just.”

Speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center,, May 1, 2012

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Director, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Mar. 8, 2013-present
  • Homeland Security Advisor, Homeland Security Council, Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2009-2013
  • Chairman, Intelligence and National Security Alliance, 2005-2009
  • CEO, The Analysis Corporation (now Sotera Defense Solutions), 2005-2009
  • Interim Director, National Counterterrorism Center, 2004-2005
  • Director, Terrorism Threat Integration Center, 2003-2004
  • Deputy Executive Director, CIA, 2001-2003
  • Chief of Staff to the Director, CIA, 1999-2001
  • Station Chief, Saudi Arabia, CIA, 1996-1999
  • Analyst, CIA, 1977-1996
  • MA, Government with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1980
  • BA, Political Science, Fordham University, 1977
  • Born on Sep. 22, 1955 in North Bergen, New Jersey
  • Attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School and Saint Joseph of the Palisades High School in West New York, New Jersey
  • While riding a bus to class at Fordham, he saw an ad in the New York Times that said the CIA was recruiting, and felt a CIA career would be a good match for his “wanderlust” and his desire to do public service.
  • Spent a year abroad during his studies at Fordham University learning Arabic and taking Middle Eastern studies courses at American University in Cairo, Egypt.
  • Speaks Arabic fluently
  • First official in the Obama administration to publicly acknowledge CIA drone attacks abroad
Quoted in:
Pro & Con Quotes: Should the United States Continue Its Use of Drone Strikes Abroad?