In an oped in USA Today, John Brennan — Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism — responds to critics of the Obama administration's counterterrorism policies by saying "Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda."
Brennan writes that, "Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill."
In the oped, titled "'We need no lectures': Administration disrupts terrorists’ plots, takes fight to them abroad," Brennan writes that politics "should never get in the way of national security. But too many in Washington are now misrepresenting the facts to score political points, instead of coming together to keep us safe."
The administration op-ed is in response to a USA Today editorial entitled "National security team fails to inspire confidence; Officials’ handling of Christmas Day attack looks like amateur hour."
Brennan provides a detailed defense of the administration's handling of failed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab whom, he says, was "thoroughly interrogated and provided important information."
He suggests that many critics are hypocritical and clueless.
The most important breakthrough in the interrogation occurred "after Abdulmutallab was read his rights, which the FBI made standard policy under Michael Mukasey, President Bush's attorney general," he writes, noting that failed shoe bomber Richard Reid "was read his Miranda rights five minutes after being taken off a plane he tried to blow up. The same people who criticize the president today were silent back then."
Brennan said anyone who wants to change the policy would be casting aside lessons learned "in waging this war" on extremists.
"Terrorists such as Jose Padilla and Saleh al-Mari did not cooperate when transferred to military custody, which can harden one's determination to resist cooperation," he writes.
He calls it "naive to think that transferring Abdulmutallab to military custody would have caused an outpouring of information. There is little difference between military and civilian custody, other than an interrogator with a uniform. The suspect gets access to a lawyer, and interrogation rules are nearly identical."
Moreover, Brennan says, hundreds of terrorists have been convicted in criminal courts while only three have been convicted in the military tribunal system.
The former CIA official also asserts that the Obama administration is doing a better job than the Bush administration did in taking the fight to al Qaeda. "This administration's efforts have disrupted dozens of terrorist plots against the homeland and been responsible for killing and capturing hundreds of hard-core terrorists, including senior leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond — far more than in 2008."
"We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war," he says.
USA Today's editorial writers see it all a bit differently, of course, writing that though "the Obama administration's national security officials have struggled to assure the public that they know exactly what they're doing," they are so far "achieving the opposite, and they're needlessly adding some jitters in the process."
The editorial writers fault the Obama administration for announcing "last week that an attack by al-Qaeda is likely in the next three to six months. The warning is bound to frighten the public, with no obvious benefit beyond the ability to say 'I told you so.'"
They also refer to National Intelligence Director Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.) as having "had a 'Duh!' moment" for acknowledging that "authorities fumbled the initial questioning of Abdulmutallab by failing to call in the high-value interrogation group, which was created to question terrorism suspects. Refreshingly candid, yes, but not a statement that inspires confidence. Especially when the same day, at another Senate hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified that the high-value unit was still in its 'formation stages' and that 'there was no time' to get it to Detroit."
USA Today's editorial writers say that when senior administration officials revealed Abdulmutallab's cooperation with authorities, "the news pretty much negate(d) earlier claims that no intelligence was lost when Abdulmutallab was prematurely read his rights."
UPDATE: Missouri Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in response to the Brennan op-ed: "The only one making this political is the White House. The Administration must do better, because trying to pass the buck for their dangerous decisions and divulging sensitive information to al Qaeda is not an effective terror-fighting strategy."
*This post has been updated.