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On PDB Day, a New Direction against Terrorism? John Brennan’s Coming Out Party?

Eight years ago, our President was on vacation, ignoring a Presidential Daily Brief that warned, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." The brush on a pig farm in Texas, you see, was far more  important.

And here we are now, six whole days in to August, and Obama’s just got one week planned on Martha’s Vineyard. How will the brush get cleared? How will the PDBs get ignored?

Obama has chosen today, PDB day, for John Brennan’s coming out party, where Brennan will present Obama’s new direction in counterterrorism. (Spencer will be liveblogging from the talk at the Windy).

There are parts of today’s speech that are welcome. This is a reiteration of Obama’s March renunciation of the War on Terror.

"This is not a ‘war on terror.’ . . . We cannot let the terror prism guide how we’re going to interact and be involved in different parts of the world." 

It’s an embrace of soft power–a real engagement with the rest of the world. (Mind you, Bush tried it, but sent Karen Hughes to do the job.)

Washington must couple the military strikes that have depleted al-Qaeda’s middle ranks with more sustained use of economic, diplomatic and cultural levers to diminish Islamist radicalization, he said, exercising "soft power" in ways that President George W. Bush came to embrace but had trouble carrying out.

 But it also seems to represent the ascendancy of John Brennan, Obama’s holdover from Bush’s War on Terror team.

"His portfolio is growing, not shrinking," said Mark Lippert, a longtime Obama foreign policy aide and now chief of staff for the National Security Council, which is run by Brennan’s boss, national security adviser James L. Jones. Brennan’s role spans terrorism, cybersecurity, swine flu and some intelligence matters. "He has the president’s trust. . . . Folks from all parts of the policy and intelligence community respect him," Lippert said. 

I’m sure John Brennan is very knowledgable and all. But he was also, apparently, intimately involved in the illegal activities of the Bush Administration, particularly Bush’s domestic surveillance program

So soft power is all well and good–provided we make a more competent attempt at it than Karen Hughes was able to muster. But will it move beyond the abuse of power Brennan was involved in under Bush?

Spencer has an appropriately skeptical look at this at the Windy:

… it’s on Brennan to explain how this approach is Read more

John Brennan, The Terrorist Threat Integration Center, and Main Core

In my last post, I pointed out that John Brennan almost certainly had a role overseeing the threat assessment used for George Bush’s illegal surveillance program, for at least a year and possibly two. He probably did so, I explained, in his role as Director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Interim Director of the National CounterTerrorism Center.

That’s troublesome not just because one of Obama’s closest national security advisors is complicit with this illegal program. But also because it means the entity doing the Terrorist Watch List has been intimately involved in deciding whom to wiretap.

Here’s WhoRunsGov’s description of what Brennan did at TTIC and NCTC:

In 2004, he accepted a job at the National Counter-Terrorism Center, where he revamped the government’s monitoring of terrorist activity by incorporating information from across agencies. He also increased the number of analysts and compiled one of the most comprehensive reports on terrorism across the world. “We want to make sure that we are looking at it [terrorism] openly and as exhaustively as possible,” Brennan said in 2004. He also created the terrorist watch list, which contains names and data on thousands of suspected terrorists and is accessible to law enforcement officials, during his tenure.

And here’s part of a Frontline interview with Brennan.

… You were involved in creating the terrorist watch list through the NCTC, right? … Does it work?

It works, I think, very well. There [are] still improvements that need to be made. But prior to about two years ago or so in 2004, there were over a dozen databases in about nine different federal departments and agencies that were part of the watch-listing system. It was dysfunctional because they were not interconnected.

No organization, no architect[ure].

Right. And now there is an architecture that’s in place, and the National Counterterrorism Center feeds information to the FBI-administered Terrorist Screening Center [TSC] so that airports and ports of entry and local police have access to the master watch list of all individuals who are known or suspected to be transnational terrorists.

They can call in, or it shows up in airports?

They can do an immediate search. They can just log onto the computer that they have and run the name, and all the variants will come up. It’s a much more effective and efficient system now.

Read more

Did Obama Flip-Flop on FISA to Protect John Brennan?

Aside from his career of moderate political stances, the earliest clue that progressives were going to be disappointed with Barack Obama came last July, when he flip-flopped on his previous promises to oppose retroactive immunity on FISA. Yesterday’s IG Report may reveal the source of Obama’s flip-flop and subsequent reversal of his stance that Bush’s domestic surveillance program was illegal: John Brennan.

Brennan, you see, appears to have been a key figure in the illegal surveillance program from at least May 2003 through December 2005–precisely the period when the program was such an object of controversy internally.

While it was apparent from the Scope of the IG Report released in March and the various declarations in support of State Secrets that the Intelligence Community provided threat assessments that were used in the program, the IG Report provides a great deal of new detail on this process and–more importantly–a chronology describing which element of the IC conducted the threat assessments. The chronology is:

October 2001 to May 2003: DCI Chief of Staff (then John Moseman)

May 2003 to August 2004: Terrorist Threat Integration Center

August 2004 to April 2005: National CounterTerrorism Center

April 2005 to January 2007: ODNI

Now look at John Brennan’s career path (these dates are somewhat vague, but accurate to the best of my knowledge):

March 2001 to May 2003: Deputy Executive Director, CIA

May 2003 to August 2004: Director, Terrorist Threat Integration Center

August 2004 to December 2005: Interim Director, National CounterTerrorism Center (including ODNI after April 2005)

While Spencer is right that John Brennan was not the guy who compiled these assessments when the program first began (that is, John Brennan was no longer DCI COS), Brennan appears to have overseen the units that conducted the threat assessments that were a key part of the illegal program from May 2003 at least until August 2004, and possibly up until he left ODNI in December 2005, just days before the NYT broke this story.

For at least a year and possibly two, John Brennan appears to have been the guy inventing "reasonable cause" to wiretap people in the United States. John Brennan was also likely the guy who put together the list of groups considered al Qaeda affiliates (including al-Haramain) that could be wiretapped.

And John Brennan was consulting with candidate Obama last year when Obama flip-flopped.

And John Brennan remains a key national security advisor for Obama as the President has cowardly refused to prosecute a program he himself once called illegal.

Are Obama and Eric Holder refusing to prosecute illegal domestic surveillance because they’re protecting a key member of Obama’s Administration? Read more