Two key national security nominations by President Obama are up for confirmation following Congress’ recess this week: former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, and John O. Brennan, the president’s key counterterrorism adviser, to be the director of the CIA. Both candidates have had to address issues based on their past and current activities and associations. Troublingly, a number of questions still remain unanswered.
One explosive issue is a report by John Guandolo that broke last week on Tom Trento’s “TrentoVision Show” and also was carried by Glenn Beck on Feb. 11. The report stated that Mr. Brennan was converted to Islam while CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia from 1996 to ‘99. Let’s be clear: In America, a man’s religion can never be a condition to his holding a government position. It is protected by both the First Amendment and Article 6 of the Constitution. Therefore, even if it is true that he converted, Mr. Brennan’s religion should not be an issue.
However, according to Mr. Guandolo — a former SWAT team leader at the FBI, counterterrorism and Muslim Brotherhood specialist and Marine platoon commander — what should be an issue was the Saudis’ targeted recruitment of Mr. Brennan to the ideology of Islam while he was serving as the CIA station chief in Riyadh. This was not just a conversion but a political act by a foreign intelligence service.
If verified, this would indicate Mr. Brennan’s susceptibility, whether witting or unwitting, to manipulation by a foreign intelligence entity. It’s interesting that no counterintelligence alarm was triggered at the time that this alleged conversion was occurring. Most likely, that’s because at that time the sophisticated Islamic objectives driving the global jihad movement by the Muslim Brotherhood were not understood by those who witnessed his “conversion.”
As Clare Lopez, from the Center for Security Policy, has pointed out, our counterintelligence defense system is broken. The Muslim Brotherhood’s core threat doctrine — the ideology of Islamic jihad and Shariah law — is seen as benign. Mr. Brennan’s activities as the president’s top counterterrorism adviser have been at the forefront in the Muslim Brotherhood effort in the United States. The Brotherhood has succeeded in convincing the U.S. government to remove from official documents and training curricula all references to Islamic doctrine, Shariah law and scriptures that relate them to terrorism. Further, scheduled lectures on the true threat from Islam have been canceled, and instructors have been barred from future presentations.
Mr. Brennan’s track record of empowering the Muslim Brotherhood both domestically and abroad allowed the jihadist enemy access to the highest level of government under the stealth guise of “nonviolent outreach partners.” For example, terrorists like Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations who has been linked to Hamas; and leaders from the Islamic Society of North America, unindicted co-conspirators from the Holy Land Foundation trial in 2008, work with national security staff providing input to U.S. counterterrorism strategies. That is hardly comforting.
It cannot be denied that U.S. policy on Islam, Shariah law and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular has undergone a sea change during the time Mr. Brennan has had influence on our national security. Certainly, Mr. Brennan cannot be confirmed until a full vetting has taken place.
With regard to Mr. Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense, clearly full disclosure about his past and current financial arrangements must be provided. His position on our defense budget and his appearance on Al-Jazeera where he characterized the United States as a bully in world affairs is more than troubling. As an aside, Al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, which has now been revealed as a major contributor to the Atlantic Council when Mr. Hagel was the chairman, according to Cliff Kincaid, the director of the Center for Investigative Journalism.
Mr. Hagel’s position on the defense budget, as well as his likely support for U.S. nuclear reductions beyond the latest level of 1,500 weapons, also should raise serious concern. This is particularly true in light of North Korea’s recent nuclear test explosion and Iran’s continued drive to achieve nuclear weapons capability. Moreover, Gen. Vicktor Esin, former chief of staff of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, stated in a Wall Street Journal interview on Feb. 11 that Russia estimates China has 1,600 to 1,800 warheads, not the 300 to 400 that our intelligence community attributes to them. Mr. Hagel’s stated position on direct negotiations with Iran with no preconditions is also of concern, as is his position on our only true ally in the Middle East — Israel.
These and other matters must be fully vetted before either nomination for these critical positions can be confirmed.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.