John Brennan Vows to Combat the “Bad Guys” Attacking Our Critical Infrastructure

John Brennan just gave a speech, purportedly about our policy in Yemen. But it ended up being largely about infrastructure, That’s partly because his speech focused on how, rather than spending 75% of our Yemen funds on bombs, we’re now spending just 50% (having bumped up the total to include an equal amount development assistance). So a good part of his talk focused on whether or not Yemen would be able to do the critical work of rebuilding its infrastructure sufficient to combat AQAP which, in some areas, has done a better job of building infrastructure.

Of course as I noted while he spoke, a number of the infrastructure challenges Brennan confidently assured we could help rebuild–things like access to water–are challenges we are increasingly failing in our own country.

And then, because the DC attention span had had enough of Yemen, moderator Margaret Warner asked Brennan what the Administration will do now that their cybersecurity bills have been defeated. To justify his talk of using Executive Orders to address some of the infrastructure problems, Brennan talked about the “bad guys” who posed a cyberthreat to our critical infrastructure.

Nowhere did Brennan acknowledge the much more immediate threat to our critical infrastructure: in the corporations and politics that let it decline. PG&E and Enbridge, failing to invest the money to fix known defects in their pipelines. Fracking companies, depleting and degrading our water supply. Verizon, eliminating choice for Internet access for rural customers. Republicans who want to gut our Postal Service and passenger rail. And heck, even Fat Al Gore and climate change, which is not only depleting our water supply but stalling key water transport routes.

Brennan promises to help rebuild Yemen’s infrastructure. But not only can’t he implement his plan against the bogeyman “bad buys” threatening our infrastructure, he seems completely unaware that those “bad guys” aren’t anywhere near the biggest threat to our infrastructure.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the Administration’s decision to dedicate money to Yemen’s infrastructure, even if I think a 50/50 split, aid to bombs, is still woefully inadequate. But until we begin to see what “bad guys” pose the biggest threat to our own infrastructure, I’m skeptical our efforts in Yemen will be any more successful than they were in Iraq or Afghanistan.

10 replies
  1. colin jenkins says:

    Why, exactly, do you “applaud the Administration’s decision to dedicate money to Yemen’s infrastructure” while there does not seem to be the money, enthusiasm, nor political will, to rebuild, or invest in, this county’s crumbling infrastructure? The billions expended rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan’s infrastructure do not appear to have been a soaraway success, on any level, in terms of infrastructure or political stability.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @colin jenkins: I agree, our investment in Afghanistan and Iraq was utterly wasted to graft, among other things.

    But if we’re going to do ANYTHING in Yemen, which is wracked by poverty, it really ought to be aid rather than bombing, not least bc the bombing adds to the instability which adds to the poverty. And unlike Saudi terrorists–where there’s much more of an ideological push–in Yemen a lot of the terrorists seem to be motivated by the lack of any financial opportunity.

  3. MadDog says:

    If I’m remembering correctly, I think there was a Middle Eastern-based aid conference for Yemen recently. Within the last 3-4 months? I think it was right after or thereabouts when the US Saudis managed to convince Saleh to step down from the Yemen presidency (though not to accept a cushy exile in the Saudi kingdom but instead to continue to reside in Yemen where he apparently is still pulling strings and keeping his fingers in the Yemen pie).

    Anyways, I wonder where the money pledged in that effort ever went. I wonder if it even arrived in Yemen, and if it did, what percentage of it went to real aid efforts like food, water, and infrastructure, and what percentage was paid out as bribes and graft.

    As I remember things, the regional oil states were the supposed biggest donors, but I’ve not seen any further news on the subject (and that in and of itself would not be unexpected).

  4. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: There was a recent Friends of Yemen conference in which that aid was pledged. That follows earlier Friends of Yemen conferences in which similar amounts have been pledged but not delivered. FWIW, I think it’ll get released this time, if for no other reasons than the Saudis are worried.

  5. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Thanks for confirming my memory.

    I was just reading Spencer Ackerman’s piece on the Brennan speech over at Wired’s Danger Room, and came across this ludicrously weasel-worded Brennan statement:

    “…”While we have aided the Yemeni government in building the capacity to deal with an AQAP insurgency that exists on the ground there, we’re not involved in working with the Yemeni government in terms of direct action or legal action as part of that insurgency,” Brennan said…”

  6. MadDog says:

    @colin jenkins: @emptywheel: We should also remember that in the rest of the world graft is not necessarily viewed in the same light as we Americans of Puritan heritage view it (and to a lesser extent our British cousins).

    In the rest of the world, graft is not necessarily viewed in a negative light, much less as a criminal act. It is the way things get done.

    Therefore the true measure of monies expended in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and yes, Yemen, is whether the original purpose of the funding is achieved.

    As far as I can tell, the achievement records of US funding projects in Iraq and Afghanistan on the whole would rarely make anyone’s definition of success.

    There were probably some exceptions, but in general it also may be the case that some of the blame deservedly belongs to the US. It may be the case that the US is not particularly good at ensuring that the graft goes to the right folks. Folks who do ensure that what needs to be done, gets done.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Um, how about a few billion in aid to America? Our critical infrastructure is at risk, too.

    If we stopped killing little brown people, we wouldn’t need to worry quite as much – in the short term – that their infrastructure was “at risk” (presumably from our aid and bombs, as well as from domestic incompetence, corruption and age). There would still be the matter that the American-imposed economic structure continues to imperil the many for the sake of the few.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @MadDog: Simplistic at best regarding graft and corruption. It’s not just our Puritan heritage, or the rampant hypocrisy with which we express it. Graft is both illegal and the way things get done. So it matters a great deal whether one wants to get a phone installed or buy a domestic industry or political party.

  9. Ronald says:

    Sure the Republicans want to gut the PO, but it’s Obama who has empowered them, and who wants as they do to destroy it.
    Patrick Donahoe is essentially buying into the Republican Kool Aid, apparently because he was chosen by Obama to do so.
    The same with Geithner, Rahm Emanuel, Petreaus, Holder, Kagan, et al.

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