John Brennan, a career CIA officer before becoming Deputy National Security Adviser, has the best resume of any member of the Obama administration's national security team, save for Bush holdover Robert Gates as Defense secretary, and his boss, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who was both the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the commander in chief of NATO.
This is in part damning with faint praise. Admiral Dennis Blair, who President Obama chose to be Director of National Intelligence, had been a consumer of intelligence, but not a collector nor interpreter of it. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and CIA Director Leon Panetta had no relevant experience before being picked for their present posts.
Experience, in itself, is no guarantee of competence or sound judgment. There's a lot that's wrong with the CIA, as books and articles by former CIA undercover officers "Ishmael Jones" (The Human Factor) and Reuel Marc Gerecht make chillingly clear.
Michael Scheuer, who was head of the CIA's bin Laden unit during the Clinton administration, thinks Mr. Brennan was part of the problem. In an interview with Gloria Borger of CNN Jan. 3, Mr. Scheuer said Mr. Brennan put the kibosh on an operation in 1998 that would have resulted in the death or capture of Osama bin Laden. He described his former superior as a bureaucrat more concerned with political correctness than with protecting Americans.
More share Mr. Scheuer's view of Mr. Brennan after Mr. Brennan's most recent appearances on the Sunday talk shows.
The "normally reclusive" Mr. Brennan sallied forth Jan. 3 to defend the administration's decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted the Christmas bombing of a Northwest Air Lines flight, as a criminal defendant. He did so unpersuasively, dancing around rather than answering the questions posed by interviewers.
"We now have a pretty good idea of why Brennan is 'normally reclusive,'" wrote Paul Mirengoff of the blog Power Line.
We know now that Mr. Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights less than an hour after his arrest and promptly stopped talking. The decision to treat Mr. Abdulmutallab as an ordinary criminal defendant was made by Attorney General Eric Holder, apparently without consulting Mr. Blair, Ms. Napolitano, or FBI Director Robert Mueller.
At a hearing Jan. 20, Admiral Blair said Mr. Abdulmutallab should have been interrogated by the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), to which President Obama had assigned responsibility for interrogating captured terrorists after he took it from the CIA. But we learned later the HIG wasn't operational at the time he was captured.
The manner in which the Abdulmutallab case has been handled has, understandably, drawn criticism from Republicans, and not only from them. In a Rasmussen poll released Dec. 31, 71 percent of respondents said Mr. Abdulmutallab should be turned over to the military. Only 22 percent wanted him tried in a civilian court.
The administration has fought back in a variety of clumsy ways. First, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr. Abdulmutallab had given up all the useful information he had in the 50 minutes before he was Mirandized, a statement so preposterous it was not repeated.
Now the administration is saying Mr. Abdulmutallab has, at the insistence of his family, resumed talking. If this
is true, it shouldn't be announced publicly. Al Qaida can read newspapers, too. And if true, it doesn't mitigate the harm done when Mr. Abdulmutallab clammed up. The difference between "actionable intelligence" and "history" is often only a few hours.
On "Meet the Press" Sunday and in a column in USA Today Tuesday, Mr. Brennan described critics of the way the Abdulmutallab case has been handled as "partisans" who are "politicizing intelligence" and serving "the goals of al Qaida." Actually, since the critics include Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (California), Jim Webb (Virginia) and Joe Lieberman (Ct), it's been about the most bipartisan thing in Washington in the last year.
Grotesque overstatement and outright lies from a hack flack are one thing; from the administration's counterterrorism czar, quite another.
"It's hard to trust anyone in the White House right now," Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told National Review Online. "The national security team has become a bench of political spokespeople."