I’ll have a broader piece up soon about John Brennan’s speech about counterterrorism, which in many ways represented a stark departure from several key tenets of the Bush administration’s approach. But on one issue that I asked Brennan about, the president’s chief adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security seemed reluctant to clear up an issue about the past.
Last month, a team of inspectors general from across the government released the results of a year-long study about the constellation of domestic surveillance programs — which possess, at a minimum, dubious legality — launched by the Bush administration. One of the revelations of the study was that the CIA and other elements of the intelligence community were more involved in the surveillance than was ever suspected, with analysts from some agencies providing the basis for determining there was a continuing terrorist threat that necessitated the surveillance. For about two and a half years, two of those agencies — the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and its successor organization, the National Counterterrorism Center — were run by John Brennan. During that time, the report states, the heads of the CIA — George Tenet, John McLaughlin, and Porter Goss — signed those analytic assessments before passing them along, and the report does not specify what role if any Brennan played. Marcy Wheeler, my friend who blogs at Emptywheel, is the only reporter I know of who’s seized on this key discovery.
So today I asked Brennan: in light of the IGs report, what was his role, if any, in the domestic surveillance activities of the Bush administration? Here’s his answer, in full:
I fulfilled all my responsibilities at NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] that I was asked to fulfill. And there are a number of different programs, some of which have come out in the press, some of which have not. Some of the things that have come out in the press have been inaccurate in terms of the representations there. And when I look back in terms of my service at the NCTC and those places I believe I fulfilled those responsibilities to the best of my abilities.
These issues related to the so-called domestic surveillance programs and other things — one of the things I mentioned, there’s a lot of hyperbole and misrepresentations about what actually happened. And a lot of times people go down certain roads believing reports as facts. And that’s not the case. So I’m not going to go into sort of what my role was in that instance because a lot of those activities are still considered classified and not in the public domain, irrespective of what the press reports might be out there.
Brennan is either conflating unspecified inaccurate press reports with the inspectors general report or he’s challenging the inspectors general report itself.
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