The Center for Strategic and International Studies is a leading, well-connected, national security think tank in Washington, D.C. Delivering a speech there is akin to a throat-clearing, or, in the case of John Brennan, a coming out of the shadows.
Brennan is Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser. He shares Obama's multifaceted approach to the task -- strong overt and covert intelligence and military action combined with "new thinking" about economic development, dialog, and democracy-promotion. Defeating Al Qaeda remains the goal. "But it's not about Osama. It's about what he's trying to build." Attacking what Al Qaeda wants to build requires, in the Brennan-Obama worldview, a very robust war in Afghanistan, cooperation with Pakistan, as well as a new approach to humanitarian assistance, new outreach to Muslims and plenty of subtle economic and social interventions.
Since Brennan was selected to be Obama's chief homeland security adviser, critics have asked the administration to affirm that Brennan played no role in the development of execution of what the CIA called its "enhanced interrogation programs" -- torture. Administration officials say they are comfortable with Brennan's history. John McLaughlin, a former CIA deputy director, has said that Brennan's brief at the CIA did not include supervision of interrogations. Brennan, a career CIA operations officer, was the founding director of the predecessor to the National Counterterrorism Center. He spent several years as president of The Analysis Corporation, which maintained the centralized terrorist watch database for the NCTC. He recruited to advise President Obama by former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake.
During the Q and A session, Brennan, speaking in a knowledgeable staccato, would not say whether he supported a classified annex to the Army Field Manual's interrogation practices, nor would he say how the administration might deal with future preventative detentions. He did say that those cases were "dwindling" because "foreign countries are standing up."
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Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.