The Washington Post has not always loved John Brennan

The Washington Post has not always loved John Brennan
The brain trust, briefing Congress in 2014. (Image: Defense Intelligence Agency)

Last Wednesday, the day Donald Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, the Washington Post wrote:

The move sent shock waves through Washington’s political class and the intelligence community, which has traditionally sought to avoid public partisanship but has been dragged into the debate as Trump has accused what he calls the ‘deep state’ of seeking to undermine his presidency through leaks of sensitive material.

But the article didn’t stop there. It went on to acknowledge Brennan’s many years of service and highlighted one of his key accomplishments as CIA chief under Barack Obama:

Brennan was a longtime intelligence official who briefed three presidents and served as CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, CIA chief of staff, director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.

His former colleagues rallied to his defense, hailing his service to the nation, including a key role in the 2011 operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

The following day, Post veteran David Ignatius weighed in on Trump’s “punishment” of Brennan, writing:

Will this presidential election be the most important in American history?

What Donald Trump did Wednesday isn’t supposed to happen in a democracy. A president who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution just carried out a personal political vendetta against a career intelligence officer.

Although these reactions don’t quite rise to the level of tribute, they certainly betray an admiration for the man, who in the view of the Post’s writers was clearly wronged by a petulant tyrant.

Other columns in the days that followed foster the impression that Brennan had been a consummate professional in his stewardship of the nation’s intelligence community. One article, published yesterday and titled “Former intelligence officials bite back after Trump goes after Brennan’s clearance,” includes the reaction of retired Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, who headed the Joint Special Operations Command that oversaw the raid by Navy SEALs that took out Osama bin Laden in 2011:

With Trump, McRaven has been … pointed, though still respectful. The president’s decision to punish Brennan, however, stirred in McRaven a reaction that was as strong and biting. In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, he ripped the president for taking Brennan’s clearance away. He said he would “consider it an honor” to have his security clearance revoked also “so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.”

From all this, you’d get the distinct impression that the Washington Post is one of John Brennan’s greatest admirers. But that hasn’t always been the case.

Consider this article from the Jul 31, 2014 edition. The title? “Obama should fire John Brennan.” From the article:

In March, at the Council on Foreign Relations, CIA Director John Brennan was asked by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell whether the CIA had illegally accessed Senate Intelligence Committee staff computers “to thwart an investigation by the committee into” the agency’s past interrogation techniques. The accusation had been made earlier that day by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who said the CIA had “violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.” Brennan answered:

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do. {…}

And, you know, when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.

Now we know that the truth was far different. The Post’s Greg Miller reports:

CIA Director John O. Brennan has apologized to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee after an agency investigation determined that its employees improperly searched computers used by committee staff to review classified files on interrogations of prisoners.


A statement released by the CIA on Tuesday acknowledged that agency employees had searched areas of that computer network that were supposed to be accessible only to committee investigators. Agency employees were attempting to discover how congressional aides had obtained a secret CIA internal report on the interrogation program.


An apology and an internal review board might suffice if this were Brennan or intelligence leaders’ first offense, but the track record is far from spotless. In 2011, Brennan claimed that dozens of U.S. drone strikes on overseas targets had not killed a single civilian. This remarkable success rate was not only disputed at the time by news reports — even supporters of the drone program called it “absurd” — but as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the New York Times both reported later, President Obama received reports from the very beginning of his presidency about drone strikes killing numerous civilians. As Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser at the time, Brennan would have received these reports as well, so either Brennan knew that his claim was a lie, or he is secretly deaf. Similarly, Brennan denied snooping on Senate computers six weeks after Feinstein first made the accusation to the CIA in private, which means either that he was lying, or he had ignored a serious charge against his agency for six weeks, then spouted off about it without any real knowledge — hardly the behavior expected of an agency director.

Never mind Brennan’s security clearance. Back when he was still an active part of the government, the Post was so utterly down on him that it felt he should be terminated.

What has happened in the intervening years to change the Post’s mind?

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles is a freelance writer and regular contributor to "Liberty Unyielding."


For your convenience, you may leave commments below using Disqus. If Disqus is not appearing for you, please disable AdBlock to leave a comment.