Hotels.com has an amusing TV character called “Captain Obvious” who makes humorous commercials by saying clearly obvious things. The CIA has a director who is the exact opposite – a “Captain Un-Reality” – who constantly makes absurd claims contrary to facts and common sense.
During an National Public Radio interview last month, for example, CIA Director John Brennan made what may be the most bizarre statement ever by an U.S. intelligence official: “We don’t steal secrets,” he said. “Everything we do is consistent with U.S. law. We uncover, we discover, we reveal, we obtain, we elicit, we solicit.”
This was a ridiculous statement. Although the CIA is required to comply with U.S. law, one of its core missions is stealing secrets abroad through a variety of means that blatantly violate the laws of other nations. This is the nature of intelligence collection.
That this CIA director would say something so preposterous is symptomatic of the damage the Obama administration has done to our national security with his assistance. It also is not the only example of Mr. Brennan’s denying the obvious.
He has repeatedly echoed President Obama’s refusal to use the terms “jihadist” or “Islamist” to describe members of Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS. He explained this in a 2010 CSIS speech by disputing ties between these groups and Islam.
Brennan also said in this speech that we should not label “our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one’s community.”
Brennan had a controversial tenure as President Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism in the National Security Council. He played a role in the administration’s decision to read Miranda rights to Umar Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber” who tried to destroy a civilian airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
Brennan also was widely criticized for defending this decision by falsely claiming that the Obama administration had continued a Bush administration policy.
While at the NSC, Brennan also was involved in editing talking points drafted by the CIA on the 2011 attacks on the U.S. consulate Benghazi which said, contrary to available intelligence and State Department reporting, that the attacks were in response to an anti-Muslim video and were not a pre-planned terrorist attack.
Reports of Brennan’s ineptitude have grown since he became CIA director in 2013.
Brennan hurt his credibility in December 2014 when he responded to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic members by straddling the fence on the CIA enhanced interrogation program – by saying this program may have produced “useful information” but claimed the cause-and-effect relationship on whether the interrogations produced useful information “is unknowable.”
This wishy-washy statement played into the hands of Senate Democrats and contradicted what three former CIA directors said about the program.
Brennan needlessly damaged relations with Congress in 2015 by the clumsy way he handled the theft of CIA documents and the hacking of a CIA computer system by Senate Intelligence Committee staff members during their investigation of the enhanced interrogation program.
Although the CIA had the legal right to investigate this incident by auditing agency computers used by the Senate staffers, this course of action caused a predictable uproar from Senate Democrats and sparked false charges that the CIA spied on Congress.
Brennan should have instead privately raised this issue with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein.
Recently there were reports that Brennan has put diversity above national security with a new plan to base CIA recruitment and promotions on racial, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, socio-economic status and other quotas.
Brennan began a massive reorganization of the CIA last year to place analysts and operations officers working side-by-side in “mission centers” dedicated to specific threats or geographic areas.
I fear this reform will undermine CIA’s efforts to protect sensitive sources and methods, and exacerbate a growing problem of analysts emphasizing quick-turnaround assessments and support to paramilitary operations over objective and innovative analysis.
The nonsensical comments and mismanagement by the CIA’s “Captain Unreality” director are disturbing signs that the lack of national-security-mindedness of this administration extends to the Central Intelligence Agency.
It’s vital that the next president name competent managers to top intelligence posts prepared to enact significant reforms to undo the damage done by Brennan and the Obama administration to U.S. intelligence agencies – so they can produce the hard-hitting intelligence that U.S. officials need to protect the security of our nation.