John O. Brennan, the closest advisor to President Obama on how to fight al Qaeda, has emerged as a key promoter of dumping much of George Bush’s tough war policies and embracing the White House’s legalistic approach to terrorism.
The nation got its first extended long look at Brennan on Sunday when he appeared on TV talk shows to defend the administration’s response to al Qaeda’s Christmas Day would-be airline bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
It was during his appearance on Fox News that he made several astounding policy statements.
"Brennan has said a number of disappointing things on Sunday," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. "If you take a look at the policies he is advocating, they clearly are policies that run totally counter to what the former president had in place."
But in truth, Brennan has been an internal Bush critic going back to his days in the CIA, which culminated in him serving as chief of staff to director George Tenet, then setting up the first National Counter-Terrorism Center.
Brennan came from the CIA’s dovish wing. He served at Langley at a time when senior analysts began a war against the White House by leaking damaging charges against Bush officials to a compliant news media. Most charges turned out to be untrue.
Brennan left the agency in 2005, formed his own company and quickly fell into the Obama campaign where he became the candidate’s chief adviser on intelligence matters.
Brennan opposed used of the word "war" to describe the battle against al Qaeda. Sure enough, once Obama took office, the administration largely dropped the word. It called the conflict an "overseas contingency."
Brennan also opposed the special prison for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Sure enough, one of Obama’s first pronouncements was a deadline for closing Gitmo, even before a new prison was located.
Brennan told me in 2007 that the U.S. needed to reach out to Lebanese Hizballah’s kinder side. He noted that the U.S.-designated terror group runs medical clinics and hands out food. I countered that Hizballah operates like the mafia, controlling a neighborhood so that everyone has to come to it for jobs, food, care. It’s a great recruiting mechanism for finding new terrorists.
His Sunday TV talk show performances opened up these views to the American people and political Washington.
He was asked why Abdulmutallab was provided a lawyer, instead of being turned over to the FBI for days of interrogation to learn everything possible about al Qaeda’s activities in Yemen, where he was trained.
Brennan answered that you can get good information through plea-bargaining with al Qaeda terrorists through their lawyers.
"As you talk with the lawyers and you talk with the individuals, as they recognize what they’re facing as far as the charges, conviction and possible sentence, there are opportunities to continue to talk about it," Brennan said on Fox News Sunday.
When host Chris Wallace said, "But once he gets his Miranda rights, he doesn’t have to speak at all," Brennan answered: "He doesn’t have to, but he knows that there are certain things that are on the table, and if he wants to, in fact, engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways that he can do that."
In other words, the U.S. can get better information working through Abdulmutallab’s defense attorney, than through trained FBI-CIA interrogators. And his answer indicates the Obama administration is willing to give the terrorist a lenient sentence, putting him back on the street sooner rather than later.
"Heaven forbid that we ever plea bargain with a terrorists," Hoekstra told HUMAN EVENTS. "Wow. This was a guy who was going to kill 300 Americans in the air, who knows how many on the ground. I’ve got to believe al Qaeda, when they hear statements like that, they’re just laughing. It’s kind of like, ‘how stupid are these Americans. We try to blow up an airplane and they’re going to plea bargain with us.’"
Brennan also said the administration would continue to release Gitmo terrorists to Yemen, even in the face of evidence that at least three ex-prisoners renewed their al Qaeda ties in that country, one as the group’s leader.
Two days later, Obama said such transfers were being suspended.
Brennan emphatically justified closing the military prison on the grounds that al Qaeda uses it as a propaganda tool.
"Guantanamo facility must be closed," he said. "It has served as a propaganda tool for Al Qaida. We’re determined to close it. We’re not going to, though, do anything that is going to put American security at risk.
In fact, al Qaeda, and leader Osama bin Laden, uses everything America does as a propaganda tool, from its support of Israel overseas to its embrace of liberty at home.
Brennan’s reach on intelligence issues extends to keeping the wraps on briefings to Congress.
"The guy has treated us like crap," Hoekstra said.
The White House has allowed one intelligence committee briefing on the Fort Hood massacre, and none so far on the attempted airline bombing.
The stonewalling extends to congressmen overseas.
Hoekstra traveled to Yemen News Year’s Day for a firsthand look at the al Qaeda enemy and efforts to defeat it.
To his amazement, he found out the White House had instructed the ambassador not to brief him on military operations. Worse, Hoekstra said, the White House ordered CIA Director Leon Panetta to instruct his Yemen station chief not brief Hoekstra on certain operations.
He later called the director. "Leon’s response was very clear," the congressman recalled. "’Pete, I was contacted by the White House and instructed to call my chief of station that if he wanted that information he had to get it out of Washington and you couldn’t get it from the people actually on the ground implementing these policies."