Thursday, August 6, 2009


John O. Brennan, a former career intelligence officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who now functions as President Barack Obama's Assistant for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism, has in two interactions on August 5 and 6,2009, unveiled the first details of what will be the counter-terrorism doctrine of the Obama Administration.

2. The first interaction on August 5,2009, was with a select group of Washington-based journalists. The second on August 6 was in the form of a presentation before the Centre For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC. Salient points from his presentation at the CSIS are given in Annexure I. His bio-data as carried by Wikipedia is at Annexure II.

3. The new policy as outlined by him will be a mix of hard and soft power, the professional and political options and treating terrorism as a threat and at the same time as a phenomenon, which requires a multi-dimensional approach. He was critical of attempts to make the entire foreign policy hostage to counter-terrorism. It will no more be a war on terror as projected by the previous administration of George Bush.Instead, it will be a campaign against terrorism.

4. The "Washington Post" of August 6,2009, has quoted him as saying during his interaction with the media: "It (counter-terrorism) needs to be much more than a kinetic effort, an intelligence, law enforcement effort. It has to be much more comprehensive,.This is not a 'war on terror.' . . . We cannot let the terror prism guide how we're going to interact and be involved in different parts of the world."

5. The message, which he has sought to convey through his two interactions is: Counter-terrorism will continue to be an important priority of the administration, but not an obsessive priority. One cannot ignore other issues requiring attention under the pretext of preoccupation with counter-terrorism.

6. Speaking on a day when there were unconfirmed reports from Pakistan that Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) might have been killed in a strike by an unmanned aircraft of the CIA in South Waziristan,Brennan has made it clear that the new doctrine will not mean the slowing down of the operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorists operating from the Af-Pak area. What he means is that while continued military operations are necessary, military operations alone cannot eradicate terrorism. There is and there ought to be a role for other components of counter-terrorism.

7. Comprehensive counter-terrorism combining all facets of national power----political, economic and military---- will be the policy from now onwards. The "Washington Post" has quoted him as saying: "We are not saying that poverty causes terrorism, or disenfranchisement causes terrorism, but we can't mistake there are certain phenomena that contribute to it.Terrorism needs to be fought against and certainly delegitimized or attacked, but some of the underlying grievances that might in fact lead individuals astray to terrorism cannot be ignored."

8. He also reportedly told the journalists: "It's important to maintain the offensive against what are clearly terrorist training facilities and camps, and we're working closely with the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments to root out these facilities.. At the same time, the use of lethal force must be very focused, and ensure that we are not incurring any type of collateral damage."

9. In his presentation at the CSIS, he deplored the use of the expression 'jihadi terrorism" and said:"Describing terrorists in this way—using a legitimate term, “jihad,” meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal—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. " However, he did not indicate how else to characterise the terrorism of Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organisations. Just terrorism? Without saying Islamic or jihadi terrorism? He was not clear, but that is probably what he meant.

10.Obama's detractors describe the new approach to counter-terrorism as the Jesuit approach. Will it succeed? Obama and Brennan want to give the new policy a try.

11.Ultimately, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

12.It needs to be noted that the remarks of Brennan and the new policy as outlined by him related to the campaign against Al Qaeda and other pro-Al Qaeda organisations. He avoided any detailed remarks on the campaign against the Taliban.(7-8-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies,Chennai. E-mail: )


Salient points from John Brennan's talk at the CSIS on August 6,2009, as collated from open sources

There is a need for “a new era of engagement with the world, including committing the United States to a new partnership with Muslims around the world—a partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”

Keeping the American people safe is Obama’s most important responsibility. Other priorities include:Nonproliferation, food security,cybersecurity,repudiating torture and ending the Iraq war and “defeating al Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Tactics such as waterboarding were not in keeping with our values… and should not, and would not, happen again.”

The new policy would mean neither a “wholesale dismantling” of the Bush approach nor a “wholesale retention.” No “absolutist approach”nor “rigid ideology.” Obama’s views are “nuanced, not simplistic.”

Obama understands that preventing terrorists from slaughtering the innocent sometimes requires making very difficult decisions—deployment of military forces, authorization of sensitive intelligence activities, the handling and disposition of terrorists that we capture and detain; and the policies we make and the measures we take to protect our homeland.

Immediate “near-term” challenge is “destroying al-Qaeda and its allies."
Al Qaeda and its affiliates are under tremendous pressure. After years of U.S. counterterrorism operations, and in partnership with other nations, al Qaeda has been seriously damaged and forced to replace many of its top-tier leadership with less experienced and less capable individuals. It is being forced to work harder and harder to raise money, to move its operatives around the world, and to plan attacks.

Al Qaeda has safehaven in Pakistan’s tribal area, with its capabilities “leveraged” by allies in “the Arabian Peninsula, from East Africa to the Sahel and Maghreb regions of North Africa.”

“We have presented President Obama with a number of actions and initiatives against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Obama has encouraged his team “to be even more aggressive, even more proactive, and even more innovative, to seek out new ways and new opportunities for taking down these terrorists.”

"We are continuing to adapt and strengthen the intelligence community by expanding human intelligence; strengthening operations;enhancing the workforce with improved linguistic and cultural skills; filling intelligence gaps; improving collaboration across the intelligence community; and promoting greater coordination with foreign intelligence partners."

The long-term challenge: “the threat of violent extremism generally, including the political, economic, and social factors that help put so many individuals on the path to violence.”

"Rather than looking at allies and other nations through the narrow prism of terrorism—whether they are with us or against us—the administration is now engaging other countries and peoples across a broader range of areas. Rather than treating so many of our foreign affairs programs—foreign assistance, development, democracy promotion—as simply extensions of the fight against terrorists, we will do these things—promote economic growth, good governance, transparency and accountability—because they serve our common interests and common security; not just in regions gripped by violent extremism, but around the world."

"Why should a great and powerful nation like the United States allow its relationship with more than a billion Muslims around the world be defined by the narrow hatred and nihilistic actions of an exceptionally small minority of Muslims? After all, this is precisely what Osama bin Laden intended with the Sept. 11 attacks: to use al Qaeda to foment a clash of civilizations in which the United States and Islam are seen as distinct identities that are in conflict."

No more “war on terrorism.” It would focus on tactics & confusing ends and means. Self-defeating because you can’t win a war on a tactic.Similarly, no talk of a “global war” which “plays into the warped narrative that al Qaeda propagates. It plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world.” But global operations against al-Qaeda will continue.

"The counterinsurgency lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan apply equally to the broader fight against extremism: we cannot shoot ourselves out of this challenge. We can take out all the terrorists we want—their leadership and their foot soldiers. But if we fail to confront the broader political, economic, and social conditions in which extremists thrive, then there will always be another recruit in the pipeline,another attack coming downstream."

"It is people in these countries, not the United States, who ultimately will isolate these extremists: governments that provide for the basic security and needs of their people; strong and transparent institutions free from corruption; mainstream clerics and scholars who teach that Islam promotes peace, not extremism; and ordinary people who are ready to choose a future free from violence and fear. Still, the United States can and must play its part. For even as we condemn and oppose the illegitimate tactics used by terrorists, we need to acknowledge and address the legitimate needs and grievances of the ordinary people those terrorists claim to represent."

"The most effective long-term strategy for safeguarding the American people is one that promotes a future where a young man or woman never even considers joining an extremist group in the first place; where they reject out of hand the idea of picking up that gun or strappingon that suicide vest…”

There is a need for “negotiations to achieve the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security” .

“And at home, we know that we can rely on the extraordinary capabilities of the American people to be fully engaged in our shared effort to protect ourselves. We will not live our lives in fear, but rather in confidence, as we strengthen our ability to prevent attacks and reduce our vulnerabilities wherever they exist.”

JOHN BRENNAN'S BIO (From Wikipedia)

John O. Brennan is the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. An "Assistant to the President" is the highest rank that any White House staffer can hold. He was interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center immediately after its creation in 2004 through 2005, and since 2005 has served as CEO of The Analysis Corporation. He advised Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues. Since 2007, Brennan has served as Chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. It was assumed early on by some that Brennan would be appointed next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency by Obama. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration in November 2008, however, over concerns that his nomination would be a distraction, due to his previous associations with controversial harsh CIA interrogation techniques. Brennan's responsibilities as Deputy National Security Advisor include overseeing plans to protect the country from terrorism and respond to natural disasters.


CEO of The Analysis Corporation

Chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA)

Interim director, National Counterterrorism Center

Director, Terrorist Threat Integration Center Deputy Executive Director,

CIA Chief of Staff to Director of Central Intelligence,

CIA Chief of Station, Middle East, CIA (1996 - 1999)

Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, CIA

Deputy Director, Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis, CIA

Daily Intelligence Briefer at the White House,

CIA Deputy Division Chief, Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis,

CIA Chief of Analysis, DCI's Counterterrorism Center,

CIA Middle East Specialist and Terrorism Analyst, Directorate of Intelligence,

CIA Political Officer, U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Department of State