President Obama to nominate former Pentagon lawyer, Jeh Johnson, as next Homeland Security chief

Previously Mr Johnson has found legal justification for drone attacks and the intrusion into Pakistan's sovereign territory for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden

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A former top lawyer in the US Defence Department who drew criticism from some when he told an audience at Oxford University last year that America's war on terror would not go on forever will be nominated by President Barack Obama as his next Secretary of Homeland Security, it has emerged.

White House aides confirmed that Mr Obama is expected to nominate Jeh Johnson for the sensitive post this afternoon in hopes that he will be quickly confirmed by the United States Senate. The top post at Homeland Security has been empty since Janet Napolitano left in August to run the University of California system.

Mr Johnson served in the Pentagon in the first Obama administration and was at the heart of some of the most difficult legal decisions, finding justification for drone attacks on suspected terror suspected in overseas countries and the intrusion into Pakistan's sovereign territory for the raid to kill Osama bin Laden.

He is also remembered for laying the groundwork for the repeal of 'Don't ask, Don't tell' that had awkwardly allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the US military but only if they didn't reveal their sexuality as well as for relocating Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, from the Quantico marine brig where he was originally held under unusually harsh conditions long before he was finally tried for his part in the WikiLeaks scandal.

Mr Obama and Mr Johnson have close ties. A former federal prosecutor, Mr Johnson was a key advisor to the president in his first campaign for the White House. Former Defence Secretary Leon Panetta praised Johnson's selection, saying he has “impeccable judgment, leadership qualities and high ethical standards”.

In a speech at the Oxford Union in November, Mr Johnson, 56, said the US was close to a “tipping point” in its war against al-Qa'ida and would soon be able to hand the job from the military to law enforcement and the intelligence community. “War must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs,” he argued. “In its twelfth year, we must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the new normal.”

“The president is selecting Johnson because he is one of the most highly qualified and respected national security leaders, having served as the senior lawyer for the largest government agency in the world,” said a senior administration official told the New York Times. “During his tenure at the Department of Defence, he was known for his sound judgment and counsel.”

Mr Johnson may be questioned during his confirmation process on his relative lack of experience on other areas under the purview of Homeland Security including handling immigration issues and natural disasters.