France’s recent interventions in Mali and Somalia underscore the accelerating ability of Al-Qaeda-in-the-Islamic-Mahgreb (AQIM) and its Africa-based allies to threaten the continent’s nation-states, as well as access to natural resources—oil, strategic minerals, and uranium—that are essential to the French, U.S., and other Western economies. The growing power and geographical reach of AQIM mirrors the growth of all components of Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups, save possibly the central component in Afghanistan-Pakistan. The bottom line here is that sixteen years after Al-Qaeda and its allies began their religious war, the United States and the West confront an Islamist enemy that is larger, better armed, smarter, and far more geographically dispersed than ever before.
Now, that paragraph merits a fuller and more data-supported explanation, but for now, let’s look at one of the men—John Brennan—who for nearly 15 years has ensured both that the above-described growth in the Islamists’ power has occurred, and that most Americans have no idea that a still-growing part of the Muslim world is at war with the United States.
This month, President Obama nominated John Brennan to be the next CIA chief. Mr. Brennan was a longtime Agency officer and held a number of senior appointments there. He also has held a number of senior positions outside the Agency in the nation’s national security apparatus. One might argue that all of these positions were based on Mr. Brennan’s unvarying willingness to say “Yes, my genius leader” to anything his boss of the moment said was a good idea. It also has been said that he was thoroughly detested inside the Agency while working for DCI George Tenet—primarily because his first question on the proposal of a covert operation to protect Americans was always was “How will this impact on Director Tenet’s reputation”—and for fully supporting the CIA’s overwhelmingly successful rendition program while Messrs. Clinton and Bush were in power, and then damning the Agency for the program and helping to destroy it when he snuggled up to President Obama and his consistently anti-CIA party. Indeed, there was a popular joke inside CIA in the 1990’s which ran something like: “Question: Why is George Tenet never photographed from behind? Answer: Because they have not found a way to dislodge John Brennan’s nose.”
Now, it surely would be unfair to deny any nominee a job because of how people reacted to his performance as professional sycophant or because of off-color humor made at his expense. But there are at least four substantive reasons to deny Mr. Brennan the job of heading the CIA. The following are those reasons, and one would think that if the Senate does not ask him about them, it will have failed to do its job.
1) 1996: When, in December, 1995, the Agency set up a unit to dismantle al-Qaeda and capture or help the U.S. military kill Osama bin Laden, one of that unit’s first actions was to ask Mr. Brennan—who was then what George Tenet has described as “CIA’s senior officer on the Arabian Peninsula”—to secure from the Saudi intelligence service some very basic information and documents about bin Laden. The Saudis did not respond, and so the bin Laden unit sent frequent messages to Mr. Brennan asking him to secure the data. When we finally received a response from Mr. Brennan, it was to tell us that he would no longer pass the bin Laden unit’s requests to the Saudis because they were annoyed by them. DCI George Tenet backed Mr. Brennan’s decision, and when I resigned from CIA in November 2004, the Saudis had not delivered the requested data.
Comment: I speak on this from firsthand experience, as I was the chief of the bin Laden unit at the time. The messages from Mr. Brennan refusing to push the Saudis on bin Laden are in the archives of several government agencies, but, more important, they are in the archive of the 9/11 Commission. (NB: I know the documents are there because I supplied them to the Commission.) In the latter archive, the messages have been fully redacted to protect the CIA sources and methods and so ought to be easily available to the Senators and to the media via a Freedom of Information request.
2) May, 1998: For most of the year between May, 1997, and May, 1998, the bin Laden unit—with fine support from too few other Intelligence Community agencies—prepared an operation to capture Osama bin Laden using CIA assets. During the preparatory work, none of the bin Laden’s unit’s bin-Laden-specific information requests to the Saudis were answered, and given Mr. Brennan’s above-noted attitude, the unit was not ever sure the requests were passed to the Saudi intelligence service. Just before the capture operation was to be attempted, Mr. Brennan convinced Wyche Fowler—then U.S. ambassador in Riyadh—and DCI George Tenet that the U.S. government should cancel the capture operation. Although the Saudis had yet to lift a finger to assist U.S. efforts to counter bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and because it is the merest commonsense to know that Afghans never obey orders from any foreigner, Mr. Brennan, Ambassador Fowler, and DCI Tenet all assured then-National Security Adviser, Mr. Sandy Berger, that the capture operation should be canceled. Mr. Berger cancelled the operation, only to demand—through his assistant for terrorism Richard Clarke—that the operation immediately be restarted 75 days later when bin Laden’s al-Qaeda destroyed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania.
Comment: I also speak on this issue from first-hand experience, as I was the chief of the bin Laden unit at the time, and also traveled in early May 1998, with DCI Tenet and the then-chief of CIA’s Near East Division to hear Mr. Brennan explain why this ludicrous reliance on the thoroughly unhelpful and often obstructive Saudis was a better way to protect Americans than by using CIA’s capabilities. Again, however, it is more important to note that the papers documenting this entire episode—including notes from Mr. Brennan, Ambassador Fowler, and DCI Tenet to Mr. Berger urging the cancellation of the capture operation—are in the archives of several government agencies, but, more important, they are in the archive of the 9/11 Commission. (NB: I know the documents are there because I supplied them to the Commission.) The latter archive the messages have been fully redacted to protect the CIA sources and methods and so ought to be easily available to the Senators and to the media via a Freedom of Information request.
3) May, 2010: In a speech at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), John Brennan told Americans it is incorrect to attribute the words “jihad” or “jihadists” to the war being waged on America by bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and their allies. In the Obama administration, Mr. Brennan explained, we refuse to “describe our enemy as ‘jihadists’ or ‘Islamists’ because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community….” Brennan said it would be “counterproductive” for the United States to use the term, as it would “play into the false perception” that the “murderers” leading war against the West are doing so in the name of a “holy cause. Moreover, describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by Al Qaeda and its affiliates to justify terrorism—that the United States is somehow at war against Islam.” Bearing out Mr. Brennan’s testimony about the Obama administration’s position are a host of government documents—including Ambassador Susan Rice’s talking points on the recent death of four U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya—which refer to al-Qaeda or other Islamist militants not as “Muslims” or “Islamists” but in the Orwellian and deceiving term “Violent Extremists.” And, not surprisingly, the Committee on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) last week validated that Messrs. Brennan and Obama are following its orders by claiming that the word “Islamist is a stealth slur. It exists as a piece of coded language.”
Comment: No one expects clarity or complete honesty from a politician, but when a senior U.S. bureaucrat speaks in public to Americans—who are, after all, his/her employer—about their nation’s national security, one has a right to expect that the speaker at least be in honesty’s ballpark. Mr. Brennan’s words above are—when considered objectively—as close as it is possible to come to a complete lie. Far more than 90-percent of the references to “jihad” in the Koran and the Hadith—the verified collection of the Prophet Mohammad’s sayings and practices—are martial in nature, and the one Hadith that provided the basis for Mr. Brennan’s lie has never been verified, is not included in the authoritative/verified Hadith collections, and is mainly used to mislead Americans by such apologists for militant Islam as the leaders of CAIR, the Muslim Brotherhood, and academics like Georgetown’s Professor John Esposito. The Senate, one would think, should ask Mr. Brennan to explain his lie, as well as to explain why the administrations he has served as a senior adviser—those of Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama—have completely ignored the words spoken and written by Osama bin Laden and other Islamist leaders, even though there is a remarkably high correlation between the motivations and intentions they express and the actions they take in their religious war against America and its allies. A Senator might even find it appropriate to remind Mr. Brennan that the United States made a mistake similar to his in the 1920s when it ignored the motivations, intentions, and prescriptions for actions found in the words of former corporal in the Kaiser’s army.
4) 2013: Since May, 2001, when Osama bin Laden was marvelously killed through cooperation between the CIA and the U.S. Navy Seals, Mr. Brennan has consistently told Americas that the Obama administration’s policies have yielded a substantial reduction in the power, reach, and capabilities of al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies. To be fair, President Osama and Republican leaders repeatedly have said the same thing; most recently, President Osama said as much as he met Afghan President Karzai to finalize plans for America’s abject defeat in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul.
Comment: During his confirmation hearings, the Senators should display two maps for Mr. Brennan. The maps should be simple and clear political maps of the world—no rivers or mountains to make viewing arduous. One should represent September 2001, and the other should represent Spring 2013. The one for 2001 will show al-Qaeda and its allies overwhelmingly domiciled in their Afghanistan stronghold, along with a scattering of small cells around the world. The map for 2013, on the other hand, will show al-Qaeda and other Islamists still active in Afghanistan, but also has having established other large enclaves—where training, arms caches, and operational planning can be easily accommodated—in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Palestine, across North Africa, Nigeria, and, as noted above, in northern Mali. Given that even a cursory comparison of the maps will show the Senators and all Americans that the post-9/11 al-Qaeda-Islamist movement has grown significantly in numbers and geographical reach, Mr. Brennan might reasonably be asked to explain why he, as well as the Clinton, Bush, and Osama administrations he served, have invariably misled Americans by asserting that the Islamist threat is receding.
The foregoing four points, I think, provide firm substantive ground on which to evaluate Mr. Brennan’s fitness to be chief of the CIA, and will allow his reputation for servile toadyism and deception to be left aside. I would also add that there are at least three children who deserve to hear Mr. Brennan’s answers. Let me explain.
In late 1995, I interviewed and hired a young Agency officer to work in the bin Laden unit. Over the next decade-plus, she and her colleagues in the unit and overseas succeeded in defining the motivations and leadership ability of Osama bin Laden; the organizational structure of al-Qaeda and its ties to other Islamist groups; al-Qaeda’s highly lethal intentions and capabilities; and provided the Clinton, Bush, and Osama administrations with at least 12 chances (May-1998-May, 2011) to capture or kill bin Laden—only the 12th of which was taken.
Over these years, the young woman I hired performed brilliantly, while having had three beautiful children who are now motherless because their Moma was killed by al-Qaeda at Khowst, Afghanistan, in December 2008, still trying to find Osama bin Laden after all the other chances she helped deliver to U.S. presidents were ignored. Those three children, as well as the mothers, children, wives, parents, husbands, and fathers of those intelligence officers and military personnel who have been killed and maimed in the war against al-Qaeda and Islamism deserve to hear Mr. Brennan explain those of his actions that helped keep bin Laden alive to kill so many Americans, as well as why he and his political masters have consistently lied to all Americans about the threat they face from the growing Islamist movement. I trust that those three motherless children—and the deceased CIA officer who bore them—will be front and center in the minds of the Senators when they question Mr. Brennan.
This appeared on 6 February 2013 at www.foreignpolicyjournal.com