Political Punch Podcast: White House Counterterrorism Czar John Brennan

Aug 7, 2009 6:26pm

On the Political Punch Podcast, we spoke with John Brennan, the assistant to President Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, called –“by the media,” not by the administration, he notes — the Homeland Security Czar.

The ABC News Political Punch Podcast is available on iTunes and by clicking HERE. It’s produced by Huma Khan.

Brennan delivered a wide-ranging speech on counterterrorism this week in which discussed the different way the president is tackling the war on al Qaeda. During Q&A after the speech, he indicated the Obama administration might not make President Obama’s January 22, 2010 deadline to close the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay, though it remains the goal to do so.

In our interview, discussing the Presidential Daily Brief that he read on August 6, 2001, “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US” Brennan says “if we had that same type of intelligence I think we would be in a much better position to prevent such an attack.”

The “very important difference now as opposed to in the previous administration is that President Obama I think has been able to connect to the world in a very positive way,” Brennan says. “The reception to his speech in Cairo, the reaction to his election, the — I think, the new vitality and the vision that he brings to what America is about is basically a very new chapter in our history and his emphasis on ensuring that we pursue these policy objectives because it's in shared interests, common interests with our allies and partner overseas and the promotion of the individual liberties and dignities of people around the world. I think this is a message that has resonated very positively.”

In the speech, Brennan praised President Obama’s ending the policy of waterboarding detainees, which was interesting since when then-President-elect was considering appointing Brennan as CIA director, many liberal lawmakers and commentators protests since he had been a top official of the CIA when techniques such as waterboarding were approved.

Did he oppose those techniques then?

“I personally was always opposed to waterboarding and certain types of techniques, and I think there were people who supported me in that and were able to acknowledge that I was a critic of that when I was in the agency,” Brennan said. “What I want to do is make sure that the United States really projects an image, and its actions convey its strong commitment to individual rights and dignity and waterboarding was not in keeping with that.”

Explaining his role in the CIA during that time, Brennan said, “people made some difficult decisions in years past about how to deal with detainees. I was involved in a lot of things supporting our national security. I felt good about them, and I wanted to maintain my involvement in these national security initiatives and programs so I don’t have any regrets about what I did while I was in the Agency. I'm frequently surprised at what I see I am reported to have been involved in or to have said because there's quite frankly a lot of misrepresentations out there in the press.”

Praising the “courageous and heroic officers who put their lives on the line,” Brennan said “I had a problem with some of the things that were decided upon but when the president gives an order, or when the Department of Justice says it's legal, the Agency will salute and carry out its directives. But I think I was not alone in my views about waterboarding. There were other types of tactics that were I think much less aggressive. The president has decided that none of these enhanced interrogation techniques will continue. What we needed to do is to get ourselves back on a firmer footing as far as what we do when we capture detain terrorists and my views I believe are entirely consistent with where the president is on that issue.”

Brennan would not directly answer when I asked him if drone attacks were sufficient in Pakistan.

“The United States is working very closely with our Pakistani and Afghan allies,” he said. “We are constantly sharing information. We are constantly thinking about how we can best diminish and degrade terrorist capabilities. There's a full range of activities that we're involved in and we feel comfortable that our relationship with our partners over there is strong, number one, and also that we have the terrorist groups — particularly al Qaeda — on the defensive. There has been some very successful counter-terrorism activities that the Pakistanis and we have collaborated on and so it's going in the right direction. We're not going to rest until al Qaeda is destroyed, Bin Laden and others are brought to justice. We're pleased with the direction that things are going in.”

The ABC News Political Punch Podcast is available on iTunes and by clicking HERE.

– jpt

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