By Reginald Johnson
It was a deeply disappointing decision made by NBC last month to hire former CIA director John Brennan to serve as a national security and intelligence analyst.
It appears that either NBC overlooked a number of the very controversial and distressing aspects of Brennan’s career, or they just didn’t care.
In hiring Brennan, NBC is taking on board an individual who has been implicated in what many consider to have been illegal programs carried out by the Bush and Obama administrations in prosecuting the war on terror ---- namely, the use of alleged torture techniques in interrogating terror suspects and the use of drone missiles to carry out “extra-judicial assassinations” of suspected terror leaders around the world.
Brennan is also someone whose honesty has come into question during investigations by Congress about the counterterror programs and, more recently, about the controversial and much criticized “Russian dossier.” That document, prepared by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, helped trigger the Special Counsel probe into possible collusion between the presidential election campaign of Donald Trump and the Russian government prior to the 2016 election. The investigation, depending on its findings, could lead to Trump’s impeachment.
During the administration of George W. Bush, Brennan was a top counterterrorism official and senior official at the CIA. Critics charge that he endorsed the CIA use of “enhanced terror interrogation” techniques in questioning terrorism suspects --- including waterboarding and other brutal practices. Waterboarding is considered torture, which is banned under international law.
It was also reported that Brennan had many suspects picked up and taken through the “extroardinary rendition” program to “black sites” --- in countries such as Egypt and Syria, where security officials in those countries would carry out torture to extract information for the U.S.
Administration legal officials put out memos saying that the interrogation techniques carried out by the CIA fell within the law and denied torture was taking place. For his part, Brennan said that while he was aware of the harsh interrogation tactics, he was not the one who suggested them in the first place and in some cases opposed the practices.
In 2014 the Senate intelligence committee did a major investigation of Bush-era interrogation methods and produced a scathing 6,000 page report criticizing the CIA’s program. In the words of the New York Times story on the report, “the CIA’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed;” that the interrogation program was “mismanaged and not subject to adequate oversight;” and that the CIA “misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of the brutal interrogation techniques.”
At the time that the Senate was investigating the CIA for its possible role in torture, Brennan had risen to director of the agency, following his nomination by Obama and confirmation by Congress. According to former CIA analyst and writer Ray McGovern, Brennan was furious over the Senate investigation and worked actively to stop the report from being released. At Brennan’s behest, agency personnel spied on the Senate committee that was doing the investigation and hacked into staff computers to find out what was being found.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, chairwoman of the committee, was so angered by the CIA tactics that she took to the floor of the Senate to blast the agency and its director.
Although President Obama tried to block release of the report, eventually the report was made public, due to the determined efforts of former Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
|Former CIA Director John Brennan (WSJ.com)|
As CIA director, Brennan developed the targeted assassination program, in which terror suspects are killed by drone missiles. Brennan worked closely with Obama to draw up kill-lists of people who needed to be taken out. Thousands of people have been killed in drone strikes, which have hit Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq.
Brennan maintained that the strikes were causing little or no “collateral damage.” But that claim was contradicted by human rights observers and a study by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism which found that there was a substantial civilian death toll from the missile attacks.
Legal observers have also charged that the drone warfare program is illegal when it is carried out in countries where the United States is not at war. That would include Pakistan and Yemen. Critics have also maintained that it is unconstitutional for the drone strikes to be targeting American citizens --- which has taken place on several occasions. The most notable example of this was the drone killing of Al Qaeda militant Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. He was an American citizen, born in New Mexico. Awlaki’s son, also an American citizen, was later killed by an errant missile strike, intended for someone else.
It is illegal under the Constitution to take the life of an American citizen without due process of law. CIA and military officials argued that it would’ve been extremely difficult to capture al-Alwaki and then bring him to the United States for prosecution. That claim has been disputed by opponents of the program however, who said military personnel had the means to capture him.
Since Trump took office in January of last year, questions have also arisen about whether Brennan has been entirely candid about what he knew about the infamous “Russian dossier” ---- which alleged that there were connections between candidate Donald Trump and Russian officials prior to the 2016 U.S. election and that Russia interfered with the election to benefit Trump. The dossier was a key part of the information that was submitted by the FBI to the FISA court in 2016 and 2017 to obtain warrants to spy on members of the Trump campaign team.
Brennan has maintained in testimony given in May 2017 before the House intelligence committee and in press interviews that he didn’t know that much about the dossier and its contents prior to the election. He told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press early this year that during the fall of 2016 prior to the election he had “heard only snippets” about the contents of the dossier, based on press reports. He said he had never actually read the dossier until late that year.
But according to a report in Real Clear Investigations by Paul Street on February 11, investigators working with Republicans on the House Intelligence committee believe that Brennan was well aware of the contents of the dossier and its allegations against Trump prior to the election and that he actively tried to spread the information to members of Congress.
“John Brennan did more than anyone to promulgate the dirty dossier,” said an investigator who talked with Street. “He politicized and effectively weaponized what was false intelligence about Trump.”
Street said that Capitol Hill sources told him that Brennan fed allegations about Trump-Russia contacts directly to the FBI and pressured the Bureau to investigate Trump campaign figures in the summer of 2016.
The House Intelligence panel, led by the Republican majority voted recently to end their inquiry into whether Trump had colluded with the Russians prior to the election. The committee report stated that they had found no evidence to support the claim of collusion or conspiracy with the Russians. But members of the Democratic minority strongly protested this report and said that there were still legitimate reasons for continuing the probe.
In signing on with NBC/MSNBC as a contributor, Brennan becomes the latest representative from the intelligence community and the Pentagon to work at the TV networks as an analyst. Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell is a contributor with CBS and former NSA director James Clapper is a commentator at CNN. Former generals and high military officials are working with the networks as well, weighing in with analysis about a range of topics including the US role in the Middle East, the proper approach to dealing with North Korea and how to deal with Russia.
The CIA has a long history of making its influence felt with the media.
Going back to the 1940s and 1950s agency officials sought to cultivate leading figures at US newspapers such as the New York Times. They also sought to have agency people work surreptitiously at the papers or at other media outlets. In the 1970s, a Senate committee led by then U.S. Sen. Frank Church investigating abuses by the intelligence community following the Nixon-era Watergate scandals determined that there were CIA assets working at 50 media organizations, either as reporters or as employees in other capacities.