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News Analysis

Brennan Influenced by Islamists, Unfit for CIA

Thu, February 14, 2013

Clare Lopez

Trentovision.tv set off a firestorm of commentary on its February 8, 2013 show when it broke the story about CIA Director nominee John Brennan having converted to Islam while he was the CIA station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

John Guandolo, a former Marine Corps platoon commander and senior FBI expert on the Muslim Brotherhood who retired in 2008, appeared via Skype with radio show host Tom Trento and reported that Brennan had been converted to Islam in a process observed by more than one U.S. official at the Riyadh Embassy that ought to have raised counterintelligence questions—but apparently didn’t.

The important take away from this startling account is actually less about a conversion/recruitment, though, and more about how Saudi and Muslim Brotherhood conditioning about Islam may have shaped Brennan’s thinking and understanding about Islam in a way that made him the perfect (even if unwitting) agent of influence whose subsequent rise within U.S. national security ranks placed him in key positions from which to direct U.S. policy on Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood.

As we have seen, especially since the 2010 beginning of the Islamic Awakening across the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, that policy has developed in directions deeply damaging for U.S. national security both domestically and abroad.

Nominated on January 7, 2013 by President Barack Obama to head the CIA, Brennan had served as the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism on the National Security Council (NSC) since January 2009.

His 25-year career at the CIA that was focused on counterterrorism analysis included his 1996-99 stint in Saudi Arabia, where Guandolo says U.S. Embassy officials would have observed Brennan’s transition from the Roman Catholicism of his Irish family background to formal acceptance of Islam.

Because Islamic Law considers apostasy away from Islam to be political treason punishable by death, conversion into Islam likewise must be understood as a political act as well, at least at the level of a senior U.S. government intelligence official like Brennan.

It was the late 1990s at the time, though, and people were focused on the kinetic threat from Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, not the core ideology that animated their jihad against the West.

Regrettably and to the great detriment of U.S. national security, our counterintelligence capabilities to defend against the ideology of Islamic jihad and sharia were already well on the way to being neutered by the late 1990s.

This neutering had been the task of the Muslim Brotherhood, the vanguard of the Islamic movement in the West. Active inside the U.S. and Canada since at least the 1950s, the Muslim Brotherhood nevertheless had flown beneath the radar even as Al-Qaeda coalesced under Iranian and Sudanese sponsorship following the Afghan war in the 1980s.

Exploding into the consciousness of American intelligence with the 1996 Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia, followed by the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings, the USS Cole attack of 2000, and finally 9/11 itself, Al-Qaeda had issued two separate declarations of war -- one in 1996 and one in 1998 -- that were not well understood for what they actually were.

According to Islamic doctrine and historical precedent set by Muhammad, Muslim forces are obligated to call the infidel to Islam before attacking.

That was the real meaning of those two declarations, but because all the attention was on tracking the financing and physical movements of the Al-Qaeda terrorists, few working inside the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) thought it important then or since to conduct an in-depth study of Islam itself.

Notable exceptions like Steven Emerson or Daniel Pipes worked in investigative journalism or academic circles, not the intelligence community.

As the CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia in the late 1990s, Brennan would have been surrounded by Muslim faithful, Muslim jurists and scholars, and Muslim intelligence officers. But that doesn’t mean that Brennan or anyone else at the Riyadh Embassy would have somehow automatically just absorbed the doctrinal tenets of Islam.

Saudi counterparts would have told Brennan exactly what they wanted him to know about Islam and no more, just like Shamim Siddiqi instructed in his 1989 monograph, “The Methodology of Dawah.” This extremely revealing treatise explains that, just as Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to Muhammad in stages in a process known as “Progressive Revelation,” so too are new recruits to Islam brought along gradually, so as not to spook them right up front with the inevitable violence of jihad.

Reinforced by Sayyed Qutb in his seminal work, “Milestones,” this gradualist approach for new Muslims may not ever get past the relatively more tolerant Mecca period in Islamic history before they are persuaded to utter the irrevocable Shuhada or expression of Islamic faith.

If this is what happened with Brennan, combined with his favorable impressions of Muslim people in places he visited across the world, it could explain his otherwise inexplicably naïve public statements about the Islam being “a faith of peace and tolerance” or description of jihad as “a legitimate tenet of Islam.”

It seems safe to say that he never read either Hassan al-Banna’s definitive essay, “Jihad,” or Andrew Bostom’s seminal trilogy about Islam, “The Legacy of Jihad,” “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism,” and “Shariah Versus Freedom.”

This is not to say that individual Muslims don’t practice Islam in a peaceful and tolerant way: Millions do. Yet jihad most certainly is a “legitimate tenet of Islam”: In fact, it is explicitly commanded as an obligation for all Muslims in every major school of Islamic jurisprudence.

But just because many millions of Muslims make individual decisions about how to practice their faith does not mean that an accurate description of Islam’s supremacist ideology or bloody history of global conquest should be decreed off-limits for intelligence analysts, law enforcement personnel or military officers to know—and yet that is what has happened under the tenure of Mr. Brennan.  

While Brennan has admirably and aggressively gone after Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, North Africa and elsewhere, his willingness to not just allow, but actually encourage, the legitimization of the Muslim Brotherhood at home and specifically inside the top levels of U.S. national security, has caused enormous damage to this country’s ability to defend itself against the encroaching ideology of Islamic jihad and sharia.

The U.S. and the West in general have proven themselves more than capable of military defense against a frontal terrorist assault like we endured on 9/11. What is gravely lacking, however, is an appreciation for how the civilization jihad, which is the hallmark strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood, corrodes the fabric of Western society from within in ways both insidious and sophisticated.

And this is where Mr. Brennan must be held to account. His had an obligation to know the threats facing this country, sworn to in a sacred oath of service. Instead of identifying and countering the enemy we face -- the forces of Islamic jihad and sharia -- Mr. Brennan enables them.

He has cultivated close and continuing relationships with known Muslim Brotherhood operatives and their organizations, like Mohamed Magid, the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an acknowledged Brotherhood front group that was named by the Department of Justice an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation HAMAS terror funding trial.

Others such as Nihad Awad, the Executive Director and a founding member of CAIR (the Council for American Islamic Relations), which was established in a federal district court of law to be a HAMAS entity, are given top level access to the National Security Council (NSC) and allowed to provide advice and policy input to the NSC staff.

Additionally, by allowing himself to be influenced by such subversive operatives, Brennan was rendered apparently incapable of providing appropriate guidance to U.S. policy makers, including the president, on either Islam or Islamic terrorism.

For instance, when asked in a January 2010 White House press briefing what motivated Al-Qaeda and the would-be Al-Qaeda “underwear bomber” (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab), Brennan stumbled badly, declaring that “Al-Qaeda has perverted Islam and has corrupted the concept of Islam.

He was the senior Homeland Security and Counterterrorism advisor to the President at the time and could not even articulate a coherent sentence about the published, widely available Islamic obligation to attack the Dar al-Harb (literally, house or territory of war or chaos -- the name for the regions where Islam does not dominate) and coerce it to submission to sharia. That is reprehensible.

In the final analysis, it is Mr. Brennan’s failure to keep his solemn oath of service to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, his failure to meet minimum standards of his professional responsibility to know the enemy that fights us, and his demonstrated inability to implement basic counterintelligence countermeasures to keep those enemies away from national security policymaking that make him unqualified for the position of CIA Director.


Clare Lopez is a senior fellow at ClarionProject.org and a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on the Middle East, national defense and counterterrorism. Lopez served for 20 years as an operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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