John O. Brennan

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John O. Brennan
John Brennan CIA official portrait.jpg
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
In office
March 8, 2013 – January 20, 2017
President Barack Obama
Deputy Avril Haines
David Cohen
Preceded by Michael Morell (Acting)
Succeeded by Mike Pompeo
5th United States Homeland Security Advisor
In office
January 20, 2009 – March 8, 2013
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Ken Wainstein
Succeeded by Lisa Monaco
Director of the National Counterterrorism Center
In office
August 27, 2004 – August 1, 2005
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by John Redd
Personal details
Born John Owen Brennan
(1955-09-22) September 22, 1955 (age 63)
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
Political party Independent[1]
Spouse(s) Kathy Pokluda
Education Fordham University (BA)
University of Texas, Austin (MA)

John Owen Brennan (born September 22, 1955)[2][3] is an American government official who was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from March 2013 to January 2017. He has served as chief counterterrorism advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama; his title was Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Assistant to the President.[2][4][5] His responsibilities included overseeing plans to protect the country from terrorism and respond to natural disasters, and he met with the President daily.[6][7] Previously, he advised President Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues during the 2008 presidential campaign and transition.[8] Brennan withdrew his name from consideration for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the first Obama administration over concerns about his support for transferring terror suspects to countries where they may be tortured while serving under President George W. Bush.[4][6] Instead, Brennan was appointed Deputy National Security Advisor, a position which did not require Senate confirmation.[4][6][9]

Brennan's 25 years with the CIA included work as a Near East and South Asia analyst, as station chief in Saudi Arabia, and as director of the National Counterterrorism Center.[4][6][10] After leaving government service in 2005, Brennan became CEO of The Analysis Corporation, a security consulting business, and served as chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, an association of intelligence professionals.[11]

Brennan served in the White House as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security between 2009 and 2013. As such, he was put in charge of the Disposition Matrix.

President Barack Obama nominated Brennan as his next director of the CIA on January 7, 2013.[12][13] The ACLU called for the Senate not to proceed with the appointment until it confirms that "all of his conduct was within the law" at the CIA and White House.[14] John Brennan was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 5, 2013, to succeed David Petraeus as the Director of the CIA by a vote of 12 to 3.[15]

His term as CIA Director coincided with revelations that the U.S. government conducted massive levels of global surveillance, that the CIA had hacked into the computers of U.S. Senate employees, and the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.

Early life and education

Brennan is the son of Irish immigrants from Roscommon, Republic of Ireland. He was born in North Bergen, New Jersey.[10] He attended the Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School, and graduated from Saint Joseph of the Palisades High School in West New York, New Jersey before enrolling at Fordham University in New York City.[6]

While riding a bus to class at Fordham, he saw an ad in The New York Times that said the CIA was recruiting, and he felt a CIA career would be a good match for his "wanderlust" and his desire to do public service.[6] His studies included a junior year abroad learning Arabic and taking Middle Eastern studies courses at the American University in Cairo.[4][6] In 1976, he voted for Communist Party USA candidate Gus Hall in the presidential election; he later said that he viewed it as a way "of signaling my unhappiness with the system, and the need for change."[16]

He received a B.A. in political science from Fordham in 1977.[4] He then attended the University of Texas at Austin, receiving a Master of Arts in government with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies in 1980.[6] He speaks Arabic fluently.[10]

Brennan is married to Kathy Pokluda Brennan, with whom he has had one son and two daughters.[3][4][17]

Career highlights

Brennan with Kathleen Sebelius and Rahm Emanuel, White House, April 2009

Brennan began his CIA career as an analyst, presumably in the Washington D.C. area, and spent 25 years with the agency.[2][6][18] At one point in his career, he was a daily intelligence briefer for President Bill Clinton.[6] In 1996 he was CIA station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia when the Khobar Towers bombing killed 19 U.S. servicemen.[6] In 1999 he was appointed chief of staff to George Tenet, then-Director of the CIA.[4][6] Brennan became deputy executive director of the CIA in March 2001.[4] He was director of the newly created Terrorist Threat Integration Center from 2003 to 2004, an office that sifted through and compiled information for President Bush's daily top secret intelligence briefings and employed the services of analysts from a dozen U.S. agencies and entities.[19] One of the controversies in his career involves the distribution of intelligence to the Bush White House that helped lead to an "Orange Terror Alert", over Christmas 2003. The intelligence, which purported to list terror targets, was highly controversial within the CIA and was later discredited. An Obama administration official does not dispute that Brennan distributed the intelligence during the Bush era but said Brennan passed it along because that was his job.[20] His last post within the Intelligence Community was as director of the National Counterterrorism Center in 2004 and 2005, which incorporated information on terrorist activities across U.S. agencies.[4][21]

Brennan then left government service for a few years, becoming Chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) and the CEO of The Analysis Corporation (TAC). He continued to lead TAC after its acquisition by Global Strategies Group in 2007 and its growth as the Global Intelligence Solutions division of Global's North American technology business GTEC, before returning to government service with the Obama administration as Homeland Security Advisor on January 20, 2009.[11]

On January 7, 2013, Brennan was nominated by President Barack Obama to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.[22]

Counterterrorism advisor to President Obama

In late 2008 Brennan was the reported choice for Director of the CIA in the incoming Obama administration. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration because of opposition to his CIA service under President George W. Bush and past public statements he had made in support of enhanced interrogation and the transfer of terrorism suspects to countries where they might be tortured (extraordinary rendition).[4][6][23] President Obama then appointed him to be his Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, the President's chief counterterrorism advisor and a position that did not require Senate confirmation.[4][6][9]

Brennan and President Barack Obama at a meeting of the Homeland Security Council, May 2009

In August 2009, Brennan criticized some Bush-administration anti-terror policies, saying that waterboarding had threatened national security by increasing the recruitment of terrorists and decreasing the willingness of other nations to cooperate with the U.S.[24] He also described the Obama administration's focus as being on "extremists" and not "jihadists". He said that using the second term, which means one who is struggling for a holy goal, gives "these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek" and suggests the US is at war with the religion of Islam.[24]

In an early December 2009 interview with the Bergen Record Brennan remarked, "the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities have to bat 1.000 every day. The terrorists are trying to be successful just once".[6] At a press conferences days after the failed Christmas Day bomb attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Brennan said U.S. intelligence agencies did not miss any signs that could have prevented the attempt but later said he had let the President down by underestimating a small group of Yemeni terrorists and not connecting them to the attempted bomber.[2][25] Within two weeks after the incident, however, he produced a report highly critical of the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies, concluding that their focus on terrorist attempts aimed at U.S. soil was inadequate.[18] In February 2010, he claimed on Meet the Press that he was tired of Republican lawmakers using national security issues as political footballs, and making allegations where they did not know the facts.[26]

Drone program

In April 2012 Brennan was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. In his speech he argued for the legality, morality, and effectiveness of the program.[27][28][29] The ACLU and other organizations disagreed. In 2011/2012 he also helped reorganize the process, under the aegis of the Disposition Matrix database, by which people outside of war zones were put on the list of drone targets. According to an Associated Press story, the reorganization helped "concentrate power" over the process inside the White House administration.[30][31][32]

In June 2011, Brennan claimed that US counter-terrorism operations had not resulted in "a single collateral death" in the past year because of the "precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop."[33][34] Nine months later, Brennan claimed he had said "we had no information" about any civilian, noncombatant deaths during the timeframe in question.[34][35] The Bureau of Investigative Journalism disagreed with Brennan, citing their own research[36] that initially led them to believe that 45 to 56 civilians, including six children, had been killed by ten US drone strikes during the year-long period in question.[34] Additional research led the Bureau to raise their estimate to 76 deaths, including eight children and two women.[34] According to the Bureau, Brennan's claims "do not appear to bear scrutiny."[34] The Atlantic has been harsher in its criticism, saying that "Brennan has been willing to lie about those drone strikes to hide ugly realities."[37]

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Brennan's comments about collateral death are perhaps explained by a counting method that treats all military-aged males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit information to prove them innocent.[34][38]

CIA Director (2013–2017)


Brennan being sworn in as CIA Director, March 8, 2013
File:John O. Brennan 2015.jpg
Brennan at the LBJ Presidential Library, September 16, 2015

United States President Barack Obama twice nominated Brennan to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.[12][13]

Morris Davis, a former Chief Prosecutor for the Guantanamo Military Commissions compared Brennan to Canadian Omar Khadr, who was convicted of "committing murder in violation of the law of war".[39] He suggested that Brennan's role in targeting individuals for CIA missile strikes was no more authorized than the throwing of the grenade of which Khadr was accused.

On February 27, 2013, the Senate Intelligence Committee postponed a vote, expected to be taken the next day on the confirmation of Brennan until the following week. On March 5, the Intelligence Committee approved the nomination 12–3. The Senate was set to vote on Brennan's nomination on March 6, 2013. However, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul began a talking Senate filibuster of the vote, citing President Barack Obama and his administration's use of combat drones against Americans, stating “No one politician should be allowed to judge the guilt, to charge an individual, to judge the guilt of an individual and to execute an individual. It goes against everything that we fundamentally believe in our country."[40][41] Paul's filibuster continued for 13 hours, ending with the words: "I'm hopeful that we have drawn attention to this issue, that this issue will not fade away, and that the president will come up with a response."[42] After the filibuster, Brennan was confirmed by a vote of 63–34.

Brennan was sworn into the office of CIA Director on March 8, 2013.[43]

See also


  1. Kopan, Tal (September 15, 2016). "Polygraph panic: CIA director fretted his vote for communist". I said I was neither Democratic or Republican, but it was my way, as I was going to college, of signaling my unhappiness with the system, and the need for change.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 James Gordon Meek (January 9, 2010). "White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan: Out of the shadows and into the spotlight". New York Daily News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Marquis' Who's Who in the South and Southwest, 36th, 37th Editions; Who's Who in the East, 37th, 38th Editions; Who's Who in American Politics, 22nd, 23rd Editions; Who's Who in America, 64th, 65th Editions
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Amanda Erickson (January 7, 2013). "Profile: John O. Brennan". Who Runs Gov. The Washington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Annual Report To Congress On White House Office Staff" (PDF). Executive Office of the President. July 1, 2009. p. 3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 Jackson, Herb (December 5, 2009). "North Bergen man is homeland security assistant for President Obama". The Bergen Record. Retrieved October 31, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Karen DeYoung (February 8, 2009). "Obama's NSC Will Get New Power; Directive Expands Makeup and Role Of Security Body". The Washington Post. p. A01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Kate Bolduan (March 22, 2008). "Chief of firm involved in breach is Obama adviser". CNN.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane (December 3, 2008). "After Sharp Words on C.I.A., Obama Faces a Delicate Task". New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Niall O'Dowd (June 6, 2010). "John Brennan, son of Irish immigrants, now Obama's top gun". Irish Central. Retrieved October 31, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Judith Mbuya (December 12, 2005). "New at the Top: John O. Brennan". Washington Post. p. D08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Glenn Greenwald (2013-01-07). "John Brennan's extremism and dishonesty rewarded with CIA Director nomination: Obama's top terrorism adviser goes from unconfirmable in 2008 to uncontroversial in 2013, reflecting the Obama legacy". London: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. As it typically does in the US National Security State, all of that deceit and radicalism is resulting not in recrimination or loss of credibility for Brennan, but in reward and promotion. At 1 pm EST today, Obama will announce that he has selected Brennan to replace Gen. David Petraeus as CIA chief: the same position for which, four short years ago, Brennan's pro-torture-and-rendition past rendered him unfit and unconfirmable.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Julie Pace (2013-01-07). "Obama to nominate counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead Central Intelligence Agency". Washington DC: Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Obama considered Brennan for the top CIA job in 2008. But Brennan withdrew his name amid questions about his connection to enhanced interrogation techniques while serving in the spy agency during the George W. Bush administration.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Brennan Nomination to Head CIA Raises Concerns". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 18 June 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Nominee to Lead C.I.A. Clears Hurdle After Release of Drone Data
  16. Kopan, Tal (September 15, 2016). "Polygraph panic: CIA director fretted his vote for communist".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Brennan did not specifically say that his vote was in 1976, but he said that the vote happened before 1980, and in November 1972 he was 17, too young to vote.)
  17. "Director of Terrorist Threat Integration Center Appointed". Central Intelligence Agency. 11 March 2003. Retrieved 17 June 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 Anne E Kornblut (June 6, 2010). "A forceful voice on Obama's security team; Counterterror director Brennan has emerged as key adviser". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 1, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Timothy J. Burger.;Viveca Novak and Elaine Shannon (Mar 29, 2004). "Threat Analysis: Decoding The Chatter". TIME. Retrieved October 31, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Obama’s Counterterror Czar Gave Bogus Intel to Bush White House
  21. "National Counterterrorism Center Staff". United States Department of State. Archived from the original on 2008-07-11. Retrieved 2008-12-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Obama Nominates Hagel as Defense Secretary and Brennan as C.I.A. Chief
  23. Massimo Calabresi (February 10, 2010). "Counterterrorism: The Debate Moves Right". TIME.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. 24.0 24.1 Mike Memoli (August 16, 2009). "Brennan Outlines Terror Strategy, Rebutting Critics". Real Clear Politics. Retrieved October 31, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Time staff (January 4, 2010). "There is no smoking gun". TIME. Retrieved October 31, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Reuters staff (February 8, 2010). "GOP plays 'political football' with terror fear, President Obama aide John Brennan says". New York Daily News. Reuters.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. John O. Brennan (30 April 2012). "The Ethics and Efficacy of the President's Counterterrorism Strategy". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Retrieved 1 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Savage, Charlie (30 April 2012). "Top U.S. Security Official Says 'Rigorous Standards' Are Used for Drone Strikes". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "White House in first detailed comments on drone strikes". BBC News. 30 April 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. ACLU Credits White House for Drone Strike Transparency, but Says Program Still Unlawful, April 30, 2012
  31. Who will drones target? Who in the US will decide? By Kimberly Dozier, AP Intelligence Writer / May 21, 2012, Associated Press / Boston Globe
  32. Obama's counter-terrorism advisor defends drone strikes April 30, 2012, By Brian Bennett and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times
  33. John Brennan, Advisor, White House Office of Homeland Security (29 June 2011). Obama Administration Counterterrorism Strategy: John Brennan talked about the campaign against al-Qaida, and the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy since the killing of Osama bin Laden. John McLaughlin moderated questions from the audience (Video). Paul H. Nitz School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland: C-SPAN. Event occurs at Events occur at 49:05 in video. Retrieved 3 August 2014. One of the things that President Obama has been insistent on is that we're exceptionally precise and surgical in terms of addressing the terrorist threat. And by that I mean if there are terrorists within an area where there are women and children or others, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women, and children in danger. In fact I can say that the types of operations that the US has been involved in, in the counterterrorism realm, that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 34.4 34.5 Woods, Chris (9 January 2013). "New questions over CIA nominee Brennan's denial of civilian drone deaths". The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Retrieved 3 August 2014. Claims by the Central Intelligence Agency’s new director-designate that the US intelligence services received ‘no information’ about any civilians killed by US drones in the year prior to June 2011 do not appear to bear scrutiny ... Nine months later, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News challenged Brennan on his original claims. ‘Do you stand by the statement you have made in the past that, as effective as they have been, [drones] have not killed a single civilian?’ the interviewer asked. ‘That seems hard to believe.’ Brennan was robust, insisting that ‘what I said was that over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant being killed.’ ... A later report in the New York Times provided a possible explanation for Brennan’s robustness. The paper revealed that Washington ‘counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.’ ... The Bureau has now raised its estimate of the number of civilians killed in the period Brennan claimed none had died to 76, including eight children and two women. The new figures are based in part on our own research and on studies by Associated Press and Stanford and New York universities.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. "'This Week' Transcript: John Brennan, Economic Panel". ABC News. 29 April 2012. Retrieved 3 August 2014. Well, what I said was that over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant being killed. Unfortunately, in war, there are casualties, including among the civilian population.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Woods, Chris (18 July 2011). "US claims of 'no civilian deaths' are untrue". The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Retrieved 3 August 2014. To date, the Bureau has identified 45–56 civilian victims across 10 individual strikes – the most recent in mid-June 2011. The dead include six children.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Friedersdorf, Conor (1 August 2014). "Does John Brennan Know Too Much for Obama to Fire Him?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 3 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>|quote=In the past, Brennan has been willing to lie about those drone strikes to hide ugly realities. For example, he stated in the summer of 2011 that there had been zero collateral deaths from covert U.S. drone strikes in the previous year, an absurd claim that has been decisively debunked.}
  38. Jo Becker; Scott Shane. "Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 August 2014. Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Morris Davis (2013-02-08). "The law of war does not shield the CIA and John Brennan's drone kill list". London: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Jack Goldsmith, former assistant attorney general in the George W Bush administration and now a professor at Harvard Law School, argues the past decade shows that the United States needs a new statutory framework governing how it conducts secret warfare. Perhaps that would be a positive step, but a new domestic statutory scheme would not make a civilian working for a civilian agency a lawful combatant entitled to immunity under the law of war for acts committed outside the United States.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "Sen. Paul holds floor for hours in filibuster of CIA nominee, over drone concerns". Fox News. March 6, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. "(CSPAN2 VIDEO) Sen. Paul holds floor for over 12 hours in filibuster of CIA nominee". March 6, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Memmott, Mark (March 7, 2013). "Nearly 13 Hours Later, Sen. Paul Ends His Filibuster". Retrieved November 30, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. "CIA faces diverse challenges amidst tight budgets: Brennan" The Statesman, 2013-03-09.

External links

Government offices
New office Director of the National Counterterrorism Center

Succeeded by
John Redd
Preceded by
Michael Morell
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Succeeded by
Meroe Park
Political offices
Preceded by
Ken Wainstein
Homeland Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Lisa Monaco