John Brennan, Part 3: "Super" Advisor?

John Brennan, Part 3: "Super" Advisor?
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

For a recap of previous entries on John Brennan see:

Part 1- John Brennan: Super Spy?

Part 2- John Brennan: Super Sleaze!

John Brennan used the skills he learned as a CIA analyst to ingratiate himself to Obama.  In this capacity, Brennan oversaw Obama’s controversial drone program to target terrorists in Yemen and Pakistan.  At the time, it was not a major issue but became one during his confirmation hearings to become CIA Director.  Bush may have created the infrastructure, but Brennan was the one to build the program into what it eventually became.  He selected the targets and delivered the names personally to Obama.  He had total control of the process, worked around the process when he had to, and undermined rivals along the way.  Even after the near miss over Detroit with the underwear bomber, Brennan fretted over what to do about Dennis Blair since Blair was not a great backer of drones.

During Obama’s first year in office, the US carried out more than 50 drone strikes.  By the end of the second year as Dennis Blair was being fired, the number doubled.  However, no one really knew who was being killed in these strikes.  There were some reports in the press and from the wilds of Pakistan and Yemen, but nothing was certain.  There was no real oversight or checks, just John Brennan.  Even the courts were not interested when American names started showing up on the kill lists and Congress was paralyzed in a morass about the legality of CIA covert operations.  Only public opinion could change things, but the White House had a strategy for that.  So as the casualty count rose, Brennan went on a public relations blitz to convince the public the drone program was legal, ethical, and effective.

Brennan is the person who, under pressure from Muslim groups in the United States, purged all law enforcement training manuals at the federal level of any mention of Islam or jihad from counter-terrorism efforts.  Brennan assured Muslim groups on White House stationery.  He has publicly and consistently expressed the belief that moderates will emerge in Iran and that its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, will reform.  He has repeatedly touted the line that economics is the main driver of terrorism, not fanatical religious Islamic zealotry despite the fact that terrorists come from all walks of life and income levels.   

During the 2012 election, Brennan began to think that he could have a shot at becoming the next CIA Director in the next administration.  Instead, Obama chose David Petraeus who successfully led the surge in Iraq.  Petreaus, a four star general and war hero, sailed through the confirmation process and became CIA Director.  John Brennan decided to finish out his term and retire having not attained his goal.  

However, a woman named Jill Kelley filed a complaint with the FBI in Tampa alleging she was being cyber-stalked by someone named “kelleypatrol.”  Using metadata to pinpoint the source, the FBI determined it was Paula Broadwell.  She, in turn, was the official biographer for Petreaus and some of the emails were sexually charged between Broadwell and Petreaus.  FBI Director Robert Mueller and attorney general Eric Holder decided to keep discovery of the affair quiet until after the election.  While executing a search warrant on Broadwell’s computer, it was discovered that Petreaus had shared secret and confidential information of a national security nature with Broadwell.  Three days after the election, Petreaus resigned.  This time, Obama did not have to worry about another election and the people who opposed Brennan in 2008 went silent.

Obama nominated Brennan to become CIA Director in 2013 to succeed David Petreaus.  During the confirmation hearings, the issue of waterboarding came up.  Brennan testified that with regards to that program, he was not in the chain of command although he also testified that he expressed his opposition to it.  He also testified he did nothing to stop it.  The extent and legality of the drone program also was questioned.  Eventually, his nomination was confirmed in the Senate with a 63-34 vote but not after a 13-hour filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).  Paul ended the filibuster after securing an agreement with the Obama White House that they would not target Americans with drones.

One of the more interesting happenings during his CIA leadership was spying on the Senate.  While the story was slowly leaking out, when asked about it by Andrea Mitchell, Brennan rolled his eyes and said the CIA would never do that.  Yet even after the Inspector General report was released showing that the CIA had, in fact, spied on members of the Senate, Obama refused to fire Brennan or ask for his resignation. 

Leon Panetta had ordered an internal CIA review of the enhanced interrogation program while the Senate Intelligence Committee was doing likewise. Given the sensitive nature of the material, the Senate staffers were set up in a secure CIA safe house.  When Senator Udall mentioned the Panetta Report, Brennan ordered the CIA to find out how the Senate was aware of it.  Was Udall bluffing, or had someone leaked its existence?  The CIA managed to break down a firewall to determine what the Senate staff was up to on at least two occasions.  In the aftermath, Brennan was forced to apologize for the incident and he ordered an internal CIA review on protocols while also meting out disciplinary action.

As Obama’s second term was drawing to a close, Brennan began auditioning for a continued term as CIA chief in a Hillary Clinton administration.  He also had developed a loathing of Vladimir Putin because the Russian leader did not embrace, for example, gay rights.  He did not care much for Putin’s unsentimental views on Islamic terrorism.  Brennan had constantly defined “jihad” as “self-improvement.”

Brennan, like Clapper and others, were not exactly enamored with the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, either.  The feeling was mutual: Flynn thought Brennan was a politically correct jackass.  Flynn believed Brennan was enthralled with Muslims and argued that Islamic terrorism, not Russian nationalism, was the biggest threat to American interests.  

When Obama named Brennan to lead the CIA, many within the intelligence community were surprised.  Brennan had previously made remarks to the effect that it was not the job of the CIA to seek out “secrets.”  To many, this was the exact purpose of the CIA.  They expressed concern that Brennan would actually weaken the CIA, especially the Operations arm that does the spying, recruits sources, collects intelligence and runs covert operations.  Others questioned why he left the CIA in 2005 despite his often-told stories of “spying in my blood.”  His four year hiatus in the civilian world left him disconnected from the CIA.  Why, they questioned, was he considered for CIA director in 2008 after Obama’s election, and achieving the title in 2013?  Most CIA watchers and those within the intelligence community, quite frankly, did not have high regard for Brennan as a spook.

In the end, some see him as some sort of warrior priest when the reality might be closer to how others see Brennan- a “yes” man who sucked up to power and got lucky.  Judith Yaphe, who formerly worked in the same unit as Brennan at the CIA, said you needed three things: you had to write well, brief well, and get along with others well.  She said Brennan was good at all three.  Another described Brennan as “good at managing up.”

Next: Every conspiracy needs a doofus- a look at John Clapper

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