Obama nominates Hagel for Secretary of Defense, Brennan for CIA head

President Barack Obama nominated two new members to his administration on Monday, endorsing current counterterrorism advisor John Brennan and former Sen. Chuck Hagel to serve as CIA director and secretary of defense, respectively.

The president, who will be formally sworn in to begin his second term in office in just two weeks, announced his nominations Monday afternoon from the White House in Washington, DC.

“These two leaders have dedicates their lives to protecting our country,” said Pres. Obama. “I’m confident they will do an outstanding job.”

Both Brennan and Hagel have been rumored in recent days to take on new roles within the Obama administration, but only with Monday’s announcement from the president himself did the news become official. A confirmation battle in the Senate is expected to follow the choice for these key posts, although Pres. Obama asked lawmakers to confirm both men “as soon as possible” after making his announcement.

Hagel, a 66-year-old former Republican senator from Nebraska, will replace the current US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, if confirmed by the Senate. He will also be the first veteran of the Vietnam War to hold the post.

“To this day, Chuck bears the scars and the shrapnel” of service in Vietnam, the president said on Monday.

Accepting the nomination, Sen. Hagel replied, “I am grateful for this opportunity to serve our men and women in uniform again.”

Known as an outspoken critic of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an opponent of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington and of the possible strike against Iran, Hagel has faced tough criticism for his remarks. On Monday, however, Pres. Obama saluted Sen. Hagel’s “willingness to speak his mind” in Congress, “even if it wasn’t popular.”

“That’s exactly the spirit I want on my national security team,” said the president.

Obama’s administration officials have already dismissed claims of Hagel’s anti-Israel and pro-Iran stance, saying he is “completely in line with the president” on these issues.

"Hagel served in war," former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT. "He would be the first Defense Secretary in thirty years to come out of that experience – and that means a difference. When Hagel says he would be very, very careful in employing our forces in fool's errands such as Afghanistan… he is going to be a very worthy stand-up against people like Brennan, who … have never served our country's armed forces."

White House counterterrorism adviser Brennan was chosen by Obama to replace the former CIA head David Petraeus, who stepped down last November.

Brennan, 57, who has worked in the CIA for 25 years and played a key role in the planning of the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden, has been behind the controversial US drone program. He advocated the use of drones overseas, calling targeted killing operations “legal, ethical and wise.”

McGovern, who served under nine different CIA directors including Brennan, told RT that "Brennan would have to be the worst choice. He is an open advocate of what is called 'extraordinary rendition' – read torture, black prisons, illegal eavesdropping and kill lists."

President Obama called Brennan “one of our nation’s most skilled and respected” intelligence leaders in the Monday announcement.

He understands we are a nation of laws. In moments of debate and decision, he asks the tough questions and insists on high and rigorous standards,” he said of his nominee.

Brennan had withdrawn his CIA director nomination back in 2008, as questions about his involvement in extraordinary rendition techniques forced him to assert he was “a strong opponent” of the policies of the George W. Bush administration.

But his nomination comes with unanswered questions about his place in Washington's spin on American foreign policy.

Brennan is rumored to be the White House official who gave an anonymous press briefing in which he pushed what "basically amounted to a pack of lies about what happened at the Abbottabad compound," investigative historian Gareth Porter told RT, referring to the compound where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by US forces in 2011.

"He has been identified with a very strange claim, which the White House has tried to put forward, which is that the United States has not been killing any civilians in its drone war in Pakistan – which has clearly been proven untrue as well," Porter said.

Speaking from the White House on Monday, Brennan said, “Leading the agency I served for 15 years would be the greatest privilege of my life.”