John Brennan left the CIA in 2005 when he became CEO of The Analysis Corporation and chairman of the board of a non-profit- Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) which had previously hired a who’s-who of the intelligence and national security community. After Brennan left the CIA to work for TAC, the National Counter-Terrorism Center- the organization within the CIA he formerly headed- awarded TAC a contract for their “connect the dot” software. That software used in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment failed to connect any dots with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the December 2009 “underwear bomber” despite the fact that foreign intelligence had informed the CIA months previously about him being a terrorism risk. When Brennan scored a White House job under Obama, the president tasked Brennan with finding out what went wrong.
In 2015, WikiLeaks released hacked emails of Brennan by an unknown group called Crackas With Attitude that shed some light on The Analysis Corporation (TAC). Apparently they were in the running for a program that would monitor terrorist watch lists for the CIA. The emails insinuated that TAC was behaving in a “disingenuous manner.” The CIA accused TAC of misleading the organization and they received a 3 out of 7 on a rating form. The three other competitors received perfect 7 of 7 scores thus eliminating TAC from consideration. However, they lodged a formal protest about losing the contract which the CIA characterized as “demonstrably false.”
TAC complained that none of its subcontractors would share discrepancies with them because of non-disclosure agreements. But Brennan’s emails showed that TAC did have communications with their subcontractors and they did provide information. They made the complaints about the subcontractors after the contract was denied. The emails showed that TAC discussed implementing an “end-to-end strategy” that some subcontractors thought would be too risky, but TAC persisted.
There is also a strange case involving Obama’s passport. In the 2008 election, Brennan became an adviser to the Obama campaign. At this time, there were the rumors that Obama was born in Kenya, or that he was secretly Muslim- the birther theory. In March 2008, the State Department launched an investigation into someone gaining improper computer access to the records on the passport of Obama. The investigation centered on one suspect- an employee of Brennan’s company, TAC. Someone had accessed the State Department’s computer system and accessed Obama’s passport.
Soon thereafter, Obama admitted that as a student he had traveled and stayed in Pakistan with a college friend which was news to everyone covering the campaign who thought they knew everything there was to know about Obama, even though a trip to Pakistan was never mentioned in Obama’s autobiographies. A week after the breach, a key witness who said he had information about a co-conspirator in the State Department and was cooperating with the FBI, was found murdered in the seat of his car from a gunshot.
Leaving aside the obvious conspiratorial nature of the informant’s death (one doubts Brennan could have ever pulled it off without getting caught; he bungled his only real spy job in Saudi Arabia), questions do arise. Why was Obama’s passport targeted? Was anything altered? Was it a fishing expedition for dirt on Obama, or was it intended to cover something up? Why would Obama keep a trip to Pakistan secret in two autobiographies? Why would he admit to the trip only after his passport records were breached? Why would someone from John Brennan’s company be responsible if he was working with the Obama campaign? This is the type of story that makes people wonder about Brennan.
Upon being elected in 2008, Obama considered naming Brennan CIA Director. He believed that he and Brennan shared a similar philosophy when it came to the role of the CIA. The main drawback for Obama, however, was Brennan’s involvement with the “enhanced interrogation techniques” program developed by the CIA in dealing with suspected and actual terrorists in the early part of the Bush administration after 9/11. Some were portraying the techniques as “torture.” Instead, he became Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism helping the president formulate policies in these areas and others. The New York Times later wrote that in the 67 years of the CIA, few presidents have as close a bond as that witnessed between Brennan and Obama.
It was George Tenet who suggested Brennan to Obama as an intelligence adviser. They met a few days after the 2008 election to discuss the position. They found these things in common: study abroad, life in Indonesia, and both believed the Iraq war was a huge mistake. They thought the phrase “war on terror” was ridiculous. Brennan compared terrorism to pollution saying the United States was concentrating on the downstream effects and not the upstream causes of terrorism. By the end of the hour-long meeting, Obama was enamored much as Tenet was decades ago.
Obama had no intentions of keeping Michael Hayden on at the CIA and perhaps Brennan was his guy. Still, bringing someone in who had worked for the Bush administration was not exactly what Obama envisioned. Instead, as his name was leaked as a possible CIA Director, there were complaints. Brennan removed his name from consideration but signed on as an adviser. In that role, he arrived early, stayed late and was loyal. He was described as political, but not partisan. Some in the military came to call him “deputy president” since he spoke for Obama so often. Like Tenet, Obama came to trust Brennan’s opinions.
He trusted him so much that he put Brennan in charge of the investigation of the underwear bomber and what went wrong, not Dennis Blair (DNI). The final report was sharp and critical. Blair was allowed to see it only hours before it was presented to Obama. All the blame was laid at the feet of NCTC. No agency mentioned was permitted any input or comment. Later, Brennan convinced Obama to embrace Bush era policies that Obama ran against on the campaign trail such as the FISA program.
There is the interesting story during Obama’s first term involving Egypt and Brennan. At the time, the CIA Director was Leon Panetta. In testimony before the House, Panetta stated that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak would be stepping down. Four hours later, Mubarak denied he was stepping down and basically told Obama and his minions to shove it. During the same House hearing, James Clapper testified that the Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular.” This testimony was given despite the fact that five days previous, Obama had dispatched Frank Wisner to Cairo who determined Mubarak must remain in power during a transitional period.
Obama later retracted the statement and no one heard a peep from Wisner again. By this time, Brennan had wormed his way so far into Obama’s ear that many considered him the de facto head of intelligence. Brennan was no stranger to the television talk shows whenever the issue of terrorism, intelligence, Arabs or Islam were discussed often touting his stint as station chief in Saudi Arabia, his summer in Cairo, or his “time in Indonesia.” He made it known that phrases like “jihad,” “war on terrorism,” and “global war” were off limits. It is quite likely that Brennan had Obama’s ear on Egypt and perhaps also knew of Hillary Clinton’s machinations at the State Department as it concerned Egypt. That likely explains why Wisner was moth-balled and Mubarak abandoned.
Next: Brennan becomes CIA Director