Profile: John O. Brennan
John O. Brennan was a participant or observer in the following events:
John Brennan. [Source: PBS]An article in the New Yorker magazine reveals that the CIA interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) were not as reliable as they are typically made out to be. Mohammed was interrogated with methods such as waterboarding that are regarded as torture by many. CIA official John Brennan, former chief of staff for CIA Director George Tenet, acknowledges, “All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.” One former top CIA official estimates that “ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.” Cables of Mohammed’s interrogation transcripts sent to higher-ups reportedly were prefaced with the warning that “the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations was called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies” (see June 16, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel asks, “What are you going to do with KSM in the long run? It’s a very good question. I don’t think anyone has an answer. If you took him to any real American court, I think any judge would say there is no admissible evidence. It would be thrown out.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says, “A guy as dangerous as KSM is, and half the world wonders if they can believe him—is that what we want? Statements that can’t be believed, because people think they rely on torture?” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist James Risen wrote in a 2006 book, “According to a well-placed CIA source, [Mohammed] has now recanted some of what he previously told the CIA during his interrogations. That is an enormous setback for the CIA, since [his debriefings] had been considered among the agency’s most important sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda. It is unclear precisely which of his earlier statements [he] has now disavowed, but any recantation by the most important prisoner in the global war on terror must call into question much of what the United States has obtained from other prisoners around the world…” [Risen, 2006, pp. 33] In a 2008 Vanity Fair interview, a former senior CIA official familiar with the interrogation reports on Mohammed will say, “90 percent of it was total f_cking bullsh_t.” A former Pentagon analyst will add: “KSM produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Following the release of a new video and a new audio message from a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see September 7, 2007 and September 11, 2007), terrorism analyst Peter Bergen says it may be a good idea to allow As-Sahab, a clandestine institute that makes videos for al-Qaeda, to continue to operate. Bergen says it would be difficult to shut the operation down, “You’d have to capture or kill everyone involved, and if you knew who they were, you might want to follow them instead,” says Bergen, adding, “Understanding the inner workings of As-Sahab is probably as good a way as any I can think of to get close to bin Laden and [al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-]Zawahiri.” However, former director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center John Brennan says of a possible attempt at penetrating As-Sahab, “Don’t presume that’s not happening.” CIA Director General Michael Hayden says of As-Sahab’s ability to continue putting out videos, “It might be disappointing, but it shouldn’t be surprising.” [United Press International, 9/19/2007]
Stanley, Inc logo. [Source: Stanley, Inc.]Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. [NBC News, 3/21/2008; CNN, 3/22/2008]
President Obama presides over a deeply divided group of top advisers as he decides whether or not to release four Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 16, 2009). CIA Director Leon Panetta and his four immediate predecessors have already registered their flat disapproval of the memos’ release (see March 18, 2009 and After), as has Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. On the other side are Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and White House counsel Gregory Craig. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated he supports the release because it is inevitable anyway—the memos are the subject of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit—and because Obama is willing to promise that no CIA officers will be prosecuted for abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen sides with Gates. Obama presides over a “mini-debate” in the office of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, where each side designates a spokesperson to present its views. When the debate is concluded, Obama immediately dictates a draft of his announcement of the memos’ release. During the discussion, Obama rejects the proposal that the memos’ release be delayed in anticipation of a so-called “truth commission” to investigate Bush torture policies, saying that such delay would just create further divisiveness. Craig argues persuasively that the judge overseeing the FOIA lawsuit is unlikely to grant any delays. Obama aides later say the president’s decision is in keeping with his frequent campaign promises that he would not only stop the torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody, but get to the truth behind the Bush administration’s torture policies. [Newsweek, 4/18/2009; Washington Post, 4/24/2009]
The US has been conducting airstrikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen, but denying responsibility for them, according to cables provided by the whistleblower organization Wikileaks to the British daily The Guardian. The bombings are being attributed to local forces rather than the US in an attempt not to rile Arab public opinion. The Guardian breaks the story based on a number of cables provided by Wikileaks, which contain damning quotes. In a September 2009 cable Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh told US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, “I have given you an open door on terrorism, so I am not responsible.” Following a strike that killed multiple civilians carried out by the US, but attributed to Yemenis in December 2009, US Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche cabled Washington to say: “Yemen insisted it must ‘maintain the status quo’ regarding the official denial of US involvement. Saleh wanted operations to continue ‘non-stop until we eradicate this disease.’” Just over a week later, Saleh told General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This prompted the deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi, who was also at the meeting, to joke that he had just “lied” by telling parliament the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa (the alleged al-Qaeda strongholds) were American-made but deployed by Yemen. In addition to the secret bombings, the Yemen-related cables published by The Guardian on this day deal with Yemeni reluctance to meet some US demands, the inaccuracy of some US weapons, large payments to be made by the US to Yemen, the Saudi Arabian reaction to the strikes, poor counterterrorism training for staff at Yemeni airports, Yemen’s unwillingness to share information about Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, alleged to be an al-Qaeda bomb-maker, and poor counterterrorist infrastructure in Yemen. [Guardian, 12/3/2010] Before the “war on terror,” the last time the US bombed a country in secret was during the Vietnam War, when the US bombed Cambodia (see March 15-17, 1969). It was a New York Times report on the bombing that was one of the spurs behind President Richard Nixon’s formation of the later-infamous “plumbers” unit (see May 9-10, 1969).
By mid-February 2011, top US officials are convinced that a “high-value target” is hiding in the recently discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). If Osama bin Laden is not hiding there, someone nearly as important is. Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan will later say: “They were confident and their confidence was growing: ‘This is different. This intelligence case is different. What we see in this compound is different than anything we’ve ever seen before.‘… I was confident that we had the basis to take action.” President Obama decides he wants to take action. However, Obama still has to decide what to do exactly. The situation is a difficult one, because the compound is located deep inside Pakistan. He and his advisers will discuss options later in the month (see February 25, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
President Obama meets with his national security team again as preparations to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near their final stages. The main concern remains contingency plans in case things go horribly wrong. It is decided to use four helicopters instead of two in the raid. (The two extra helicopters will be nearby in case of emergency.) US intelligence allegedly is still not 100 percent certain that bin Laden is at the compound, and Obama’s advisers have varying opinions:
Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, who has been leading the raid preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011), tells Obama that he thinks the raid will be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] (McRaven participates remotely, because he is already in Afghanistan making last minute arrangements with the raid team.)
According to one account, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is skeptical, but finally comes out in favor of the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Another account says Gates still thinks the intelligence isn’t strong enough. [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says he thinks the odds are less than 50 percent that bin Laden is there.
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan is in favor of going ahead with the raid.
CIA Director Leon Panetta also is in favor. He says the odds of bin Laden being there are between about 60 and 80 percent. He also says that the “red team”—analysts only recently brought in on the intelligence on the compound to get an outside opinion—agree that bin Laden is probably in the compound.
Obama reportedly puts the odds at about 55 percent. At the end of the meeting, he reportedly says, “I’m not going to tell you what my decision is now—I’m going to go back and think about it some more.” But he adds, “I’m going to make a decision soon.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
In the evening, President Obama meets with his national security team to make final preparations for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama meets with four advisers: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, and chief of staff Bill Daley. As the meeting begins, Obama tells them he has finally given approval for the raid. He says, “It’s a go.” The raid is planned to take place the next day. However, officials warn that because of cloudy weather, the raid probably will be delayed one day to May 1 (which is May 2 in Pakistan). That will turn out to be the case (see May 2, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
In the days and hours after the US Special Forces raid that kills Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout (see May 2, 2011), some US officials question whether anyone within the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was hiding there.
John Brennan, the White House’s top counterterrorism adviser, says that bin Laden’s presence in the Abbottabad compound “raises questions” about what some Pakistani officials might have known. He adds that while Pakistani officials “seem surprised” to hear that bin Laden was hiding there, he wonders how “a compound of that size in that area” could exist without arousing suspicions.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who was investigating al-Qaeda well before 9/11, notes that Abbottabad is heavily populated by current and former Pakistani military officers. He says, “There’s no way he could have been sitting there without the knowledge of some people in the ISI and the Pakistani military.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) similarly comments, “The ability of Osama bin Laden to live in a compound so close to Pakistan’s capital is astounding—and we need to understand who knew his location, when they knew it, and whether Pakistani officials were helping to protect him.” [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she is troubled by the possibility that the Pakistani government may be engaging in “duplicitous behavior” with the US. “It would be very difficult [for bin Laden] to live there for up to five or six years and no one know [he’s] there. I would have a hard time believing that they did not know,” she says. As chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [Time, 5/3/2011]
An anonymous senior Obama administration official says, “It’s hard to believe that [General Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and [Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha actually knew that bin Laden was there.” Kayani is the head of the Pakistani army and Pasha is the head of the ISI. “[But] there are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, says, “I think there’s a real possibility that we’ll find that there were former members of the Pakistani military and military intelligence who were sympathizers with al-Qaeda and with various other terrorist groups, and that they were running their own sort of renegade support system for al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 5/7/2011]
About one month after bin Laden’s death, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) says he believes elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military protected bin Laden. He says this is based on “information I’ve seen.” As chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, he is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. He adds that he has not seen any evidence that top Pakistani civilian or military leaders were involved in hiding bin Laden. [New York Times, 6/14/2011]
Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) says that some members of the ISI or Pakistan’s military were involved in hiding bin Laden. As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he also is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
However, most US officials are hesitant to openly accuse Pakistan, for political reasons. The New York Times reports, “One [unnamed] senior administration official privately acknowledged that the administration sees its relationship with Pakistan as too crucial to risk a wholesale break, even if it turned out that past or present Pakistani intelligence officials did know about bin Laden’s whereabouts.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011] Pakistani officials deny that the Pakistani government had any knowledge that bin Laden was living at the compound. [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Entity Tags: C.A. Ruppersberger, Dianne Feinstein, Ali Soufan, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, Osama bin Laden, Frank R. Lautenberg, John O. Brennan, Mike Rogers, Pakistan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds that dozens of civilians have recently been killed in strikes by US drones in Pakistan. The study examined US drone strikes in Pakistan between August 23, 2010 and June 29, 2011 and uncovered at least 10 individual attacks in which 45 or more civilians appear to have died. There were a total of 116 attacks in this period. The Bureau says it has identified and can provide the family names for six children among those killed. According to the Bureau, at least 15 additional strikes warrant urgent investigation, with many more civilian deaths possible. The study was drafted in response to claims in June 2011 by President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan that “there hasn’t been a single collateral [civilian] death” in Pakistan since August 2010. The Bureau presented a summary of its findings to the White House and to John Brennan’s office, and asked for comment. Both declined. [Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 7/18/2011]
President Obama signs a controversial bill passed by Congress (see December 15, 2011), which gives the president power to order indefinite military detention for anyone deemed an enemy combatant, including US citizens arrested or captured in the United States. Obama had threatened to veto the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on a number of occasions, but once certain restrictions on presidential authority were removed, he became willing to sign it. For instance, the original version of the bill required that persons covered by the bill be held prisoner by the military and prosecuted by military tribunals, if at all. Obama was of the view that by requiring military detention, Congress was intruding on areas under the purview of the executive branch, and in ways that would impede the ability of the executive branch to effectively gather intelligence, fight terrorism, and protect national security. He also believed the bill was unnecessary and potentially risky in order to codify detention authority, and that the president already had authority, via the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and subsequent court rulings, to unilaterally designate persons, including US citizens, as enemy combatants and subject them to indefinite military detention without trial. [White House, 12/31/2011; Salon, 12/15/2012] For the same reasons, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, White House Advisor for Counterterrorism John Brennan, and DOJ National Security Division head Lisa Monaco were also opposed to the mandatory military detention provisions. [ACLU, 12/7/2011] Also, according to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), a sponsor of the NDAA, “[L]anguage which precluded the application of section 1031 [1021 in the final bill] to American citizens was in the bill we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.” [Senate, 11/17/2011] With the bill drafted so that military detention was optional, and an option US citizens were subject to (see December 15, 2011), Obama signaled he would sign it, despite having concerns that it was still unduly restrictive of executive authority, and it unnecessarily codified authority that had been exercised for 10 years and had been upheld by a number of lower court decisions. [White House, 12/17/2011 ] However, in a non-binding signing statement attached to the bill, Obama says he is signing the bill “despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” Obama does not specify what his reservations are, but promises: “[M]y administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.” [White House, 12/31/2011]
Controversy over Indefinite Detention Provisions - Though 86 percent of US senators and almost two-thirds of the House of Representatives voted to pass the NDAA (see December 15, 2011), and the bill is signed by Obama, the military detention measures are opposed by a number of constitutional experts and public interest organizations, and a significant percentage of the general public (see December 22-26, 2011).
Entity Tags: James R. Clapper Jr., Carl Levin, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Leon Panetta, Robert S. Mueller III, John O. Brennan, David Petraeus, Lisa Monaco
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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