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CIA Chief on ISIS: Not Just an Organization, 'It's a Phenomenon'

John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, reflects on the five-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death & America's war on terror.
CIA Director John Brennan on NBC's Meet the Press with Chuck Todd
NBC News

On the fifth anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan spoke exclusively with NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press”. In a wide-ranging interview, Brennan soberly discussed the threat of ISIS, dismissed allegations of Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11, and reacted to Donald Trump and the current political climate in the country.

“It’s a phenomenon”

On the threat of ISIS, Brennan assured viewers, “We will destroy [ISIS], I have no doubt in my mind. And we have to remove the leadership that directs that organization to carry out these horrific attacks.” ISIS' number one is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and if he were to be killed, Brennan believes it would have an affect on the terrorist group.

“If we got Baghdadi, I think it would have a great impact on the organization, and it will be felt by them,” he said.

Brennan warned fighting ISIS has its unique challenges, calling them not just an "organization," but "a phenomenon." "We know that ISIS is trying to carry out attacks in Europe and in other parts of the globe. Also, we are working very, very closely with our European partners," he said.

Brennan was careful not to oversell America's ability to affect change in the Middle East. “The United States has only limited influence to shape events in the Middle East. And a lot of individuals think that the United States can wave a magic wand, and we can’t," the CIA Director said.

“Uncorroborated, unvetted information”

The CIA chief criticized the recent push led by Fmr. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., to release 28 classified pages of a congressional report on 9/11, which allegedly directly links Saudi Arabia to the attacks.

“I’m quite puzzled by Sen. Graham and others,” the Director said.

According to Brennan, the 2002 congressional inquiry was a “preliminary review” and the issues raised were “thoroughly investigated and reviewed” by the 9/11 Commission.

Ultimately, Brennan said, “They came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution, or Saudi officials individually, had provided financial support to al-Qaeda.”

“I think some people may seize upon that uncorroborated, un-vetted information…to point to Saudi involvement, which I think would be very, very inaccurate," he continued.

Brennan described America’s “very strong” relationship with Saudi Arabia, where he recently traveled with President Obama. “There are some differences of view about how some of these regional issues should be addressed,” he continued, “and that’s very healthy.”

“I’m not distracted by it”

Finally, asked if Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims make his job gathering intelligence any harder, Brennan replied, “I focus on the mission at hand.” He brushed off the idea that America's internal political fights adversely affect his job.

“I’m not distracted by it,” Brennan asserted.

“The campaign is going to go on,” he continued. “But one of the great things about the CIA is that we stay focused like a laser on what we need to do to keep this country safe and secure.”