Video: Brennan ‘tiring’ of ‘political football’ over terror

  1. Transcript of: Brennan ‘tiring’ of ‘political football’ over terror

    MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about this political fight over national security as well. Scott Brown , now the 41st Republican senator, on the night he was -- of his victory, when he was celebrating, he said this about the approach that the administration has taken.

    SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R-MA): And the message we need to send in dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars -- our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them and not lawyers to defend them.

    MR. GREGORY: A lot of that criticism is about the handling of the Christmas Day bomber, Abdulmutallab , Abdulmutallab -- sorry, it's hard to get that name right. Why was he treated as an ordinary citizen for even the period of time that he was, providing some information , then getting a lawyer after he was given his Miranda rights ?

    MR. BRENNAN: He wasn't treated as an ordinary citizen, he was treated as a terrorist. He was immediately taken into custody, he was questioned under the public safety exception as far as Mirandizing an individual. FBI agents were there on the ground, as well as with customs and border patrol agents. We reacted very well to that situation. He was then put into a process that has been the same process that we have used for every other terrorist who has been captured on our soil, whether they be U.S. citizens or non- U.S. citizens -- Richard Reid , Ahmed Ressam , Amari and others. They were brought into custody by law enforcement officials and then treated accordingly. So there was no distinction. And, in fact, the FBI 's guidelines that they use, the FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide , was the implementation of the attorney general guidelines that were finalized by Attorney General Casey in the last administration in December of 2008 . That is when those guidelines were put in place. So the procedures and the protocols were exactly consistent with what we've done before. Now, after this incident, the president asked us to take a new look and see whether or not those processes are ones that we are comfortable with and whether or not we can enhance and strengthen them. And that's what we're looking at right now. But those FBI agents and others acted appropriately. And, quite frankly , I'm tiring of politicians using national security issues such as terrorism as a political football . They are going out there, they're, they're unknowing of the facts, and they're making charges and allegations that are not anchored in reality.

    MR. GREGORY: Well, let's talk about one of those allegations. Senator Kit Bond saying that members of the intelligence committee were told not to talk at all about the fact that, that he was now cooperating, that he was speaking to the FBI , and yet, then it gets leaked out to the press after that, saying that the administration was responsible for leaking classified data that they were told to keep under wraps.

    MR. BRENNAN: Again, inconsistent with the facts. Senator Bond and other senior members of Congress were briefed on Monday about Abdulmutallab 's cooperation. They were told about the

    fact of that cooperation as well as some information that he was sharing. During the subsequent day in the hearing it unfortunately came out that that intelligence was starting to flow from Mr. Abdulmutallab . The press was all on it, this network went out right away and reported that, and so we then wanted to make sure that we were able to the networks and to the media the correct rendition of what happened and how instrumental Mr. Abdulmutallab 's family was in getting him to cooperate. And it was a very successful activity on the part of the FBI , Department of Justice , and others, including the intelligence community . So what we did was to make sure that the facts were out there as best they could be.

    MR. GREGORY: To those that say you have not shared enough information about how you intended to handle him, you say what?

    MR. BRENNAN: I say that there are sensitive investigations and operations under way, and we're not going to compromise our ability to follow up on that information and to disrupt further terrorist attacks . And there have been instances when information 's been shared with the Hill when we see it in the media the next day. And we have to be very circumspect as far as what information 's going to be shared. The premium that this president puts on the work of the intelligence and law enforcement community is to disrupt future attacks and to protect the American people ....

    MR. GREGORY: When you brief some Republicans about what -- how he was going to be treated, were they on board with the administration's decision?

    MR. BRENNAN: On Christmas night, I called a number of senior members of Congress . I spoke to Senators McConnell and Bond , I spoke to Representative Boehner and Hoekstra . I explained to them that he was in FBI custody, that Mr. Abdulmutallab was, in fact, talking, that he was cooperating at that point. They knew that "in FBI custody" means that there's a process then you follow as far as Mirandizing and presenting him in front of a magistrate. None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point. They didn't say, "Is he going into military custody?" "Is he going to be Mirandized ?" They were very appreciative of the information , we told them we'd keep them informed, and that's what we did. So there's been a -- quite a bit of an outcry after the fact where, again, I'm just very concerned on the behalf of the counterterrorism professionals throughout our government that politicians continue to make this a political football and are using it for whatever political or partisan purposes, whether they be Democrats or Republicans . In the last administration, Democrats I felt were speaking incorrectly about the progress that we were making on the terrorism front. The same thing is true today. And I think those counterterrorism professionals deserve the support of our Congress ; and, rather than second-guessing what they're doing on the ground with the 500-mile screwdriver from Washington to Detroit , I think they have to have confidence in the knowledge and the experience of these counterterrorism professionals.

    MR. GREGORY: And through that questioning that's now going on, what are you learning about al-Qaeda specifically in Yemen ?

    MR. BRENNAN: We have known for a while that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula , which was a merger of al-Qaeda in Yemen and Saudi Arabia , had a number of senior operatives and individuals who were associated with Osama bin Laden in the past. Their focus had been on carrying out

    attacks in Yemen against our embassy about a year and a half ago, in Saudi Arabia an attempted assassination against the senior counterterrorism official within the Saudi government , and that's where their focus was. What has -- what we are now learning is that they have been determined, because of individuals who have been speaking out -- Mr. Awlaki and others -- focusing on trying to carrying out those attacks in the West , including in the homeland here. And we have had excellent cooperation from the Yemeni government, we're continuing to work very closely, and we believe we're now ahead of this curve.

updated 2/7/2010 11:37:55 AM ET 2010-02-07T16:37:55

President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser said Sunday that lawmakers and others are using national security to score political points and defended the handling of the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner.

Deputy national security adviser John Brennan complained that politicians, many of them Republicans, were unfairly criticizing the administration for partisan purposes and second-guessing the case with a "500-mile screwdriver" that reaches from Washington to the scene of the abortive attack in Detroit.

Brennan said he had personally briefed top Republican lawmakers on Christmas night about the arrest of accused bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and that none of them raised objections.

"There's been quite a bit of an outcry after the fact, where again, I'm just very concerned on behalf of counterterrorism professionals throughout our government, that politicians continue to make this a political football and are using it for whatever political or partisan purposes," he said.

GOP leaders briefed
Among those he said he briefed were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner; and the top Republicans on the congressional intelligence committees, Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri and Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan.

"None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point," Brennan said.

Republicans have been outspoken in criticizing the administration for treating Abdulmutallab as a civilian and reading him his rights to remain silent and retain a lawyer.

Brennan said that Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, was treated no differently than any other terror suspect arrested on U.S. soil and that the FBI and others involved in his arrest acted appropriately.

"I think those counterterrorism professionals deserve the support of our Congress," he said. "And rather than second-guessing what they are doing on the ground with a 500- mile screwdriver from Washington to Detroit, I think they have to have confidence in the knowledge and the experience of these counterterrorism professionals."

Brennan said he was confident that the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would face the "full weight of American justice" when he is tried no matter what the venue.

The administration had wanted to try Mohammed in New York but backtracked on that plan under criticism, which has included calls for him to be tried by a military tribunal and not a civilian court.

U.S. justices system 'will prevail'
"I have no doubt that the American justice system will prevail. Despite the claims and the criticisms of a lot of folks, including in Congress, that our judicial system is unable to handle these terrorists, I believe that our system of justice here is strong," Brennan said.

"And I'm not going to give al-Qaida the victory of being able to overturn our system of jurisprudence here that is anchored in our Constitution and reflects our values as a people," he said.

Brennan said he was confident that the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would face the "full weight of American justice" when he is tried no matter what the venue.

Brennan spoke on NBC television's "Meet the Press."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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