Intel Adviser Breaks with Obama over FISA, Telecoms

By Justin Rood

Mar 7, 2008 12:22pm

In a new interview with National Journal magazine, an intelligence adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign broke with his candidate’s position opposing retroactive legal protection for telecommunications companies being sued for cooperating with a dubious U.S. government domestic surveillance program.

"I do believe strongly that [telecoms] should be granted that immunity," former CIA official John Brennan told National Journal reporter Shane Harris in the interview.  "They were told to [cooperate] by the appropriate authorities that were operating in a legal context."

"I know people are concerned about that, but I do believe that’s the right thing to do," added Brennan, who is an intelligence and foreign policy adviser to Obama.

That wasn’t just a personal opinion, Brennan made clear to Harris. "My advice, to whoever is coming in [to the White House], is they need to spend some time learning, understanding what’s out there, identifying those key issues," including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, he said — the law at the heart of the immunity debate.

"They need to make sure they do their homework, and it’s not just going to be knee-jerk responses," Brennan said of the presidential hopefuls.

Last month, Obama voted to strip language in an intelligence bill that would have granted to Verizon, AT&T and other companies the immunity Brennan favored.  The firms have been identified in lawsuits as having cooperated with a National Security Agency program to intercept phone calls and other communications data within the United States.

What does Obama think? "Sen. Obama welcomes a variety of views, but his position on FISA is clear. He and Brennan differ," said campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Before leaving government to join the private sector, Brennan was the head of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a joint office operated by the CIA, FBI and other government agencies.

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