WASHINGTON — CIA Director John Brennan said this week that terrorist groups “have been unfortunately successful in attracting individuals to their distorted ideology and distorted interpretation of various religious faiths” largely due to lacking political and economic reforms in many countries.
“There are a lot, a lot of opportunities for these terrorist groups to capitalize on those problems and issues. To me, I’d like to think that, you know, the United States has demonstrated, through the course of time, that we take very seriously the obligation and responsibilities that go along with what I refer to as American exceptionalism,” Brennan said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum Wednesday marking the 10th anniversary of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“My definition of American exceptionalism may be different than others,” he added. “I don’t think that we as people are better than others. I think that we as a country, though, have been tremendously fortunate and blessed to have the resources, the people, we’re the world’s melting pot. We are, without a doubt, the world’s superpower.”
Brennan said he wished the U.S. had “that magic wand” to resolve issues like the Syrian war.
“And despite the challenges that we still face there, good on the United States for trying… Unfortunately, there are individuals who opt for violence and militarism as a way to push forward their agendas and to try to achieve their aims, again, which are perversions of religious faiths.”
The CIA chief said President Obama is an “exceptionally quick study” and “would always want to be asking questions about what it is that we know and with a lawyer’s mind” during presidential briefings.
At the moderator’s urging, Brennan reflected on “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to down a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Leon Panetta was in charge of the agency at the time; Brennan was Obama’s homeland security advisor.
“I can vividly recall getting the call at home at about, I forget what it was, maybe noon or 11:00 on Christmas Day when I was preparing the Christmas dinner for my family,” Brennan said. “And all of a sudden we found out that somebody — somebody’s underwear was on fire on a plane in Detroit and there may be something to this.”
He added that the administration was “dealing with and trying to understand how we’re going to deal with this individual and how he should be handled,” but “damn it, a lot of times these individuals don’t follow that playbook in terms of what they present to us.”
Brennan called ISIS “a much different phenomenon than al-Qaeda ever was as al-Qaeda presented a very serious and strategic threat to this country and because of the great work of the community we have been able to degrade and dismantle that organization.”
ISIS, he explained, “continues to propagate” with provinces in regions outside Iraq and Syria. “But I must say I think we’re taking some of the steam out of the engine by going upstream and dismantling the organization, taking off the battlefield a number of key leaders.”
Due to how today’s terror groups utilize technology for recruiting, communicating and promoting their activities, “the type of challenge we face from terrorist groups today is much different than it was say back in the ’70s or the ’80s when we were dealing with Palestinian terrorism or Hezbollah,” Brennan said.
“It’s the technological advancements and the availability of these mechanisms that can transmit, conceal, hide what it is that they’re doing.”