A relatively unnoticed article by Associated Press reporter Kimberly Dozier two weeks ago outlined new Obama administration policy changes which consolidated power for authorizing drone attacks and assassinations under political appointees within the White House.
The article identifies White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan as the official assuming the role of Obama’s de facto assassination czar, raising concerns even within the Obama administration that the White House is increasingly turning into “a pseudo-military headquarters” under the direction of just a few senior Obama administration officials.
Adding to these concerns are serious questions about Brennan’s qualifications for this role.
Even before the 2008 election, eyebrows were raised over Brennan’s role in the Obama campaign. An employee of The Analysis Corporation, of which Brennan was CEO, had improperly accessed passport information for Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Democratic primary challenger at the time, and GOP nominee John McCain. At the time, Brennan was a top adviser to the Obama campaign, and Brennan’s employee was not fired. (One of the key witnesses in the case was found murdered in his car outside his church while the investigation was still ongoing.)
Brennan was involved in administration intrigue related to the release of convicted Libyan Pan Am Flight 103 bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from a Scottish jail in August 2009. At the time of Megrahi’s release — when he returned to Libya to a national hero’s welcome — Brennan described the release as “unfortunate, inappropriate, and wrong” and called for his reimprisonment. However, Obama administration documents obtained by The Sunday Times revealed that the White House had secretly informed Scottish authorities that they found compassionate release more palatable than the reimprisonment of Megrahi in Libya.
Brennan also came under fire after would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly brought down a U.S.-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009. British intelligence authorities had notified their U.S. counterparts of an “Umar Farouk” meeting with al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, and Abdulmutallab’s father had warned of his son’s increasing extremism to CIA officials at the U.S. embassy in Nigeria. However, Abdulmutallab was never added to the U.S. no-fly list, nor was his U.S. visa revoked.
Following this stunning and nearly fatal intelligence failure which prompted members of both the House and Senate Intelligence oversight committees to call for his resignation, Brennan lashed out at the Obama administration’s critics in a USA Today editorial. He claimed that the “politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.”
Brennan also defended treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal by having his rights read to him upon arrest and trying him in civilian court, rather than transferring the would-be bomber to military custody as an enemy combatant.
Just days later, Brennan gave a speech to Islamic law students at New York University, where he was introduced by Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America. Mattson, who had been involved with the Obama inaugural prayer service, had come under fire then for her organization’s longstanding terrorist support.
During his NYU speech, Brennan defended the administration’s highly unpopular move to try al-Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court (which the administration eventually backed away from). He claimed that terrorists are the real victims of “political, economic and social forces,” said that Islamic terrorists were not jihadists, referenced “Al-Quds” instead of Jerusalem, and described the 20 percent of former Guantanamo detainees returning to terrorist activities as “not that bad” when compared to ordinary criminal recidivism.
During a talk at the Nixon Center in May 2010, Brennan said that the administration was looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.
These missteps and misstatements by Brennan prompted the Washington Times to editorialize in June 2010 that “President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser knows very little about terrorism, and that’s scary for America,” and to warn that “Mr. Brennan’s curious views may be part of a larger move by the O Force to redefine terrorism”.