Amid some political turmoil--renewed attacks from Republicans, some big questions from the concerned public about watch-lists, and the closing of the U.S. embassy in Yemen--following the Christmas Day incident over Detroit, the White House dispatched its top counterterrorism official, Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, to the Sunday talk shows this week to face up to questions about American security and generally tell people what's going on. Brennan is leading the review of national security/intelligence failures that led up to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's near-bombing.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had, effectively, become the face of the administration's response in the days after the Christmas attack, before the president himself engaged reporters in Hawaii: she went on CNN's "State of the Union" two days after the incident, and her "system worked" sound byte got replayed over and over; Brennan provided a new face today, one more narrowly focused on intelligence and counterterrorism--that's Brennan's background; he doesn't have the broad, survey responsibilities of the DHS secretary--as well as some sound bytes of his own.
Politically, the big one came on NBC's "Meet the Press," where he scolded former Vice President Dick Cheney for leveling attacks on President Obama, saying he's "very disappointed" in the former VP, who must either be "willfully mischaracterizing" Obama's positions or "ignorant of the facts." (In a statement to Politico, Cheney said recently that Obama is "trying to pretend' the nation isn't at war.) Strong stuff from Brennan (video here):
I'm very disappointed in the vice president's comments. I'm neither Republican nor Democrat. I've worked for the past five administrations. And either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president's position, both in terms of the language he uses and the actions he taken--he's taken, or he's ignorant of the facts. And in either case, it doesn't speak well of what the vice president's doing. The clear evidence is that this president has been very, very strong. In his inaugural address, he said, "We're at war with this international network of terrorists." We continue to say that we're at war with al-Qaeda. We're trying to give it some clarity. And we have taken the fight to them. We've continued, in fact, many of the, of the activities of the previous administration. I would not have come back into this government if I felt that this president was not committed to prosecuting this war against al-Qaeda. And every day I see it in the president's face, I see it in the actions he's taken, and so I'm confident that this country is, in fact, protected by this president's position on al-Qaeda and against terrorist activities. We're going to continue to do this, we're going to do it hard, we're going to do it constantly.
There's been a lot of talk about how the same questions are getting raised about the intelligence community now as were voiced, almost identically, immediately after 9/11--"connecting dots," sharing information between branches of the U.S. security network, etc.--and here's how Brennan answered those criticisms on ABC's "This Week," with Terry Moran taking the place of George Stephanopoulos: "Well, in fact, prior to 9/11, I think there was reluctance on the part of a lot of agencies and departments for sharing information. There is no evidence whatsoever that any agency or department was reluctant to share," Brennan said. And in almost the same words on CNN's "State of the Union": "Well, first of all, it's not like 9/11. There was no indication that any of these agencies or departments were intentionally holding back information," Brennan told fill-in host Gloria Borger.