Former CIA Director John Brennan has been making news lately.
— He told Business Insider that the biggest threat to the November election is President Trump himself.
— He said the “dishonesty” and disinformation that come out of the White House and Trump campaign are just as dangerous as foreign interference in the election.
— He wrote that he was “disgusted” and “nauseated” by Trump’s behavior toward the US intelligence community and his refusal to acknowledge Moscow’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 election.
— And overall, he told Insider, Russia got everything it could have hoped for from Trump’s presidency.
Though these are hardly earth-shattering observations and pronouncements — -and with an eye turned toward the fact that he would love to pump up the sales of his new memoir, “Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies, at Home and Abroad” — -John Brennan has rightly earned a reputation as one of Trump’s most vociferous critics since he left the CIA in 2017.
And he doesn’t mince words.
“Dishonesty, especially that coming out of the Donald Trump campaign, and the fact that you have certain networks that continue to misrepresent the facts in a very willful and dishonest fashion, is the main risk,” he remarked.
“Trump has a very well established and recognized track record of misrepresenting the truth, and he will continue to do so. And unfortunately, there are too many people who just drink in that demagogic rhetoric that he spews out.”
Now we’re talkin’.
Brennan spent more than two decades at the CIA and served as the agency’s director from 2013 to 2017.
Prior to that, he was an analyst in the Near East and South Asia division and later, a station chief in Saudi Arabia and head of the National Counterterrorism Center.
[Think of an old school career sort such as Saul Berenson, Mandy Patinkin’s character on Homeland].
He left public service in 2005 to work in private-security consulting, returning to the government in 2009.
In 2013, then-President Obama nominated Brennan to lead the CIA, which he did until 2017.
The man has chops and a voice.
A booming, bellowing and sometimes searing voice.
Especially when it comes to one Donald John Trump.
With Trump, Brennan calls ’em as he sees ’em, alright; he is a sharp and consistent critic whose concerns about the president developed long before he left his post as CIA Director.
In early January 2017, he and other US intelligence honchos briefed Congress’ “Gang of Eight” and later, then-President-elect Trump, about Russia’s unprecedented and sweeping interference in the 2016 election.
The Russian intervention — and Trump’s obstinate refusals to acknowledge it — would represent one of the many, many defining and egregious failures of his presidency.
Brennan noted that during the briefing, Trump repeatedly questioned the veracity of the intelligence — in spite of the fact that the heads of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI and the Director of National Intelligence all agreed on its contents.
True to form and inimitably, Trump espoused his theory that intelligence provided by human sources could be fabricated to advance personal interests and for personal gain.
“Anyone will say anything if you pay them enough. I know that and you know that,” Trump said to Brennan.
This sickened Brennan who was “disgusted” by Trump’s remarks, given the life-threatening circumstances frequently enshrouding human intelligence sources as they do what they do, in an effort to serve their country.
“I stared at Trump [and] bit my tongue nearly hard enough to draw blood,” Brennan angrily recalled. “I knew that he saw me at the time not as John Brennan the person but as the director of the CIA, and I did not want to irredeemably spoil the CIA’s relationship with the incoming president before it even got started.”
After the briefing, Brennan became “even more convinced that [his] long-held assessment of Trump’s narcissism, lack of principles, and unfitness for the country’s highest office was accurate.”
He added, “He showed no intellectual curiosity about what Russia had done and how it had carried out its campaign to interfere in the election, which suggested to me that he wasn’t interested in learning the truth or in taking action to prevent a recurrence.”
Almost four years later nothing’s changed, including Brennan’s assessments.
He contends that the disinformation coming from the White House and its conservative media allies is just as dangerous as — and perhaps more dangerous than — foreign disinformation, because it plays right into their hands.
It’s what they want.
“There is an overlap between the two because a fair amount of what’s happening here, whether it’s coming out of domestic sources, is being fueled and encouraged by foreign actors,” he observed.
“When I look at the polarization of our society and the rise of the far right and the far left, a lot of that has domestic foundations, but our foreign adversaries want to stoke those fires to further enrage the social discourse, to make people on both ends of the spectrum more radical and more extremist.”
Divide and conquer.
A Trump ploy.
And a big part of his playbook.
The politicization, manipulation and suppression of intelligence which has taken place under the Trump administration, has also crippled the US.
As an example, just last month Brian Murphy, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, filed a whistleblower complaint in which he stated that he was told to stop focusing on Russian election interference and withhold intelligence assessments pertinent to it, because it made the president “look bad.”
Then there is Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former Texas congressman and Trump sycophant who was nominated for the post by Trump after he attacked and berated special counsel Robert Mueller last year, over his findings in the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Ratcliffe had been a Trump pit bull on Capitol Hill before his blindingly obvious “promotion.”
Fast-forward a bit.
Seems he declassified some Russia-related information when he shouldn’t have.
As in cherry-picking.
Lots of redactions.
Apparently Ratcliffe sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham revealing questionable intel from a “Russian intelligence analysis” alleging that Hillary Clinton “approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal” against Trump in 2016 “by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee.”
Ratcliffe took it upon himself to declassify the information — from Brennan’s notes no less — despite the fact that the US intelligence community “does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication,” according to the letter.
Ratcliffe and his predecessor, former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell — both of whom might be deemed unworthy of the position — “badly abused their oath of office and responsibilities to this country,” Brennan stated.
To Brennan, Ratcliffe’s decision to send the letter amounted to “a very selective release of information that was designed to promote the interests, objectives, and goals of Donald Trump. So it was very disappointing.”
“He was a very partisan supporter of Donald Trump when he was in Congress,” Brennan said of Ratcliffe. “And he’s just continuing to play that role as director of national intelligence.”
What takes the cake for John Brennan was a scenario which unfolded on Trump’s first official day as president.
On January 21, 2017 — one day after the inauguration — Trump visited the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Standing in front of the Memorial Wall which honors every CIA officer who has died in the line of duty, all Trump could do was to boast about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
All about him.
All the time.
And grossly exaggerated, if not flat-out untrue.
Brennan was incensed, infuriated.
He saw red.
“I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt physically nauseated watching and listening to him.”
He texted his former chief of staff, Nick Shapiro, the following statement, the first time he publicly spoke out against Trump:
“Former Director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of agency heroes. He should be ashamed of himself.”
Brennan has not changed his mind.
Nor will he.
He views Trump as the single biggest threat to the US’s national security and future. He has divided the country so deeply, pitting people against one another every day of his presidency, that we are no longer what we were.
Not even close.
“The weaker the United States is, and the more tarnished our reputation is in the eyes of the world, the less we are able to play the leadership role we’ve played over the last 75 years,” Brennan asserted. “So what’s happened to the US, now plays directly into Putin’s goals.”
John Brennan has backbone, spine and stones.
Oh yes, and brains.
He’s only 65.
Is it too late to write him in?
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in October 2020.]