The September 11, 2001 attacks were the result of an unmitigated intelligence failure. No, 9/11 was not an “inside job,” as many conspiracy theorists believe. Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network were responsible. But the 9/11 plot did not happen in a vacuum.
In reality, America’s elephantine national security state had known of bin Laden and his network years before the horrific events of 9/11. Some of the most powerful people in the national security state routinely downplayed and ignored the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States before 19 hijackers murdered 2,911 people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
More troubling, though, is the fact that many of the same people who downplayed or ignored the threat of 9/11 and al-Qaeda were also intimately involved in nearly every foreign policy disaster of the last 18 years—from the Iraq War blunder to the inexcusable plot to frame President Donald Trump as a Russian agent.
John Brennan: A Career of Failure
The enduring failures of the national security state—from its inability to anticipate 9/11 in spite of clear warning signs, to advocating boneheaded Mideast policies—can be plotted in the career paths of individual members of the so-called deep state.
Consider John Brennan. Here is a man who was a self-described Communist when he joined the CIA in the Reagan Administration, at the height of Cold War against the Soviet Union. A supposed expert in U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, as well as a fluent Arabic speaker, Brennan eventually rose to the rank of CIA station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (where he may or may not have converted to Islam).
While there, Brennan apparently developed a powerful case of “clientitis” (a term for when U.S. foreign policy experts become so involved in their regions of focus that they start substituting U.S. national interests for those of the countries they are observing).
Brennan routinely ignored calls from his colleagues to pressure his Saudi counterparts to hand over more information on bin Laden and the rising al-Qaeda terrorist network in the 1990s (al-Qaeda was, first and foremost, a political and religious movement consisting of and controlled mostly by Saudi nationals).
Things got so bad with Brennan that when the Clinton Administration considered using force either to kill or capture bin Laden in the 1990s, Brennan led the effort to stop it. Had Clinton followed through with his earlier promises of bringing bin Laden to justice, instead of listening to compromised bureaucrats like Brennan, 9/11 might have been avoided. Of course, it did not help that Clinton’s own CIA director, George Tenet, backed Brennan’s opposition to the proposed bin Laden raid.
When George W. Bush took office, inexplicably he chose to keep Tenet on as the director of central intelligence. Tenet, in turn, kept incompetents like Brennan in place (while either marginalizing or forcing out those few intelligence officials who actually took the al-Qaeda threat seriously, such as Richard Clarke and Michael Scheurer, the original head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit).
Sadly, Brennan would go on to enjoy a long career, even after 9/11. This is as much a failure of the permanent bureaucracy (which is supposedly a meritocracy) as it is of the political establishment for leaving people like Brennan atop the sprawling intelligence community and not demanding answers for how such “wise men” could have missed 9/11. In a bygone era, after enduring a catastrophic professional disaster, men like John Brennan would have been forced to resign.
Instead, Brennan got a promotion. Barack Obama elevated him to CIA director in his second term. Brennan’s short-sightedness and incompetence eventually calcified into outright hostility for the very democratic ideals that he was purportedly defending. For instance, when the American people began questioning the authority that our opaque intelligence services had assumed in the dark days following the 9/11 attacks, Brennan used the potent power of the CIA to spy on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were charged with investigating reports that detainees in CIA custody may have been subjected to abuse.
Brennan and the Russia Investigation: Enduring Corruption
Then, as the coup de grace to his otherwise disturbing career, Brennan oversaw one of the greatest abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). He, along with several other fellow travelers in the national security state, concocted a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
The investigation was based on innuendo and lies that Brennan knowingly (and wantonly) perpetuated, which claimed that Trump and key members of his presidential campaign were aided and abetted by the Kremlin to swing the 2016 presidential election in his favor. Other Obama national security officials, including former Undersecretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas, proudly proclaimed in 2017 that this cabal had “buried” the details of the investigation deep in the federal bureaucracy, so as to prevent Trump from using the power of his office to end the investigation.
Where was this zeal in the 1990s, when it came to an actual threat like al-Qaeda?
The trajectory of Brennan’s career is a perfect snapshot for the growth—and compounding failures—of the U.S. national security state since 9/11. Many of the same people who refused to accept that al-Qaeda was a threat, or who advanced equally disastrous policies in the Middle East, are the same individuals who launched a frightening covert, rolling, administrative coup against a duly elected president. Not only is our deep state painfully incompetent but it is also clearly corrupt.
How might the last 18 years have turned out if ignoramuses like Brennan, who downplayed al-Qaeda’s threat to the United States in the 1990s, and who had refused to pressure our Saudi “allies” into being more forthcoming with information about Osama bin Laden, had been fired for failing to anticipate 9/11? Instead of being fired, though, these bumbling bureaucrats were given more power and money to run roughshod over our democracy in the name of protecting us. They had no clue how to protect us before 9/11—and they were certainly clueless about how to protect us after that terrible day.
When Americans say, “We will never forget 9/11,” they should add: “Or how U.S. intelligence failed us!”