SECURITY -- December 31, 2009 at 1:10 PM ET
Obama Picks Adviser to Review Watch List System He Helped Create
The White House has issued a waiver for John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, to bypass its own ethics rules and participate in the review of the nation's terrorism watch list system, which he helped develop.
On Thursday, President Obama plans to receive a preliminary review of how the nation's counterterrorism system failed to stop an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger jet on Christmas Day.
Brennan, a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, helped develop the National Counterterrorism Center in 2004. He then served as president and CEO of The Analysis Corp., which is a contractor that works closely with the NCTC and other intelligence agencies, Politico reported.
In an Oct. 6 speech at the NCTC, President Obama praised Brennan for helping to create the center.
"Every morning I look to you for the latest intelligence. In fact, I think so highly of NCTC that I picked the guy who put NCTC together -- John Brennan -- as my chief adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security. And by the way, John Brennan is here and doing an outstanding job each and every day. He's also, by the way, I think, responsible for getting this spiffy building up and running."
But on Tuesday, Mr. Obama made it clear that he thought the system designed to share intelligence that would keep would-be terrorists off airplanes, had failed.
"When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been and this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable."
The waiver, posted on the White House blog by special counsel Norm Eisen, states that because Brennan's role in the review is in the public interest, he is exempt from Executive Order 13490. This order, issued on Jan. 21, was part of Obama's pledge to end the "revolving door" between business and government.
Here's an excerpt from E.O. 13490:
Revolving Door Ban--All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.
Senior administration officials told Politico that White House legal and ethics lawyers reviewed Brennan's ties and determined that the need for his knowledge on and intelligence experience outweighed any potential conflicts of interest:
"By virtue of his experience, John brings a unique mixture of know-how and understanding to this assignment," said Denis McDonough, National Security Council chief of staff. "The applicable ethics rules recognize that when the public interest outweighs other issues, an official should be authorized to proceed with an assignment, particularly in the national security arena. Our counsel have determined that to be the case here and have authorized John to proceed-with the understanding that others will review specific issues relating to TAC should any arise."
However, longtime former CIA officer Ray McGovern told the Rundown Thursday that selecting Brennan to review an agency he helped create was outrageous and a "very sick joke."
McGovern said that any number of experts could perform a review of why the system failed and rejected the White House assertion that they needed Brennan's unique expertise.
"It's a bogus argument. If you're going to have an investigation like this, it goes without saying, you need someone without an agenda," McGovern said.
Last year, Brennan withdrew his name as a candidate CIA director, after critics and journalists questioned his role in developing policies permitting harsh interrogation tactics while working for then-CIA Director George Tenet under the George W. Bush administration.