Brennan Held Leadership Role at CIA During Pre-9/11 and Iraq War Intel Failures

By Fred Lucas | January 8, 2013 | 5:33 AM EST

President Obama nominates John Brennen (speaking at the podium) to be his next CIA director at the White House on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. (AP Photo)

( – John Brennan, nominated on Monday to serve as President Barack Obama’s next Central Intelligence Agency director, served in high-level positions at the agency at a time when the CIA’s intelligence failures were blamed in part for the Sept. 11 terror attacks and for the belief that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

Brennan took himself out of the running for CIA director four years ago after liberals criticized him for his advocacy of Bush-era anti-terror policies. Brennan reportedly opposed waterboarding, but he has spoken generally, in past interviews, about the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation and rendition.

In lieu of the CIA job, Obama named Brennan to the post of White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser. It was in that role in January 2010 that Brennan publicly declared, “I told the president today I let him down,” after the attempted terror attack by the so-called underwear bomber on Christmas Day 2009.

In an announcement in the White House East Room Monday, Obama praised Brennan’s long service in the CIA and in the White House. Brennan was part of the national security team when Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. The president didn’t mention bin Laden directly, but referred to a weakened al Qaeda.

“In the last four years as my adviser for counter terrorism and homeland security, John developed and has overseen our comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, the collaborative effort across the government for putting intelligence, defense, homeland security and law enforcement agencies,” Obama said. “So think about the results. More al Qaeda leaders and commanders have been removed from the battlefield than any time since 9/11. Their communications, training and financing are all under tremendous strain, all of which makes it harder to carry out large scale attacks against our homeland.”

Brennan called the nomination “the honor of my life.”

“The women and men of the CIA are the most dedicated, courageous, selfless, hardworking individuals who have ever served this country, at great personal risk and sacrifice,” Brennan said. “They have made countless and valuable contributions to our national security and to the safety and security of all Americans. Leading the agency will be the greatest privilege as well as the greatest responsibility of my professional life.”

Brennan served in the CIA from 1980 to 2005, working in important positions for Democratic and Republican presidents. He was the daily intelligence briefer for President Bill Clinton in 1994 and 1995.

From 1999 to 2001, he served as chief of staff to George Tenet, who served as CIA director in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Brennan and Tenet both spoke to the 9/11 Commission during the 2004 hearings investigating intelligence failures that allowed the attack to occur.

Brennan was promoted to deputy executive director of the CIA, a role he held from 2001 to 2003. It was during that period that the Bush administration launched the war in Iraq on the belief that the country had weapons of mass destruction.

In March 2003, Tenet named Brennan as director of the new Terrorist Threat Integration Center. The TTIC was designed to be a clearinghouse for all foreign and domestic terrorism analysis to assure coordination among various federal agencies.

Brennan left the CIA in November 2005 and became the CEO of the Analysis Group. He criticized the government’s intelligence structure in an op-ed in The Washington Post published on Nov. 20, 2005.

“Reform is needed to mesh the human and technical capabilities now scattered through the government,” Brennan wrote in the Post. “ But instead of prompting greater integration, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the controversy over inaccurate intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq unleashed a torrent of conflicting study commissions, statutes, executive orders, presidential directives and departmental initiatives. What’s still missing is coherent framework of reform.”

During an interview on the PBS News Hour on Dec. 5, 2005, he was asked about the Bush administration policy on rendition, or taking a terror suspect to another country for interrogation. Reporter Margaret Warner asked, “So was Secretary Rice correct today when she called it a vital tool in combating terrorism?”

Brennan responded, “I think it’s an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. government has been involved in. And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.”

In an interview on the CBS Early Show on Nov. 2, 2007, reporter Harry Smith asked Brennan, “The president has gone on record so many times saying the United States does not torture. If we acknowledge that this kind of activity goes on, you know, what does that mean, exactly, I guess?”

Brennan answered, “Well, the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures.”

Smith followed, “And you say some of this has born fruit.”

Brennan answered, “There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.”

During the 2008 presidential campaign he was the chief intelligence adviser for candidate Obama, then an Illinois senator.

Amid reports he would be the CIA chief, a group of about 200 psychologists published an open letter to President-elect Obama on Nov. 24, 2008 asserting that Brennan was insufficiently opposed to renditions and enhanced interrogation and would not be a clean break from the Bush policies.

On Nov. 25, 2008, the Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter from Brennan to Obama in which he took his name out of consideration to head the CIA.

“The fact that I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and action has been ignored,” Brennan wrote. “Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current [Bush] administration only to be rebuffed by the White House.”

On Monday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney what has changed since late 2008.

“One, at the time, Mr. Brennan wrote a letter explaining he opposed so-called enhanced interrogation techniques,” Carney responded at the daily press briefing. “And two, over the past four years, John Brennan has served as this president’s chief counterterrorism adviser. It is this president who banned torture as one of his first acts in office, and he has implemented that policy and many others with the remarkably capable assistance of John Brennan.”

After a terrorist was able to board a plane with explosive material hidden in his underwear on Christmas Day 2009, before being stopped in mid-air over Detroit, several top administration officials held a press conference on Jan. 7, 2010 to explain how this could have happened.

“I want to say that in every instance over the past year the intelligence community, the homeland-security community, the law-enforcement community has done an absolutely outstanding and stellar job in protecting this homeland and disrupting plots that have been directed against us,” Brennan told reporters in the January 2010 press conference at the White House.

“It was in this one instance that we did not rise to that same level of competence and success. And therefore, the president has told us we must do better,” Brennan continued. “I told the president today I let him down. I am the president's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism. And I told him that I will do better and we will do better as a team.”

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