John Brennan Trolls Emptywheel Even Before He Prevaricates in Response to Dianne Feinstein

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 1.27.57 PMThere’s a lot to be said about John Brennan’s appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations today (video here). I’m actually most interested in Brennan’s refusal, twice, to answer questions about whether the NSA needs to engage in bulk collection.

QUESTION: Good morning. Tom Risen with U.S. News and World Report. I’d like to follow up on some — talk about the intelligence gaps. Edward Snowden, yesterday, said that he’s accused the NSA’s mass surveillance of distracting from pinpointed, credible threats. Do you think from where you sit that there’s been any intelligence gaps in the NSA or the CIA on how they could conduct monitoring or spying better?

BRENNAN: Well, you know, anybody who violates their oath in terms of protecting sensitive classified information really has done a great disservice not just to the country, but also has put the American people at harm. NSA, CIA, and others now are looking at what it is that we need to do to mitigate whatever types of — of gaps that we might now face as a result of — of disclosures, publicly.

So we are trying to stay ahead of the challenge, do what we can, both in the HUMINT and SIGINT, as well as other fronts, working very closely with our intelligence partners. But, you know, distractions, you know, do take away from our focus on the — the substantive functional issues that really deserve our full attention.

[snip]

MITCHELL: And can you [keep our country safe] without the mass collection of metadata?

BRENNAN: You know, there — there are a lot of challenges as that digital domain has changed. You know, you ask five people what metadata means, you know, they’ll have probably five different explanations. Probably three or four of them are going to be totally off the mark. Metadata itself is changing. You know, content, bulk data collection, these are things that, you know, really, you know, challenge the mind as far as, how are you going to ensure that if there is a terrorist in this country and he’s determined to do harm with, you know, a conventional explosive or a, you know, biological or chemical weapon, how are you going to be able to operate at the speed of light so that if you get intelligence you find out where that person is? You know, as I said, memories of 9/11, I think, recede in the smoldering ashes on the Manhattan landscape. [my emphasis]

Brennan first responds to Snowden’s claim by attacking his person, without addressing his claim. He then babbles about the challenge of thinking of bulk data. “Content, bulk data collection, these are things that, you know, really, you know, challenge the mind.” Which is a not very graceful way to dodge the question. But he doesn’t answer the question either time.

Most reporters, however, are focusing on Brennan’s prevarications in response to Dianne Feinstein’s statement today.

Well, first of all, we are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report’s progression, release. As I said in my remarks, we want this behind us. We know that the committee has invested a lot of time, money and effort into this report, and I know that they’re determined to put it forward.

We have engaged with them extensively over the last year. We have had officers sit down with them and go over their report and point out where we believe there are factual errors or errors in judgment or assessments. So we are not trying at all to prevent its release.

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

[snip]

This review that was done by the committee was done at a facility where CIA had a responsibility to make sure that they had the computer wherewithal in order to carry out their responsibilities, and so if there was any inappropriate actions that were taken related to that review, either by CIA or by the SSCI staff, I’ll be the first one to say we need to get to the bottom of it.

And if I did something wrong, I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

Golly! We would never do any such thing as spy! And even if we get caught, only the President can make me leave, not the Committee.

But I’m most excited that Brennan chose to troll yours truly to introduce his talk.

Now just over a year ago, I had the privilege of placing my hand on the very first printed copy of the Constitution, a draft edited and annotated personally by George Washington himself that is one of the most treasured items held in the National Archives. With my hand on that document, Vice President Biden swore me in as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

I chose to take my oath on that precious piece of history as a clear affirmation of what the Constitution means to all of us at the agency. We have no higher duty than to uphold and defend the rule of law as we strive every day to protect our fellow citizens. Like so many things involving, CIA, though, people read nefarious intentions into my decision to take my oath on an early draft of the Constitution that did not contain the Bill of Rights, our Constitution’s first 10 amendments.

So at the risk of disappointing any conspiracy theorists who might be here today, let me assure all of you that I, along with my CIA colleagues, firmly believe in and honor not only the Constitution, but also the Bill of Rights, as well as all subsequent amendments to our Constitution. I just happen to be guilt of being an ardent admirer of George Washington and of the historical foundations of this great country. [my emphasis]

You’ll recall that I was among the first to point out that John Brennan staged a photo op at his swearing in, and either botched the photo op or unveiled his real beliefs, because he swore to protect and defend a Constitution that includes no First or Fourth Amendment.

Take that Dianne Feinstein! You may have accused John Brennan of violating Articles I, II, and III today. But Brennan’s still responding to me busting him for violating the First and Fourth Amendment.

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.

21 replies
  1. Don midwest says:

    Clever column that didn’t take oath on constitution that included Bill of Rights. But the constitution copy that he did have his hand on did have Separation of Powers.

    Feinstein has raised the issue of separation of powers. This is fundamentally important for a republic and is seldom discussed. We have slipped so far from the intentions of the constitution, and the understanding of the constitution, that it will take a while for Americans to even realize what is going on.

    The legislative branch is bought out by big business and many laws are written by lobbyists. The judicial branch is the product of 30 years of the conservative Federalist Society selection process. The executive branch, with their own military unit in the CIA and intelligence unit in the NSA, and other agencies as well, is doing all it can to become the imperial presidency.

    Article today in the Guardian by Spencer Ackerman
    “CIA steals the limelight from the NSA – and finds itself in full-blown crisis
    By antagonizing the Senate intelligence committee, the agency has dug itself into a hole the NSA has managed to avoid”

    He describes the constitutional crisis and the push by Feinstein to get some of the report on torture released within a month, at the same time as Obama is responding to new rules for NSA.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/11/cia-intelligence-committee-senate-crisis

  2. der says:

    For $49.99 Brennan can get a pair of 10″ Kustom Monitors so he can hear what he’s saying, though for a grand he could go the full monty and get the super duper model. I’d go the grand, after all it’s black ops money so who’ll know? FYI those computers, if DiFi would care to check the serial numbers, belong to the C-I-A they’re not Senate computers. And to tap this out on my…..blah, blah, blah….blah, blah……christ, shoot me.

  3. blueba says:

    My my, this certainly looks very choreographed to me, a big show and the report comes out after as many distractions can be lobbed as possible. It seems everyone already knows what the other will be saying and have time for their writers to come up with the weasel words.

  4. Snoopdido says:

    CIA Director Brennan’s letter to Senator Feinstein (http://images.politico.com/global/2014/03/11/brennanltrrereview.html) takes the tack that the CIA has no knowledge how the Panetta Review document which the CIA created came to be on the SSCI side of the network, so therefore those SSCI staffers must have done something criminal like hacking into the CIA side of the network.

    It seems never to have occurred to either CIA Director Brennan nor his CIA underlings that the CIA itself may have provided the Panetta Review document on the SSCI side of the network.

    Note the claim by Brennan that the CIA has no record of making the Panetta Review document available to the SSCI. This claim sounds eerily similar to that of the NSA’s where they claim their audits of the massive phone record dragnet program have not shown any illegalities, and oh by the way, the only problems that ever showed up were as a result of self-reporting.

    Think about that for a moment. Their audits didn’t even discover the problems that were self-reported. That shouldn’t make anyone, even the NSA, confident in their auditing abilities.

    I suggest the CIA’s auditing is similarly flawed.

    • Snoopdido says:

      Prediction: From my start of reading the new Snowden-liberated documents (I’m starting with the “Classification Guide For Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)/Protect America Act (PAA)/FISA Amendments Act (FAA) Activities” document), I foresee new interesting Emptywheel posts in the very near future.

      • Snoopdido says:

        As an example, from that same document on page 7 is the following:

        “2.7. (TS//SI//NF) The fact that the NSA seeks or obtains FISA authority against financial or commercial organizations, with or without identification of specific target entities or locations.

        (TS//SI//NF) The classification level is TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN regardless of whether the financial or commercial organization is specified for which NSA is seeking FISA authority.”

        That sure sounds like NSA gets bulk collection orders to financial or commercial organizations.

        • Snoopdido says:

          I’ve seen the usage of the acronym “ECI” before with other Snowden-liberated NSA documents, but for the first time to my knowledge, the above mentioned document from the NSA formally defines the acronym “ECI” as “Exceptionally Controlled Information” on page 17.

          • emptywheel says:

            It has come out before (in the Guardian post saying that Verizon is in Tempora). It pertains to corporate names.

  5. Frank33 says:

    Emptywheel is a “conspiracy theorist”! Wow and OMG, I thought it was just me. Of course, Brennan is a Conspiracy Operative. Brennan just had a new conspiracy with Vickie Noodleman Kagan. Together with the Ambassador to the Ukraine, they conspired to overthrow an elected government and replace it with Nazis. Not neo-nazis but the old school Nazis. Well played, Vickie, Brennan and Alexander and Hayden.

    But there are so many conspiracies by the Secret Government, that it is quite difficult to follow them all. Fukushima, Irak, Afghanistan, Yemen, JTRIG, PRISM, and many by the Five million memebrs of the US Secret Government.

    To be honest Vladmir Putin is a far better Conspirator than our corrupt Generals and the Kagans. What Vlad did to Vickie is a masterpiece of Conspiracy Art. The Russians are experts at this and have made far better Conspiracies than the corrupt US One Percent.

  6. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    I posted this on the Operation Stall article a while back but I think it deserves a re- post.

    The report is proof of war crimes.

    Once the evidence is public, then what?

    Can the US and partners ignore war crimes? The US might but the partners might not. Australia, Canada, NZ and the UK are signatories.

    http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/asp/states%20parties/Pages/the%20states%20parties%20to%20the%20rome%20statute.aspx#A

    And there are already calls to prosecute: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/25/could-john-howard-be-citizen-arrested-for-his-role-in-the-iraq-war

    and

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/shortcuts/2014/jan/21/reward-attempt-citizens-arrest-tony-blair

    This report IS Pandora’s Box. And all involved know it.

    And that is why it must come out.

  7. joanneleon says:

    Well since Brennan has designated you a conspiracy theorist and Cass Sunstein recommends hiring people to troll and undermine. Expect them :)

    All things considered, you have a remarkably small number of trolls here.

    • joanneleon says:

      Should have finished that last paragraph by saying, clearly Brennan’s designation of CT is the minority opinion.

  8. timbo says:

    After I read Dianne’s speech today in its entirety, the first place it occurred for me to come for analysis was here. I think there’s a lot of interesting information in that speech, some of it having to do with the Senate’s lack of backbone and a lot of it having to do with the shennanigans that it looks like at least a handful of CIA managers have gotten up to in the past 10 years to avoid any legal, career, or social consequences for their torturing of innocent men, women, and hopefully not children too? The fact though that Feinstein has known of these crimes for four years now and that no one in Durham’s investigations were ever prosecuted for any of these crimes sez a lot about the incompetence and rot in Washington, in all branches of government.

    This rot of raw power, that apparently trumps the law and the Constitution in most cases, is apparently now just coming to the attention of the public through a Senator who knew about it for at least four year, more likely 9 years, possibly since 2002, is irksome at best. And I note that Feinstein still hasn’t threatened to haul these apostate “Constitutionalists” before the Senate under oath and get down to who has been poisoning her diminishing well of power. Frankly, her speech demonstrates how weak the Senate’s position is currently. Weakness, due to its lack of own internal coherency, along with that of the dystopian visionaries controlling the House, is readily apparent to those who flaunt the law and Constitution more and more openly it would seem. Indeed, we are now a society divided, fracturing, and unless some very astute politicians…or even the President? (although is anyone holding their breath there at this point?)…can get up enough public pressure to rein in the incredible power that the executive branch, through its police and intelligence powers now wields over all of us, unless that has sufficient and gifted champions, we will see more of the same thing we saw in 2006-07, when the Congress just rolled over and helped cover things up more than actually assert enough political power and will to lead us back to a less corrupt, more legally relevant basis of governance.

    Actually, it seems to me, given the current weak demonstration of that speech, that Feinstein’s committee even has as much power as the Justice committee had in the earlier Gonzalez/Torture/Rotten DoJ scandal, almost a decade ago now. I say this because ever since Nancy Pelosi took impeachment off the table, the Congress has kind of been a joke with regard to policing the executive branch. Does anyone seriously believe that anyone will be forced to resign because of Feinstein’s speech on the Senate floor today? She certainly avoided using any specific names in her speech…sort of like she assumes that her report will mean anything if no one is forced out? The fact that the folks running the CIA right now are making up the “official history” as they go along, ignoring the actual sequence of events (and it seems forcing their fantasy of what they would like past histories of abuse become—that is, disappeared—shows that the fantasy must either soon become a reality or reality must soon become one’s fantasy) sez a lot of how little and how poorly the Senate’s oversight committee(s) have done with regard to protecting us from criminals in the highest offices of government, let alone any other criminals one might care to throw under the cherry. In fact, grand hypocrisy in the Senate and growing mental illness at CIA is apparently the noxious byproducts of this Congress’s weakness.

    • timbo says:

      Errata: @ “given the current weak demonstration of that [Feinstein’s] speech” I meant “even less” with regard to the amount of power Feinstein’s committee has to attempt to correct the veering downward of the Senate’s hull. Less power than Leahy and the Senate had in 2006-07. So will any heads roll? Or will the President just suggest that everyone come over to his house for home brew?

  9. scribe says:

    Sorry to differ with the consensus of “wow, what a great shot across the Brennan’s bow” or “they’re gonna get it now”. That speech was merely Feinstein playing to the gullible (among the Dem base) and a show on how “hard” she “fought” for the Republic, separation of powers, and Congressional oversight. In reality, she was speaking in the DC dialect saying “I surrender, but I never intended to fight this fight anyway. I just have to put on a show for the proles.”

    In other words, “all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  10. scribe says:

    Oh, yeah. No one under 35 undersands what the headline means, which is why “prevaricate” is no longer a vocabulary word for the SAT.

  11. Brian Silver says:

    The pedant in me demands to say one thing emphatically: There is no “U.S. Constitution” that does not include the Bill of Rights and all the other 17 Amendments. Amendments are changes to the document. They are as integral to the Constitution as are any other clauses, phrases, or words in the original version of the document.

    Let me pedantically digress by noting the wording of the Supremacy Clause (Article 6, Clause 2): “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

    While of course one can read this clause as mainly referring to the issue of federal vs. state authority, I focus on the reference to treaties: “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

    Treaties to which the United States is a signatory include the Geneva Conventions as well as the UN Charter.

Comments are closed.