The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


In an obvious political move that is as much about payback as it is about national security, Donald Trump revoked ex-CIA director John Brennan's courtesy security clearance this week. If you listen to the establishment commentariat, including a gaggle of ex-CIA and intelligence directors, you'd think that Trump torched the entire Langley, VA operations center of the CIA.

It's worth noting that Brennan is one of the architects of Barack Obama's disastrous Middle East policies, you know, the policies that created a catastrophe in Syria (along with the deaths of half a million civilians), the policies that resulted in Libya becoming a failed state and the home of a variety of dangerous Islamist terror groups, the policies that isolated Israel—a true US ally, the policies that resulting (indirectly) in the Benghazi debacle, and the policies that lead to an "Iran Deal" that was so bad, so one-sided, and so ineffective that Obama refused to bring it before Congress, recognizing it would be rejected.

Steve Hayes has done an in-depth report on Brennan's tenure in the national security apparatus, and his conclusions do not depict Brennan in a positive light. Hayes, a prominent #NeverTrumper, disagrees with Trump's revocation of Brennan's security clearance, not because Brennan is an upstanding citizen (he isn't) but because Trump's move was vindictive. But on Brennan himself, Hayes is not kind. He relates how Brennan forced CIA operatives returning from Benghazi to sign an NDA on the day of their colleagues' funerals that effectively silenced them from discussing the scandal. He did this not to protect national security, but to protect his patron, Barack Obama, from obvious political fallout. He then denied that he had presented NDAs to the men in congressional testimony. Hayes writes:
This kind of mendacity in the service of politics was the rule for Brennan, not the exception. Brennan was one of the chief architects of President Obama’s “strategy” for fighting terrorism. That strategy hinged on the idea that the jihadists’ territorial ambitions didn’t really matter. Remember Obama’s remark that the predecessor to ISIS and other al Qaeda-affiliated groups were the “jayvee” of terrorism? Brennan laid the groundwork for that view. During a speech on June 29, 2011, Brennan claimed that al Qaeda’s "grandiose vision" of an "Islamic caliphate" is an "absurd" and "feckless delusion that is never going to happen." Three years later to the day, on June 29, 2014, ISIS declared itself to be a caliphate, ruling over a large part of Iraq and Syria. ISIS didn’t invent the idea of a jihadist caliphate out of thin air. Bin Laden and his men had preached it for years, including when the ISIS’ forerunner was part of al Qaeda’s global network.

Six months before the 2012 election, the Obama administration launched a comprehensive effort to demonstrate that the president had kept America safe ... The future CIA director [Brennan, then chief White House counterterrorism adviser] predicted that the global terrorist organization [Al Qaeda] would see its “demise” by the end of this decade. This wasn’t analysis, it was politics. Brennan made the claim despite a wealth of evidence—classified and open source—that al Qaeda was amassing more territory and recruiting more fighters ...

Obama officials, eager to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, claimed distance between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The documents demonstrated the opposite, as the two fought side-by-side on the battlefield. Obama White House officials, already laying the groundwork for the Iran nuclear deal, downplayed the threat posed by the Iranian regime. The documents showed the Iranian regime as a key facilitator of al Qaeda, despite ideological differences and antagonism between the two sides.

And Brennan not only fought the public release of these documents, as CIA director he blocked other elements of the U.S. intelligence community from access to them.

John Brennan didn’t suddenly become political with the election of Donald Trump, as his defenders in the intelligence community and the media would have us believe. He was an adviser on Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. He was political as a top White House counterterrorism adviser. And he was political as CIA director. He used intimidation tactics similar to the ones he now finds so objectionable and lied about it afterwards. He sold the country a misleading narrative about the demise of al Qaeda and worked to bury evidence that contradicted Obama administration claims.

None of this is offered as a justification of Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearances. I share many of Brennan’s concerns about Trump’s temperament, his character, and his behavior in office. There are serious questions about Trump and Russia. I’m glad Bob Mueller is investigating them.

But portraying Brennan as a dispassionate, apolitical intelligence professional is misleading. It gives his pronouncements the appearance of detachment and objectivity; they have neither. Some reporters doing this are guilty of the black-hat/white-hat reporting that has infected political journalism in the Trump era. Trump so offends their sensibilities that they depict his critics as heroes almost by default. Other reporters are no doubt portraying Brennan this way out of genuine ignorance. After all, there wasn’t much reporting on his efforts to politicize intelligence during the Obama administration and what reporting there was routinely was ignored.
Of course it was. Brennan is now characterized by many in the media as a victim. He isn't. He's a liar, a partisan hack, and a man who has done much to damage the image of an objective, non-partisan, apolitical CIA. Revoking his clearance was ham-handed, but it couldn't have happened to a more disreputable guy.