S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, January 04, 2010

On John Brennan

English: John Brennan
English: John Brennan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Image via Wikipedia
The lead for this roundup about John Brennan, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, is a story published today in the New York Magazine.  Titled, "Inside Obama's War on Terrorism," it is a very well written article by Peter Baker.  Here are a few more of the most current references to Brennan in the news, followed by my previous South by Southwest posts that refer to him.
Brennan is fast becoming the administration's point man for public information following the failed Christmas plot to set off a bomb in a plane over Detroit.  In reading the Baker piece, along with the S/Sw posts you will get a range of opinion about Brennan from the very liberal to the more moderate.  It is, of course, up to you to make up your mind about Obama and the fight with al Qaeda.  John Brennan is very much a part of that fight.  I begin with a post by one of my favorites, Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent: "Quotes from John Brennan that Liberals won't like," (1/4/10).  It refers to the Baker NYT article. on Monday: "Embassies in Yemen Shut by U.S., U.K.; Brown Cites Risk in `Failing' State."  To quote:
White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said that al-Qaeda plans attacks “possibly against our embassy, possibly against U.S. personnel.” He spoke yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Times of the Internet Monday: "Tougher checks for US-bound travellers."  To quote:
. . . amid questions over the failures in US security, Obama's top counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan said there had been no evidence which would have unmasked the plot sooner.
"There was no smoking gun. There was no piece of intelligence that said this guy is a terrorist and is going to get on a plane... None whatsoever," Brennan told Fox News Sunday. . . "It was a failure to integrate the bits and pieces of information."
The United States and Britain meanwhile closed their embassies in the Yemeni capital on Sunday, as Brennan told CNN there were indications "Al-Qaeda is planning to carry out an attack against (a) target inside of Sanaa, possibly our embassy." . . .
But Brennan indicated to Fox News Sunday the United States was not opening a new front against Al-Qaeda in Yemen and has no plans to send troops there.
"I wouldn't say we're opening a second front. This is a continuation of an effort that we had underway, as I said, since the beginning of the administration," said Brennan.
He also told CNN the United States would continue to repatriate Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, with about 90 still held at the US military base in Cuba.
"Some of these individuals are going to be transferred back to Yemen at the right time and the right pace and in the right way," he said.
The terror scare has prompted Obama to order two reviews of intelligence and security operations, and he will meet with spy chiefs and top officials Tuesday to discuss the findings.

********** References taken from previous South By Southwest posts **********

"Obama vows to repair intelligence gaps behind Detroit airplane incident," uses a story from The Washington Post (12/30/09).  To quote:
The first of two orders Obama issued Tuesday directed national security agencies to produce by Thursday a written report detailing "all intelligence or other information in U.S. government files" through last Friday "relevant or potentially relevant" to the bombing attempt and to Abdulmutallab, "the date on which the intelligence or other information was available" and how it was handled, as well as information on current watch-list "standards and processes." The second order directed a review of aviation screening.
More extensive reviews, led by John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, and the Department of Homeland Security, will look at what changes need to be made in the watch list and airport detection systems that failed to flag Abdulmutallab as an imminent security risk and allowed him to board an aircraft with explosives.
"Recommending Investigative Journalists," (8/21/09) is from South By Southwest.  To quote:
"John Brennan's dangerous national security advice," by Marcy Wheeler for Glenn Greenwald's blog at (8/14/09).  To quote:
Last year, Glenn posted some statements from now-Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan on counterterrorism. The post contributed to pressure that led Brennan to withdraw his candidacy to be CIA Director (which is how he ended up as Deputy NSA, which doesn't require congressional approval).*
In addition to passages on rendition and torture, Glenn linked to an NPR story attributing Obama's switch on counterterrorism issues -- particularly his infamous flip-flop on retroactive immunity for the telecoms that had illegally spied on Americans -- to Brennan.
[concluding paragraph] . . . Glenn was right, last year, to oppose John Brennan for CIA Director. But in his current role as Deputy National Security Advisor, Brennan has not only sustained the Bush's domestic wiretap program, but he seems to be pushing a homeland security strategy that completely ignores civil liberties protections while constructing this massive, abusive -- and not terribly effective -- network of spying on American citizens.
*"Any signs of a coming demilitarization?" is from South by Southwest (1/2/09).  This contains the post to which Wheeler refers, above: "Exceptional news: John Brennan won't be CIA Director or DNI."  It comes from Glenn Greenwald at (11/26/08)."Tales of Torture," is from South by Southwest (4/12/09).  To quote:
"There are no excuses for ongoing concealment of torture memos," wrote Glenn Greenwald at on 4/6/09. The ACLU has been battling in court for two years to get the Steven Bradbury OLC memos released. Greenwald's very interesting post explores why the release has been blocked from a number of different angles. To quote,
They are, in essence, the Rosetta Stone for documenting the war crimes committed not by low-level CIA agents but by the highest-level Bush DOJ officials.
. . . Those are the torture memos that are now at the heart of a growing controversy, as the Obama administration has sought multiple delays . . . the anti-disclosure crusade inside the Obama administration is being led by John Brennan. . . while it is true that Brennan has been aggressively advocating against disclosure, it is the threatened obstructionism [of two Obama appointees, Dawn Johnsen and Harold Koh] from the Senate GOP that is the "principal" cause of concern inside the White House.
"On the trail of transition," is from South by Southwest (11/21/08).  To quote:
So what can our next president do to lead during the next two months of transition? No matter who coming into his administration is announced, there is going to be criticism or cautious praise. For example, Glenn Greenwald does not like one of the President-elect's national security advisers. On 11/16/08, he headlined, "John Brennan and Bush's interrogation/detention policies."

"Intelligence -- the next phase," is from South by Southwest (11/8/08).  To quote:
Warrick's WaPo article speculated about heads of Intelligence Services replacements and revealed that McConnell expects to be replaced as DNI, but that General Hayden might be willing to continue to head the CIA, stating that,
Within intelligence circles the speculation is centering on former intelligence officials who are close to the Obama team, including John O. Brennan, the former interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and Rep. Jane Harman  (D-Calif.), former ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee. . .

"From my  In-box to my Out-box," is from South by Southwest (3/17/08).  To quote:
"It is called Backbone:" The first follow up story reports that Senator Obama's adviser does not agree with him. Memeorandum -- picks this up from The Blotter/ABC News: " Intel Adviser Breaks with Obama over FISA, Telecoms" March 07, 2008. A National Journal insider interview with John Brennan, titled "The Counterterror campaign."
There are many types of scenarios for signals [for example, telephone calls and e-mails] to be accessed. But whenever this happens, there needs to be some substantive predicate, a probable cause, that someone is being targeted appropriately. There is an important issue about timeliness.
And even though you can go through the FISA process, particularly when you're dealing with terrorism issues, there needs to be an understanding that intelligence agencies can move quickly if certain predicates are met. We shouldn't be held hostage to a complicated, globalized [information technology] structure that puts up obstacles to that timely collection. I think there are some very, very sensible people on both sides of the partisan divide trying to make this happen.. . . To me, I think the government does have the right and the obligation to ensure the security and safety of its citizens. If there is probable cause, reasonable suspicion, about the involvement of a U.S. person in something, the government needs to have the ability to understand what the nature of that involvement is. The threshold for that type of government access can be high or can be low, and it needs to be somewhere in the middle.. . . But there needs to be an articulation of those triggers that the American people overall feel, yes, that's the right thing for the government to do.You don't want to just troll and with a large net just pull up everything. There are technologies available to pulse the data set and pull back only that which has some type of correlation to your predicate.. . . These are things that need to be discussed openly -- not to the point of revealing sources and methods and giving the potential terrorists out there insight into our capability -- but to make sure there is a general understanding and consensus that these initiatives, collections, capabilities, and techniques comport with American values and are appropriately adjusted . . .

John Brennan, in my opinion, has broken from the Bush administration.  President Obama obviously trusts him because he appointed Brennan to lead the effort to find out how national security was so badly breached in the underwear bomber incident.  Always a pragmatist, the President is trying to make the best of the awful dilemmas posed by balancing security and liberty in U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda.  His  measured response seems just right to me.  He wants to find out where the problems are, who is responsible and to decide what should be the steps to closing the breach.

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