The President’s ill-starred and abysmal choices for his second-term national security team aren’t much more of a surprise than the rhetoric he used in his acceptance speech earlier this week. They won’t do much more for the reputation, standing, and security of the United States than his choices for other cabinet posts will do for domestic policy.
Republicans, and even a few Democrats, have thus far reserved their ire for the president’s nominees for Secretaries of State and Defense, but his equally dubious choice of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency invites scrutiny. Given Brennan’s performance as National Security Adviser over the past four years, conservatives have every reason to believe he will join Chuck Hagel and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to form a veritable leftist dream team, determined to transform American foreign policy according to Obama’s deepest desires.
Nearly nominated for CIA Director in 2008, Brennan withdrew his name after apoplectic liberal Democrats squawked at his hawkish record on enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and the U.S. drone program. Against the left’s protestations, Brennan still landed a post within the Obama administration as head of counter-terrorism at the National Security Council; his advice helped the White House flounder and flail through the ill-begotten Arab Spring revolution in Egypt, the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident off Israel’s coast, and the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya—among other debacles.
Indeed, Brennan has been behind the scenes for all of Obama’s most miserable foreign policy failures, particularly in the Middle East, but apart from the litany of intelligence fiascoes manifested under his watch, the greatest problem with Brennan is that his views on national defense, intelligence gathering, and the modern terrorist threat are grounded not in objective facts, but in whatever will curry favor with the powers that be.
Since 2008, Brennan’s pursuit of prestige has caused him not to advise the White House, but to align with it. The past four years have seen this career intelligence hand adopt both the priorities and the philosophy of the Obama administration.
Brennan has, for example, assisted Obama with many public relations efforts, arguing for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and defending the ill-advised attempt to try terrorists in civilian courts. Rather than combat jihadists who hate us, Brennan, like Obama, would have us believe that Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamic terrorists are merely misunderstood extremists.
One senior intelligence official I spoke with said Brennan has been at the forefront of the Administration’s campaign to impose this multiculturalist understanding of terrorism—that is, Obama’s understanding of terrorism—upon the intelligence and defense communities, often with perilous consequence.
“Brennan has the most uninformed, self-deceptive views on Islam that I've seen among senior government officials in all my years in this business,” said the official, who specializes in Russia and the Middle East. And, according to my source, Brennan has been instrumental in imposing such studied ignorance on the rest of the intelligence and defense communities.
The source said lectures at the FBI, War Colleges, and elsewhere are censored and careers are threatened for violations of the new speech codes. Our potential CIA director, it seems, has been a powerful proponent of the Administration’s New McCarthyism.
Brennan’s willingness to go along to get along was most apparent in the months before Obama’s reelection, when he became vocal about the need for legal restraints in targeted drone killings. Many critics at the time, especially on the left, saw this as a political ploy designed to revitalize anti-war liberals’ zeal for Obama’s reelection.
That the Administration has gone silent on its drone policy reform in post-election months supports this view. Regardless of the actions the president is taking—or claims to be taking—to restrain the targeted killings he commands, the fact remains that Brennan was complicit in his effort to use counter-terrorism policy as a political tool.
Now, after four years doing the White House’s bidding behind the scenes and in public, Brennan is to be rewarded for his loyalty with the nation’s top intelligence post. So what might we expect from a Director Brennan?
I asked that question of my friend Kenneth deGraffenreid, former senior director of intelligence programs for the Reagan National Security Council, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, and deputy counterintelligence executive, who gave nothing if not a spirited response:
At a time when America desperately needs an intelligence leader of substance, accomplishment, strategic sophistication, and integrity (think e.g., Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, Bill Casey), Barack Obama has nominated (not surprisingly) the quintessential politicized bureaucrat--a big-government partisan of the Administrative State applied to national security (with all the danger such unconstrained power portends).
John Brennan is skilled not in the gathering and understanding of secrets about the nature and malevolence of our foreign enemies, but rather in coming out on top of the incessant (and pointless) squabbles that define the over-bloated up-scale welfare bureaucracies of the ironically named intelligence “community”.
A senior CIA officer I spoke with (who asked to remain anonymous) doubted Brennan’s ability to be an independent advisor because he is so beholden to the Obama administration. “George Tenet’s mortal sin in the lead up to Iraq was that he got too close to his president,” he said; “Can there be any space at all between Brennan and Obama?”
Another former intelligence officer now working in the private sector expressed similar concerns over Brennan’s relationship with the White House. “The essence of concern is that he is far too close to his President,” he said. “George Tenet made this mistake.”
According to my source at the CIA, “the Republic needs a CIA Director who maintains distance from the Administration so that he can bring the bad news when necessary, so that there is no hint of political slant in the institution's estimates and analysis and so that he can offer himself as an objective voice at the table when the tough decisions need to be made.”
Most insiders agree that the intelligence community, to be effective, must be truly clandestine (and therefore silent) and capable of penetrating to the core to steal the secrets of the growing range of our adversaries, including Islamic terrorists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the military government of Red China, and Russian, among others. What the Republic needs, according to deGraffenreid:
...is a properly organized analytic capability consisting of imaginative skeptics steeped in history, language, and culture (not today’s armies of bewildered young college graduates supplied by unscrupulous beltway bandits), and a serious refocusing on counterintelligence and foreign deception (the salient hallmark of our adversaries). What we don’t need is crude political censorship, group-think, and the corruption that comes from allowing politicians to demand and pick the answers they prefer from our intelligence officers.”
In other words, what we do not need as the Director of Central Intelligence is John Brennan who, judging from his performance these past four years, will be incapable of placing the nation’s security interests before the president’s political interests. What will happen when the leader of the single most powerful intelligence agency in the world is merely the president’s hand-picked puppet? In this era of relentlessly expanding executive power, I shudder at the thought.