John Owen Brennan (born September 22, 1955) 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. His responsibilities included overseeing plans to protect the country from terrorism and respond to natural disasters, and he met with the President daily. Previously, he advised President Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues during the 2008 presidential campaign and transition. 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. Instead, Brennan was appointed Deputy National Security Advisor, a position which did not require Senate confirmation.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
Brennan is the son of Irish immigrants from Roscommon, Republic of Ireland. He was born in North Bergen, New Jersey. 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.
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. His studies included a junior year abroad learning Arabic and taking Middle Eastern studies courses at the American University in Cairo. 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."
He received a B.A. in political science from Fordham in 1977. 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. He speaks Arabic fluently.
Brennan is married to Kathy Pokluda Brennan, with whom he has had one son and two daughters.
Brennan began his CIA career as an analyst, presumably in the Washington D.C. area, and spent 25 years with the agency. At one point in his career, he was a daily intelligence briefer for President Bill Clinton. In 1996 he was CIA station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia when the Khobar Towers bombing killed 19 U.S. servicemen. In 1999 he was appointed chief of staff to George Tenet, then-Director of the CIA. Brennan became deputy executive director of the CIA in March 2001. 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. 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. 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.
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.
On January 7, 2013, Brennan was nominated by President Barack Obama to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
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). 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.
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. 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.
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". 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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." Nine months later, Brennan claimed he had said "we had no information" about any civilian, noncombatant deaths during the timeframe in question. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism disagreed with Brennan, citing their own research 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. Additional research led the Bureau to raise their estimate to 76 deaths, including eight children and two women. According to the Bureau, Brennan's claims "do not appear to bear scrutiny." The Atlantic has been harsher in its criticism, saying that "Brennan has been willing to lie about those drone strikes to hide ugly realities."
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.
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". 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." 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." 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.
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