John Brennan’s had a busy year. He became CIA director in March of 2013, and a few months later Edward Snowden became the face of public outrage over government surveillance. The anger flows both ways.
“I think I am, first of all, outraged that there are individuals who decided to take upon themselves to reveal some of the very, very important capabilities that this country has in place to keep Americans safe,” Brennan said in an exclusive interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos from CIA headquarters.
Responding to polls showing younger demographics’ support of Snowden’s revelations, Brennan said, “I think most of the young people don’t even understand what in fact he has done and the implications of it.”
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Brennan dismissed the possibility of amnesty for Snowden, who was granted a year of asylum by Russia last August that is likely to be extended at Snowden’s request. “I am fully supportive of having justice served,” Brennan said.
The director declined to say whether he thought Russia or another country had helped Snowden release information. “[W]hether or not he was working for somebody early on, the damage that he has done has been significant and it has hurt this country and has helped our enemies,” Brennan said. He also demurred when asked whether Russia itself has become a new enemy of the United States.
“Russia is a major power,” Brennan said. “It is a country that has tremendous influence particularly in its part of the world. What’s going on in Ukraine right now is something that needs to be addressed.” Brennan noted that he traveled to Kiev a couple of weeks ago to “interact with our Ukrainian partners and friends,” including visiting Maidan Square, memorials, and political leaders.
Brennan stood firm on the contentious drone program he’s guided for years. “The first and most important responsibility of the President, the Commander in Chief, is to keep Americans safe from harm,” Brennan said.
The director pushed back when pressed whether his description of waterboarding as a terrorist “recruitment bonanza” could also be applied to drone strikes. “The President has a responsibility that if there is no other option to be able to stop these individuals from carrying out these attacks, he needs to use the tools at his disposal.”
Brennan pointed to instability and security threats in Libya when asked why nobody has been arrested for the murder of four Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. “Well, this is an effort that’s been underway by the U.S. government for the past two years, and we’re working very closely with our FBI partners and our partners overseas,” Brennan said. “I would defer to the Department of Justice as far as arresting these individuals, but our role in CIA is to make sure we’re able to bring to bear the intelligence that’s going to allow the appropriate law enforcement authorities to bring these people to justice.”
What keeps the CIA director up at night? Tragedy colors his memory and defines his outlook. “What concerns me is that, that devastating attack on 9/11 which brought down the twin towers in Manhattan. I come from northern New Jersey and it was always part of the landscape for many, many years,” Brennan said.
“Terrorist organizations, some that are associated with Al Qaeda and some that are not are still trying to do harm to Americans overseas as well as here,” Brennan said. “We need to do everything we can on a daily basis, we cannot let our guard down, because every day there are attempts being made here and overseas to kill Americans.”