I don’t even have to write anything new about the disaster that is John Brennan. What I wrote more than four years ago is still true. This guy is dangerous to our nation. Senators need to probe him on Benghazi. The talking points that Susan Rice relied on most likely have his fingerprints on it. How about the “off-the-books” intel operation being run out of the White House to support the Saudi policy of arming rebels in Syria? Also John Brennan.

By LARRY JOHNSON, originally published on November 11, 2008 (and republished on 14 November 2008):

If you enjoyed the George W. Bush era, you are gonna love the Barack Obama regime, because Obama is relying on some of the same folks who helped create the mayhem and failures in the CIA. That’s right, boys and girls. Take a look at today’s Wall Street Journal:

President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party. . . .

The intelligence-transition team is led by former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan and former CIA intelligence-analysis director Jami Miscik, say officials close to the matter. Mr. Brennan is viewed as a potential candidate for a top intelligence post. Ms. Miscik left amid a slew of departures from the CIA under then-Director Porter Goss.

Advisers caution that few decisions will be made until the team gets a better picture of how the Bush administration actually goes about gathering intelligence, including covert programs, and there could be a greater shift after a full review.

The Obama team plans to review secret and public executive orders and recent Justice Department guidelines that eased restrictions on domestic intelligence collection. “They’ll be looking at existing executive orders, then making sure from Jan. 20 on there’s going to be appropriate executive-branch oversight of intelligence functions,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview shortly before Election Day.

Putting John Brennan in charge of this effort is mind numbing. Brennan was one of the George Tenet toadies who defended the former CIA Director when I, along with a group of other retired CIA officers, demanded that Tenet donate part of the proceeds of his book to the families of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and to return his medal of freedom.

Brennan was part of the group of the insiders who saw no problem with George Tenet helping cook the intelligence and mislead the American people about the threat in Iraq. Here’s what Tim Shorrock wrote about that dust up:

Tenet’s ties with contractors were underscored last week in a dispute between two groups of former CIA officials over Tenet’s legacy. On April 28, six former intelligence officers wrote to Tenet, saying he shared culpability with President Bush and Vice President Cheney for “the debacle in Iraq,” and suggesting he donate half the royalties from his book to Iraq war veterans and their families. All of the signatories had severed their ties to U.S. intelligence, although three of them, Phil Giraldi, Larry Johnson and Vince Cannistraro, work as consultants for news organizations, corporations and government agencies outside of intelligence.

A few days later, six recently retired officers responded. They called the first letter a “bitter, inaccurate and misleading attack” on Tenet and pointed out that it was drafted by officers who “had not served in the Agency for years.” Tenet, his supporters said, “literally led the nation’s counterterrorism fight.” And three of its six signatories were directly involved in that fight — as contractors. They included John Brennan of the Analysis Corp.; Cofer Black, Tenet’s former counterterrorism director and vice chairman of Blackwater, the private military contractor; and Robert Richer, the former deputy director of the CIA’s clandestine services. Richer recently left Blackwater to become the CEO of Total Intelligence, a new company formed with Black and other ex-CIA officials to provide intelligence services to corporations and government agencies.

In the immediate aftermath of 9-11 Brennan was in charge of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (which was replaced subsequently by the National Counter Terrorism Center) and failed to give the U.S. State Department the correct statistics on the number of terrorist attacks in 2003. He forgot to count an entire month’s data. I discovered the error and alerted folks at State Department.

Professors Alan Krueger and David Laitin independently discovered the discrepancies and published an op-ed in the Washington Post. Here’s a link for a comprehensive article discussing that intelligence failure.

So you think I am being too hard on Brennan? Sure, anyone can make a mistake. However, he was back in the news in 2005. I learned in March of that year that the State Department was not going publish the CIA stats on terrorism because the number of attacks had dramatically increased and the Bush Administration thought that made it look like they were losing the war on terror. John Brennan was part of that effort to keep the truth from the American public. Here’s the piece I wrote to help draw attention to this issue back in 2005:

The numbers are in and the news is not good for U.S. efforts to contain and reduce the threat of international terrorism. 2004 marked the highest number of significant incidents of terrorism since the intelligence community started keeping statistics in 1968. (An incident is counted as significant if an attack results in the death, injury or kidnapping of one or more persons or property damage in excess of $10,000). Attacks jumped from 175 in 2003 to 651 in 2004. This surpasses the previous high of 273 significant attacks in 1985.

The bad news kept on coming. One thousand nine hundred and seven (1907) people died in international terrorist attacks last year. This marks the second highest death toll since 1968; falling short of the infamous record of 2001.

Unfortunately, former 9-11 Commission Staff Director, Phil Zelikow, and chief of the National Counter Terrorism Center, John Brennan, tried with some success to confuse the press and suggest that the numbers do not matter. In a deft display of obfuscation and spin Messrs. Zelikow and Brennan made several points. It started with Zelikow’s claim that:

The compilation of data about terrorist attacks is not a required part of the report, but traditionally had been provided by the State Department, going back to the years in which the State Department was basically the public voice of the U.S. Government on international terrorism, generally. . . . But what’s important for our purposes is what the law said the NCTC should do. It said the NCTC was the primary organization for analysis and integration of — and I’m quoting from the law now — “All intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States Government pertaining to terrorism or counterterrorism.” The law further stated that the NCTC would be the United States Government’s “shared knowledge bank on known and suspected terrorists and international terror groups, as well as their goals, strategies, capabilities, and networks of contact and support.” (Phil Zelikow)

State Department’s role as the lead for coordinating international terrorism was established by a National Security Decision Directive signed by President Reagan in early 1986. This was in response to an interagency fight that broke out during an effort to apprehend the terrorists responsible for the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship. While flying over Italy in late 1985 in pursuit of Abu Abbas, a State Department official and a CIA officer argued heatedly over who was in charge of the mission. Recognizing the need for a clear chain of command the Department of State was put in charge of coordinating the efforts of CIA, DOD, and FBI efforts to track and deal with terrorism. The first man put in charge of this effort was L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer.

Mr. Zelikow is misleading the media by asserting that the State Department “traditionally compiled the data”. That is simply not true. The State Department never was in charge of collecting or compiling the statistics. It simply coordinated the process of assembling the data in order to provide the Congress and the American people with a comprehensive view of international terrorist activity. Since 1986 the Counter Terrorism Center at the CIA had the task of compiling the data and writing the narrative analysis. Don’t take my word for it, just ask the former Chiefs of the Counter Terrorism Center starting with Dewey Claridge and ending with Cofer Black.

By splitting the statistics on terrorism from the country reports, Zelikow is creating the kind of stovepiping of information which the 9-11 Commission claimed helped undermine US efforts to detect and defeat Al Qaeda’s effort to launch their suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There is nothing in the new law requiring this move.

John Brennan, the head of the National Counter Terrorism Center, made the unbelievable admission that when the CIA shifted responsibility for counting terrorist incidents to the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) in the fall of 2003 only three part time people were assigned to the task. Brennan said:

To ensure a more comprehensive accounting of terrorist incidents, we in the NCTC significantly increased the level of effort from three part-time individuals to 10 full-time analysts, and we took a number of other steps to improve quality control and database management. This increased level of effort allowed a much deeper review of far more information and, along with Iraq, are the primary reasons for the significant growth in a number of terrorist incidents being reported.

The American people are asked to believe that nobody at TTIC understood in the aftermath of 2001 that we needed to keep a comprehensive count of terrorist events. Implicit in this criticism is a smear on the good work done previously at the Counter Terrorism Center. CTC did not consider counting terrorism events an afterthought. They used a sound methodology of monitoring news media reports, FBIS reports, and cables from US Embassies and Defense Attaches to identify possible acts of international terrorism. An act of violence did not necessarily mean that terrorism was involved. Instead expert analysts from CTC and State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) would meet periodically to review and decide what incidents represented acts of international terrorism.

This process broke down when the responsibility for doing this was shifted from CTC and put under Mr. Brennan’s stewardship at the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in late 2003. Mr. Brennan in fact shares much of the responsibility for the debacle with the statistics that were misreported in the report issued in April 2004. He did not ensure that his part time employees could count.

With the beefed up work force at NCTC we now know that 10 analysts were involved in counting 651 significant international terrorist attacks in 2004. Geez, I guess that means it took each analyst one year to keep track of 65 attacks.

Brennan asks the media and the American people to believe that the rise in attacks is simply the result of better counting by more people. Not true. An independent data source from RAND-MIPT shows a similar dramatic rise in attacks and deaths. This is not an artifice of methodology. Something bad is going on out there.

Two countries account for a major portion of the increased terrorist activity—the Kashmir region of India and Iraq. With respect to Kashmir, it is important to note that since 1998 this area has consistently appeared in the appendix in Patterns of Global Terrorism that described significant incidents. I have used this data in briefing for foreign governments during that period to point out that not only was India being repeatedly attacked by Islamic jihadists (who were funded and trained by Pakistan), but that the people of Kashmir repeatedly suffered one of the highest death tolls of any country in the world from terrorist attacks. The sad fact is that media, and to a lesser extent the U.S. Government, tended to ignore these attacks.

It is worth recalling that the cruise missiles fired by President Clinton in August of 1998 in retaliation for the Al Qaeda bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania struck a camp in Afghanistan and killed members of one of the groups that carried out attacks in the Kashmir as well as two Pakistani intelligence officers. In the war against Islamic extremists Kashmir matters.

Brennan’s response on Iraq is more puzzling:

QUESTION: Do you regard the Iraq numbers that you just gave us — for which, thank you — as comparable? And the reason I ask is that I’ve got to figure that if there’s one piece of real estate that the U.S. intelligence community has devoted enormous resources to in the last two years, it’s got to be — two-and-a-half years — it’s Iraq. Therefore, do you think those figures are comparable, ’03 to ’02?
MR. BRENNAN: In terms of what the term you’re using — “comparable” — to sort of denote here, I’m not certain. The rigor that we applied worldwide for the 2004 data also applied to Iraq. So it was Iraq, Kashmir, and others. So that number, I think, is the result of exhaustive search and research on that. Also, as I pointed out, the number of civilians that have come not just from the United States, but also from other countries — the number of individuals who, in fact, are in different places in Iraq that have been involved in some of the attacks that have taken place there, I think that is the reason why, in fact, we’re seeing an increase in that number.

Although Brennan is not certain about the comparability of the numbers we do not have to rely on him. Data maintained by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is reported on at least a weekly basis to the Secretary of Defense, shows clear unambiguous data that the level of terrorist activity in Iraq mushroomed in 2004. In fact, the highest level of attacks ever recorded in Iraq occurred in December 2004.

Iraq is relevant to the threat of international terrorism principally because it is serving as a drawing card for jihadists throughout the Islamic world. I have had recent discussions with senior government officials representing three countries in the Persian Gulf. To a man they were alarmed by the images coming out of Iraq showing US soldiers abusing muslim women and the shooting of unarmed insurgents. The perception of the United States as an invader is inciting terrorism in the region, not quelling it. Several commented on the perceived parallel of the U.S. presence in Iraq as comparable to what the Soviets did in Afghanistan during the 1980s. They worry that we are sowing the seeds of future jihadist terrorism.

The real news from the press conference of Messrs. Zelikow and Brennan is that they have not finished counting the incidents from last year and that the numbers are likely to go up when revised statistics are issued in June. Moreover, both conceded that events in Russia and Philippines, where several hundred were killed, were excluded from the data.

I welcome Mr. Brennan’s commitment to look at the methodology and recommend corrections. The failure to count attacks inside Russia by Chechen separatists, for example, needs to be re-examined. While ten years ago there was no evidence that the Chechen were receiving outside assistance, that is not the case today. In fact Chechen fighters in the battle of Anaconda in Afghanistan in March 2002 killed American soldiers. The Chechen movement has clear economic and military ties to international jihadists. In future reports it would be entirely appropriate to classify as international attacks something carried out by any group with established ties to groups outside of their country.

There is no single statistic that can tell us what is happening in the war on terrorism. Reporting multiple attacks does not necessarily mean that casualties will follow. As Brennan and Zelikow correctly note most of the casualties were caused by a relatively small number of attacks. But, those attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists that have clear ties with Al Qaeda.

In light of this it is breathtaking that someone with Zelikow’s intellect can argue that numbers don’t matter. The following exchange occurred during the Wednesday afternoon press conference:

QUESTION: Um, 651 attacks in 2004, compared to 175 attacks in your report in 2003. That’s a sharp increase in terrorist attacks. What does that tell us about the war on terrorism — the global war on terrorism and the cooperation? . . . .
MR. ZELIKOW: I mean, the short answer is it doesn’t tell us anything about the war on terror. The statistics are simply not valid for any inference about the progress, either good or bad, of American policy. I think that’s the honest answer. If you just look at what the statistics are and what kind of inferences can legitimately be drawn from them, I can’t come up with a defensible inference.

Here’s the bottom line. Numbers do matter. If more people are being killed in Iraq and India then we need to ensure that US policy for combating terrorism is focused on those areas. To pretend that the threat of terrorism is as great in Brazil as in Iraq is delusional. And to pretend that objective facts say nothing about the reality of terrorism perhaps shows us why the US effort to deal with Islamic extremists is going in the wrong direction.

Friends in the intelligence community tell me that Zelikow, when confronted with the higher numbers, tried to have those numbers suppressed. Once word of this leaked out Zelikow shifted gears to damage control and constructed the artificial and misleading explanation that NCTC is now doing something new that was never done before. Oh yeah, and it is mandated by law.

Sadly this simply shows how uninformed Zelikow is about the history of counter terrorism policies and procedures during the last 25 years, notwithstanding his post as staff director of the 9-11 Commission. Maybe this explains why the Commission had such difficulty identifying who failed in their duty to prevent those terrible attacks in September 2001. Phil Zelikow by his own admission has trouble making sense of numbers.

So you thought Barack Obama would bring change to the abuses at CIA? Think again. He’s relying on folks who helped debase and embarrass the CIA. That’s not change I want to believe in.

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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.