Brennan Calls Out the Press for Giving ISIS More Credit Than They Deserve

Both James Clapper and John Brennan appeared at the Aspen Security Forum this week (it was Brennan’s first appearance, apparently). As I may lay out, Clapper was by far the more measured of the two. But this exchange, between Brennan and Dina Temple-Raston, deserves more attention. She notes that ISIS gets credit for attacks (she doesn’t name any, but I’d point to the San Bernardino killing and the Orlando massacre) that seem incidentally motivated at the last minute by ISIS, but generally are motivated by other issues.

To his credit, Brennan blames the press for crediting ISIS with these attacks.

Temple-Raston: It seems that people get credit for being an ISIS adherent just by having a brief flirtation online with the group. And I wonder if by calling something an ISIS attack so readily, which we seem to do, whether or not we’re giving ISIS more credit than it deserves.

Brennan: When you say “calling something an ISIS attack” that we’re prone to do, you’re talking about the media, right?

[Laughter, Brennan not exactly smiling, then later smiling]

Temple-Raston: No.

[More laughter]

Temple-Raston: I just wonder if you can’t say that it’s an opportunistic attack, as opposed to an ISIS attack.

But then Brennan goes on and notes that getting credit for such attacks is part of ISIS’s strategy.

Brennan: Sometimes I think ISIL doesn’t know themselves. I think most times they don’t. If somebody has been encouraged and incited by ISIL, they have no idea if that was the real motivation. Even if somebody is found with literature in their apartment that might reflect ISIL’s, you know, narrative, that doesn’t mean that they carried it out for that. It may mean that they, you know, woke up that day and wanted to commit suicide and wanted to take others down with them. But, it is part of ISIL’s strategy to have people that they can deploy, directly, that they can support directly, as well as to encourage and provide indirect direction and incitement to individuals. They will claim credit for a lot of things and they feel as though this is part of their brand.

Therein is the rub. If this is part of ISIS’ strategy, then having the media — and FBI (or, in other countries, other security organizations) — give them credit for it only serves to play to their strength.

Both Brennan and Temple-Raston remained silent about FBI’s role in this process, leaking details about affiliation with ISIS. But that — and the budget driving impulse that is a part of the motivation for it — is as much a part of the problem as the media’s rush to label things ISIS.

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.

3 replies
  1. Hieronymus Howard says:

    “But, it is part of ISIL’s strategy to have people that they can deploy, directly, that they can support directly, as well as to encourage and provide indirect direction and incitement to individuals.”

    I like how there are four instances of the string “direct” in that quote.

    Ms. Temple-Raston did not use the word “prone” & so that part of Mr. Brennan’s sentence should probably not be in quote marks.

    There are two “Temple-Raston:” labels in a row in the first colloquy.

    Sorry, am an obsessive proofreader.  Used to be part of my job description––-before I got old & quit.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    Sort of OT (sorry) but in the kerfuffle of the Trump campaign attempting to tie CPT Khan to ISIS (and CNN smacked them down), I see that the Khans are still trying to do a couple of things:
    *
    Get an apology from Trump (yeah, right, and did y’all see the article in DKos about Trump’s making 2-3 out of 20+ meetings about the Vietnam Memorial)
    *
    Get a renunciation of Trump’s words and actions from McConnell and Ryan, the two GOP leaders who are supposed to be reining Trump in. So far, crickets from McConnell and a nopology from Ryan. To be fair, both are in a tough spot, politically but only have themselves to blame. The Trumpbaggers will demand that Stalinist policy (Not One Step Backwards), but the establishment is well aware of the bad optics of insulting those families who have Gold Stars and really cannot ignore this, hence the weasel-worded statement from Ryan the did NOT denounce the words used by Trump.
    *
    Trump’s campaign today scurried around trying to tie the Khans to ISIS using the classic Bushie play (first seen on Fox during Khan’s speech when Megyn Kelly ran ISIS flag footage on a cutaway screen) of putting statements side by side (but the really important ….) without saying explicitly there was a tie. Plausible deniability for later, first perfected by the Reagan-Bush WHs (Rummy was Chief of Staff for part of that time, after Haig). CNN wasn’t buying it either, which surprised me since they had been trying to out-Fox Faux News for the last couple of years.

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