Born in northern New Jersey on September 22, 1955, John Brennan earned a B.A. in political science from Fordham University in 1977. In 1976 he voted for Communist Party USA presidential nominee Gus Hall. As historian Ron Radosh points out, “The CPUSA at that time was dedicated to gaining support for Soviet foreign policy, with the intent of defeating the United States in the Cold War.... Moscow regularly gave Hall thousands of dollars to enable the Communists in America to carry on their work.” Brennan has explained that his motivation for supporting Hall was that he (Brennan) was unhappy “with the system” and saw the “need for change.”
In 1980 Brennan earned an M.A. in government from the University of Texas at Austin. In his graduate thesis, he denied the existence of “absolute human rights” and argued in favor of censorship by the Egyptian dictatorship: “Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship. Inflamatory [sic] articles can provoke mass opposition and possible violence, especially in developing political systems.”
Also in 1980, Brennan joined the CIA as an intelligence director, and in the '90s he served a stint as a daily intelligence briefer for President Bill Clinton. According to one former CIA official, Brennan in 1998 was “instrumental in preventing … an operation ... that would have killed or captured Osama bin Laden,” and instead advised the U.S. to “trust the Saudis to take care of” the al Qaeda leader.
In 1999, CIA director George Tenet appointed Brennan as his chief of staff. From March 2001 until 2003, Brennan served as the CIA's deputy executive director. In 2003-04 he headed the newly created Terrorist Threat Integration Center, and in 2004-05 he directed the National Counterterrorism Center. In 2005 Brennan left government to become CEO of the Analysis Corporation, a Virginia company that supported the federal government's counterterrorism efforts. He also chaired the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
In a 2006 interview on C-SPAN, Brennan said: “It would be nice to be able to put Hizballah [Hezbollah] in a category of being totally evil, but Hezbollah as an organization is a very complex one that has a terrorist arm to it. It has a social and political nature to it as well.”
When news of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping initiative made headlines in late 2005, Brennan defended the practice and maintained that the telecommunication companies participating in the program “should be granted ... immunity, because they were told to [participate] by the appropriate authorities that were operating in a legal context.” Brennan also supported “enhanced interrogation” techniques and described “extraordinary rendition” as “an absolutely vital tool” that “without a doubt has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.” in a 2007 interview with CBS News, Brennan stated that waterboarding in particular was a highly useful practice: “There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency [CIA] has, in fact, used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives.”
Brennan subsequently departed from these positions when he served as a senior advisor to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. In a letter to Obama, for example, Brennan called himself “a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding.”
In a paper he published in July 2008, Brennan called on U.S. officials to "cease public Iran-bashing," and advised the U.S. to "tolerate, and even … encourage, greater assimilation of Hizballah into Lebanon's political system, a process that is subject to Iranian influence." Such political participation, he maintained, was an indication that Hizballah was turning away from terrorism:
"Not coincidentally, the evolution of Hizballah into a fully vested player in the Lebanese political system has been accompanied by a marked reduction in terrorist attacks carried out by the organization. The best hope for maintaining this trend and for reducing the influence of violent extremists within the organization—as well as the influence of extremist Iranian officials who view Hizballah primarily as a pawn of Tehran—is to increase Hizballah's stake in Lebanon's struggling democratic processes."
In that same 2008 paper, Brennan endorsed direct political and diplomatic engagement with Iran despite its status as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Writes terrorism expert Steven Emerson: "He [Brennan] minimized the threat of Iran's nuclear weapons program and blamed American rhetoric as 'brash labeling' for hardening Tehran's position toward the United States."
After Barack Obama's election victory in 2008, Brennan was widely regarded as the leading contender for the position of CIA director, but he withdrew his name from consideration when alalysts noted that his previous support of enhanced interrogation was inconsistent with Obama's stated opposition to the practice. In January 2009, Obama appointed Brennan as deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism—a post that, unlike CIA director, did not require Senate confirmation.
In August 2009 Brennan said that tactics like waterboarding were not only inconsistent with “our ideals as a nation,” but also “undermine our national security” because they “are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists, increase the determination of our enemies, and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us.” Further, Brennan detailed for the first time the Obama administration's decision to dispense with the term “global war on terror.” Emphasizing the need to target “extremists” rather than “jihadists,” he explained that “jihad” means "to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal.” The use of that term, Brennan elaborated, “risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself.” Adding that it was vital “to confront the broader political, economic and social conditions in which extremists thrive,” Brennan called terrorism “the final murderous manifestation of a long process rooted in hopelessness, humiliation, and hatred.”
Also in August 2009, Brennan said he was “pleased to see that a lot of Hezbollah individuals are in fact renouncing ... terrorism and violence and are trying to participate in the political process in a very legitimate fashion.” “Hamas,” he added, had “started out as a very focused social organization that was providing welfare to Palestinians,” but eventually “developed an extremist and terrorist element” that “unfortunately delegitimized it in the eyes of many” and diminished the chances of the Palestinian people getting “what they truly deserve, which is a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel.” Nation reporter Robert Dreyfuss, meanwhile, revealed that Brennan had once told him that (as Dreyfuss paraphrased): “talking to Hamas and Hezbollah is the right thing to do.”
On Christmas Day 2009, Nigerian al Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted, unsuccessfully, to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight (from Amsterdam to Detroit) in midair with a powerful chemical bomb. In the aftermath of the incident, Brennan explained that the Obama administration would treat it as a law-enforcement matter rather than as an act of war or terrorism; that the perpetrator would be offered a plea agreement in exchange for information about al Qaeda operations in Yemen; and that if such an agreement could not be worked out, Abdulmutallab would be tried in a federal court rather than a military tribunal. When some commentators subsequently complained that Abdulmutallab’s name had never been added to the U.S. "no-fly" list even though his own father had warned CIA officials of his son's radicalization, Brennan claimed that their “politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering” would “only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.”
Brennan sought to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a civilian court as well, stating, in a February 2010 speech to Islamic law students at New York University, that “we need to bring him to justice in an American court”—a goal the Obama administration eventually abandoned, due to the plan's unpopularity with the public. Also during his NYU speech, Brennan referred to Jerusalem by its Arabic name, “Al-Quds”; stated that the 20% recidivism rate of former Guantanamo detainees “isn't that bad” when compared to criminal recidivism trends generally; asserted that "while poverty and lack of opportunity do not cause terrorism, it is obvious that the lack of education, of basic human services and hope for the future make vulnerable populations more susceptible to ideologies of violence and death"; and called Hezbollah “a very interesting organization” whose “more moderate elements” the U.S. should strive to “build up.”
Three months later, Brennan again said the Obama administration was trying to establish a positive relationship with “moderate elements” of Hezbollah.
Around the time of his NYU speech in 2010, Brennan met privately with the founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam al-Marayati, who views Hamas and Hezbollah as political and "educational" organizations that engage in "legitimate resistance." After the meeting, MPAC claimed credit for the Obama administration's decision to, as MPAC put it: "rejec[t] the label of 'jihadist' to describe terrorists, because it legitimates violent extremism with religious validation, a point MPAC made in its 2003 policy paper on counterterrorism."
When reporter Patrick Poole in September 2010 revealed that under Brennan's watch, a known, high-level Hamas official in the U.S. had received a guided tour of the top-secret National Counterterrorism Center and FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, several former intelligence and defense officials called for Brennan to resign.
Speaking in June 2011 about how the Obama administration would deal with terrorism following the recent death of Osama bin Laden, Brennan dismissed any notion that Islamic terrorists might attempt to build a caliphate in the Middle East. "Our strategy is shaped by a deeper understanding of al-Qaeda’s goals, strategy and tactics that we have gained over the last decade," said Brennan. "I’m not talking about al-Qaeda’s grandiose vision of global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate. That vision is absurd, and we are not going to organize our counter-terrorist polices against a feckless delusion that is never going to happen.... We are not going to elevate these thugs and their murderous aspirations into something larger than they really are."
Events over the ensuing three years, however, would prove Brennan wrong vis a vis his assessment of the possibility that Islamists might seek to establish a caliphate. As The Daily Caller reported in August 2014:
"Beginning in the summer of 2013, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] — the successor of al-Qaida and other jihadist movements — seized vast swathes of Syria and began pushing into Iraq. Their offensive picked up speed in the early months of 2014, snowballing out of control after their capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June. At the end of June ISIS changed their name to Islamic State (IS) and announced the formation of an Islamic caliphate in the Syrian and Iraqi territory they controlled. Under the leadership of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group has cut a swath of death and devastation through northern Iraq, killing Christians and other religious minorities, forcing thousands more into hiding and assaulting key U.S. allies in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq."
On October 19, 2011, Farhana Khera, president and executive director of the organization Muslim Advocates, sent Brennan a letter charging that the FBI was a bigoted agency which kept "antiquated and offensive documents about Muslims and Islam" on its intranet, and that some of the Bureau's new recruits were taught "that Islam is a religion that 'transforms a country's culture into 7th-century Arabian ways.'" Within two weeks, Brennan capitulated to Khera's demand that the FBI eliminate its "offensive" curriculum/training materials; i.e., he called for a purge of materials that made reference to "jihad" and "radical Islam." In a written response to Khera, Brennan said:
"I am aware of the recent unfortunate incidents that have highlighted examples of substandard and offensive training that some United States Government elements have either sponsored or delivered. Any and all such training runs completely counter to our values, [and] our commitment to strong partnerships with communities across the country..."
Brennan added that the Obama administration had already initiated a review of all FBI and Department of Homeland Security training materials on the subject of "countering violent extremism." He also assured Khera that the administration would do everything in its power to improve "cultural competency training across the United States Government," and to emphasize "cultural awareness."
Soon thereafter, on February 22, 2012, Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) reported:
"It was just revealed two days ago that FBI Director Mueller secretly met on February 8 at FBI headquarters with a coalition of groups including various Islamist and militant Arabic groups who in the past have defended Hamas and Hizballah and have also issued blatantly anti-Semitic statements. At this meeting, the FBI revealed that it had removed more than 1,000 presentations and curricula on Islam from FBI offices around the country that [were] deemed 'offensive.' The FBI did not reveal what criteria was used to determine why material was considered 'offensive' but knowledgeable law enforcement sources have told the IPT that it was these radical groups who made that determination. Moreover, numerous FBI agents have confirmed that from now on, FBI headquarters has banned all FBI offices from inviting any counter-terrorist specialists who are considered 'anti-Islam' by Muslim Brotherhood front groups.
"The February 8 FBI meeting was the culmination of a series of unpublicized directives issued in the last three months by top FBI officials to all its field offices to immediately recall and withdraw any presentation or curricula on Islam throughout the entire FBI. In fact, according to informed sources and undisclosed documents, the FBI directive was instigated by radical Muslim groups in the US who had repeatedly met with top officials of the Obama Administration to complain, among other things, that the mere usage of the term of 'radical Islam' in FBI curricula was 'offensive' and 'racist.' And thus, directives went out by Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Mueller to censor all such material. Included in the material destroyed or removed by the FBI and the DOJ were powerpoints and articles that defined jihad as 'holy war' or presentations that portrayed the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization bent on taking over the world—a major tenet that the Muslim Brotherhood has publicly stated for decades."
The FBI's decision to change its training materials and interrogation methods went on to have serious, real-world consequences. A particularly noteworthy case involved jihadist Omar Mateen, who in June 2016 entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others. The Daily Caller reports:
"The FBI reportedly canceled its 2013 investigation into Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen after only 10 months because they viewed the terroristic threats he made as a reaction to 'being marginalized because of his Muslim faith,' by his coworkers. According to Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, the revelation came during a closed door meeting with FBI Director James Comey.... 'Director Comey confirmed to reporters ... that there was a full FBI investigation of Omar Mateen in 2013,' she explained. 'It was 10 months in length, and it was opened after he told his co-workers that he had family connections to Al Qaeda, that he was a member of a Shi’a terrorism organization, and that he hoped law enforcement would raid his home and assault his wife so that he could then retaliate and martyr himself.' 'That investigation was very extensive,' Herridge continued. 'It involved the use of confidential informants — also surveillance — by the FBI as well as two in person interviews with Mateen.'
"Herridge noted that during the 10 month investigation, 'he was on a watch list, and if he attempted to buy a firearm during that period the FBI would have been flagged to that purchase.' Finally, Herridge explained the reasons why the FBI called off the probe. 'At the end of 10 months the investigation was closed with no further action. They took Mateen’s statements he was trying to taunt his co-workers because he thought he was being marginalized because of his Muslim faith.'"
In September 2012, Brennan was involved in crafting the false talking points that then-Secretary of State Susan Rice gave regarding the 9/11/12 terrorist attack against a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Specifically, Rice claimed that according to the “best information at present,” the deadly attack was not premeditated, but rather, a “spontaneous reaction” to “a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.”
On January 7, 2013, President Obama nominated Brennan for the position of CIA director. During his Senate confirmation hearing on February 7, 2013, he called waterboarding a “reprehensible” practice that “never should’ve taken place in my view.” “As far as I’m concerned, waterboarding is something that never should’ve been employed,” Brennan told Senator Carl Levin, “and, as far I’m concerned, never will be if I have anything to do with it.”
In February 2013, John Guandolo, a former Marine who subsequently worked eight years in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division as a “subject matter expert” regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and the global spread of Islam, stated that Brennan had converted to Islam years earlier in Saudi Arabia. Said Guandolo:
“Mr. Brennan did convert to Islam when he served in an official capacity on the behalf of the United States in Saudi Arabia. That fact alone is not what is most disturbing. His conversion to Islam was the culmination of a counterintelligence operation against him to recruit him. The fact that foreign intelligence service operatives recruited Mr. Brennan when he was in a very sensitive and senior U.S. government position in a foreign country means that he either a traitor … [or] he has the inability to discern and understand how to walk in those kinds of environments, which makes him completely unfit to the be the director of Central Intelligence.... The facts of the matter are confirmed by U.S. government officials who were also in Saudi Arabia at the time that John Brennan was serving there and have direct knowledge. These are men who work in very trusted positions, they were direct witnesses to his growing relationship with the individuals who worked for the Saudi government and others and they witnessed his conversion to Islam."
Guandolo's claim about Brennan's conversion has never been corroborated by an independent source.
Brennan has publicly praised "the goodness and beauty of Islam," which he characterizes as "a faith of peace and tolerance." "The tremendous warmth of Islamic cultures and societies," he said in 2010, typically makes visitors from non-Muslim lands feel very "welcomed."
On March 7, 2013, the Senate (by a margin of 63-34) confirmed Brennan for the position of CIA director. When he was sworn into office, he placed his left hand not on a bible, but on an original draft of the U.S. Constitution dating from 1787 – before it included the Bill of Rights. Most, but not all, previous CIA directors had been sworn in using a bible.
Brennan's Deception Regarding the Survivors of the Benghazi Terrorist Attacks
At a May 21, 2013 CIA ceremony honoring the Agency officials killed in the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, several CIA officers who had survived those attacks were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)—despite the fact that they were: (a) leaving government service, and (b) still bound by previous NDAs which they had signed. Both before and after the May 21st NDAs, intelligence officials adamantly denied that anyone affiliated with the CIA had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements regarding the events in Benghazi.
Perhaps the most notable of those denials came in a September 3, 2013 letter from CIA director Brennan to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers, in which Brennan responded to several specific questions that Rogers had previously posed (in a letter dated August 2, 2013) regarding whether or not the CIA officers who survived the Benghazi attacks were subsequently subjected to polygraphs or required to sign NDAs. Posing and answering several questions as a means of responding to Rogers' queries, Brennan wrote:
1. Has any officer, either staff of contractor, been forced to undergo any polygraph because of their presence or their participation in any activity related to Benghazi attacks?
2. Has any officer, either staff of contractor, been required to sign any non-disclosure agreement because of their presence at Benghazi or their participation in any activity related to the Benghazi attacks?
According to sources familiar with the NDAs that were presented to the Benghazi survivors at the May 21, 2013 memorial service, the documents did not specifically mention the Benghazi attacks and thus were technically consistent with Brennan’s letter. But as a Weekly Standard analysis notes:
“That’s a generous interpretation. The new NDAs were presented to Benghazi survivors after they had flown in from around the country (or world) to attend a CIA memorial for the Benghazi fallen at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia—where the attacks in Benghazi were the focus of the day. It’s hardly a leap to imagine that these NDAs, perhaps not even necessary, were intended to remind CIA officials a little more than six months removed from their service in Benghazi that the U.S. government would prefer that they not discuss what happened there.”
Senator Feinstein Accuses Brennan's CIA of Hacking into Computers of Senate Intelligence Committee
In March 2014, Senator Dianne Feinstein—the head of a Senate Intelligence Committee that was involved in a multi-year probe (begun in 2009) of the CIA's use of harsh interrogation measures on suspected terrorists during the Bush Administration—went to the Senate floor and angrily accused Brennan's CIA of having hacked into the computers of her Committee staffers. In response, Brennan expressed dismay that “some members of the Senate” were making “spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.” Moreover, he demanded an end to “outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and Congressional overseers.” And he told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we do.” Brennan likewise told the media that “a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”
But according to the findings of a CIA inspector general’s report released on July 31, 2014, it was actually Brennan who was proved wrong. The report indicated that five CIA employees—two attorneys and three computer specialists—indeed had surreptitiously and unlawfully searched files and emails on the computers of the aforementioned Senate investigators. In response to the report, Brennan apologized to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders.
Committee members were infuriated, however. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado), for example, called for Brennan’s resignation, citing “the unprecedented hacking of congressional staff computers,” damaging leaks about the Committee’s investigations, and Brennan’s “abject failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the agency.” By contrast, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that President Obama continued to support Brennan and had “not at all” lost faith in the CIA leader's credibility.
Brennan Says ISIS Terror Group Is Not Islamic
In a March 2015 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Brennan refused to refer to the Islamic State (ISIS, a.k.a. ISIL) terror group as an “Islamic” entity. Said the CIA director: “[Q]uite frankly I am amused at the debate that goes on [that] unless you call it [Islamic terrorism] what it is, you don't know what you're fighting. And let's make it very clear that the people who carry out acts of terrorism, whether it be Al Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant [ISIS], are doing it because they believe it is consistent with what their view of Islam is. It is totally inconsistent with what the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world [believe]. And so by ascribing it as a Muslim terrorism or Islamic extremism — I think it does really give them the type of Islamic legitimacy that they are so desperately seeking, but which they don’t deserve at all. They are terrorists, they’re criminals. Many of them are psychopathic thugs, murderers, who use a religious concept and masquerade, mask themselves, in that religious construct. And I do think it does injustice to the tenets of religion when we attach a religious moniker to [ISIS]. The Muslims I know ... The people I’ve worked with throughout the Middle East most of my career find just disgraceful that these individuals present themselves as Muslims.... The words we use can have resonance ... [W]hat they [ISIS terrorists] do has no basis in any upstanding religions.”
For additional information on John Brennan, click here.
 Brennan's prediction proved to be wholly inaccurate, as a February 2013 report by the Invesigative Project on Terrorism explained: "The record since then could not be further from Brennan's idealistic hopes.... A new report finds Hizballah, working with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is responsible for a wave of terrorist plots throughout the world."
 Brennan was introduced at NYU by Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.