President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, will lead the White House review of intelligence community information practices and aviation security, even though he was CEO of the private company the government used to help manage a key terrorism database before he joined the administration.
In response to questions about Brennan's potential conflict of interest, White House ethics counsel Norm Eisen has issued a waiver for Brennan, official said.
Before he served as CEO of The Analysis Corporation, or TAC, Brennan was the interim director of the first incarnation of the National Counterterrorism Center. In that position, he oversaw the government's first post 9-11 attempts at community-wide data sharing. Before joining the administration, Brennan spent 35 years in the intelligence community, mostly at the CIA, and served in senior management.
Denis McDonough, chief of staff at the National Security Council, said that the ethics rules "recognize that when the public interest outweighs other issues, an official should be authorized to proceed with an assignment, particularly in the national security arena. Our counsel have determined that to be the case here and have authorized John to proceed-with the understanding that others will review specific issues relating to TAC should any arise."
Eisen, in a blog post, explained his decision to grant the waiver for Brennan. "By virtue of his long experience in government and the private sector, John brings a unique mixture of know-how and understanding to this assignment," Eisen wrote.
TAC, which is owned by Global Strategies Group/North America, helped to create the government's first terrorism database during the Clinton administration. In 2005, it won a lucrative contract to integrate intelligence information from the Defense Intelligence Agency into the umbrella database, called TiDE. In 2008, several TAC employees illegally accessed information about Obama's passports. In an interview with me a few months later, Brennan described how TAC worked to integrate parts of the State Department's visa and passport tracking databases with TiDE.
A lawyer for the National Security Council said in a brief interview that Brennan no longer held any financial stake in the company, from which he resigned before joining Obama's transition team.
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Marc Ambinder is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.