How Does John Brennan Still Have Clearance?

Remember when I gave John Brennan credit for rather uncharacteristically keeping secrets about the UndieBomber case?

While the ABC story cites US officials, among others, it also cites an “international intelligence official” as well as “officials” and “authorities” named generically (as well as John Brennan on the record, rather uncharacteristically trying to protect “the equities that are involved with it”).

It turns out betting that John Brennan can’t keep a secret is about as reliable as always betting on the shit square (as bmaz so artfully describes expecting the worst). In an effort to brief former counterterrorism officials on the plot (AKA, feed the news cycle), Brennan revealed we had “inside control” over the plot.

At about 5:45 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 7, just before the evening newscasts, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top White House adviser on counter-terrorism, held a small, private teleconference to brief former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators on TV news shows.

According to five people familiar with the call, Brennan stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had “inside control” over it.

And from there, the fact that this was another example of Saudi AQAP infiltration was revealed.

This admission, by the way, appears to be White House damage control, because they provide Mark Hosenball yet another story on their discussions with the AP.

According to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, due to its sensitivity, the AP initially agreed to a White House request to delay publication of the story for several days.

But according to three government officials, a final deal on timing of publication fell apart over the AP’s insistence that no U.S. official would respond to the story for one clear hour after its release.

When the administration rejected that demand as “untenable,” two officials said, the AP said it was going public with the story. At that point, Brennan was immediately called out of a meeting to take charge of damage control.

What they’re trying to refute–an attempt undermined by the fact their story keeps changing–is the AP claim that the Administration planned to formally announce “they” had “foiled” a “plot” the following morning.

The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday.

They’re laying it on pretty thick now, too, blaming the AP for everything.

The White House places the blame squarely on AP, calling the claim that Brennan contributed to a leak “ridiculous.”

“It is well known that we use a range of intelligence capabilities to penetrate and monitor terrorist groups,” according to an official statement from the White House national security staff.

“None of these sources or methods was disclosed by this statement. The egregious leak here was to the Associated Press. The White House fought to prevent this information from being reported and ultimately worked to delay its publication for operational security reasons. No one is more upset than us about this disclosure, and we support efforts to prevent leaks like this which harm our national security,” the statement said.

Now, why would you blame the AP–rather than whatever source leaked to them–unless the most damning detail the AP reported is that the Administration planned on revealing this “plot” themselves (presumably without asking the Saudis or Brits or Congress first)?

In other words, while on its face this is an attempt by John Brennan to pretend he didn’t expose the most sensitive part of the plot–the Saudi infiltration of AQAP–it is also a pissing contest that started when the Administration tried to be the first to reveal the plot, and then blame the AP when the exposure of it pissed off our allies.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. SpanishInquisition says:

    As usual Obama is keeping it classy by this time Plaming the Saudis/UK/Yemen/etc in effort to get re-relected. As you point out, it’s ridiculous blaming the AP for leaking since it took someone in the Obama admin to leak to them in the first place, but at least Obama didn’t send a drone on them and call it due process.

  2. MadDog says:

    I’m still taking credit for naming him John “Blabbermouth” Brennan.

    Hey, if the shoe fits…*g*

  3. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And speaking of US drones in Yemen, this from MSNBC:

    ‘Covert’ US drone operation is mapped on Twitter

    Though the hour was late, Yemen’s social media was still very much awake.

    A U.S. drone’s missiles had just slammed into a convoy of vehicles in a remote part of Yemen, killing three alleged militants.

    The attack – like all other U.S. drone strikes outside warzones – was supposed to be clandestine. Yet within minutes Sanaa-based lawyer Haykal Bafana was reporting the strike in almost-realtime. Just after 1am on May 17 he posted the following on Twitter:

    “#Yemen NOW | Missile strike on car in Wadi Hadhramaut. Near city of Shibam. Suspected US drone attack.”

    As Bafana later explained to the Bureau, his relatives live in Shibam, a town of 30,000. “When the drone struck, the town – which was then experiencing a power cut – had completely lit up. My relatives got straight on the phone to tell me about the attack.”

    The day prior to the strike Bafana had already tweeted that drones were behaving suspiciously in the area. Hadhramaut province, a sparsely-populated former sultanate, is far from Yemen’s troubled south, where most of the fighting and U.S. drone strikes are currently taking place…”

  4. Frank33 says:

    That blabbermouth James Risen is being persecuted for revealing government crimes. Specifically the CIA gave nuclear weapon plans to Iran, Operation Merlin.. That is a crime to give nuclear weapon technology to a terrorist nation.

    Also, the CIA is a blabbermouth because those plans were certainly classifed. But the CIA released them. It was also a pretext for war which is another crime. The CIA is quite a gang of Nuclear Terrorists.

    This targeting of Risen, also includes a brand new Department of Injustice attack on the First Amendment. The National Security State has revoked the Bill of Rights.

    Rather than arguing the specifics of the case, DOJ appellate lawyer Robert A. Parker asserted that there is no reporter’s privilege when a journalist receives an illegal leak of national security secrets.

    When Judge Robert Gregory asked Parker to explain why the public’s interest in a free press was outweighed by the specific circumstances in this case, Parker declined.

    “I don’t think there would be a balancing test because there’s no privilege in the first place,” Parker said. “The salient point is that Risen is the only eyewitness to this crime.”

    Gregory told Parker that the Supreme Court’s Branzburg v. Hayes decision — which Parker cited as precedent for forcing journalists to testify when they had witnessed a crime — involved the witnessing of a different crime, “not the disclosure itself.”

    Parker said what Risen did was “analogous” to a journalist receiving drugs from a confidential source, and then refusing to testify about it.

    Note, the use of the Drug War to justify prosecutorial criminality. We have this False Equivalency. Risen received drugs, and did not report it so Risen is a criminal. But actually, the False Equivalency should be, Risen discovered the CIA was dealing illegal drugs, and then covering it up. He reported it. Risen is a criminal because it is legal for the government to do illegal things, but not citizens. And it is illegal to report on government illegality.

    President Obama has determined the Bill of Rights provides material support to terrorists. Therefore, the Bill of Rights has been targeted with a Signature Strike.

  5. spanishinquisition says:

    @Frank33: President Constitutional Scholar wants you to know that Due Process isn’t necessarily Judicial Process. Obama just wants to be a dictator where he can leak away – even at the expense of highly classified operations with other countries – but if he doesn’t like you leaking or otherwise doesn’t like you, he can prosecute you at a minimum and he can even be Judge, Jury and Assassinator.

  6. Bob Schacht says:

    @Frank33:
    “…the CIA is a blabbermouth because those plans were certainly classifed. But the CIA released them. It was also a pretext for war which is another crime. ”

    It occurs to me that John Brennan may be one of the few that Obama has designated to decide what should be classified & what is not. So, Brennan the Blabbermouth might be considered a case of Pixie Dust insta-declassification?

    Bob in AZ

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