CIA Director Brennan says in Aspen that Putin is part of problem in Syria |

CIA Director Brennan says in Aspen that Putin is part of problem in Syria

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
CIA Director John Brennan, in his debut appearance in Aspen on Friday, told interviewer Dina Temple-Raston of NPR that Syria has posed the greatest challenge to him during his career in intelligence.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |


Here are other highlights of CIA Director John Brennan’s presentation Friday at the Aspen Security Forum.

•While Brennan was tough on Vladimir Putin’s policy in Syria, he wasn’t ready to declare Russia is responsible for hacking computers of the Democratic National Committee or Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The offender needs to be determined through a thorough investigation, which the U.S. government is undertaking, he said. Regardless of who is responsible, it shows the threat of hostile parties to not only take down the power grid, but also influence a presidential election.

•Brennan drew applause from the audience of hundreds in the Greenwald Pavilion when he said the American people need to reach a consensus on how the U.S. government works with private companies to gain access to encrypted information of terrorists and suspected terrorists. He said the government should be able to access information, as long as it follows the law, in order to protect its citizens.

“It’s not like the CIA, NSA and FBI officers are out there trying to get in somebody’s email account and read it,” he said. Civil liberties need to be preserved while protecting citizens, he said.

The applause came when Brennan said, “This is a country that firmly believes in the rule of law. If you want chaos to reign, let this cyber environment go” and let terrorists, perverts, criminals and others have their way. “I don’t think that’s the world we want to live in,” he concluded.

•The nuclear agreement signed with Iran was “the right thing to do,” he said, suggesting that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is considered a moderate and someone the U.S. can potentially work with.

The brutal bloodbath in Syria likely won’t stop until Vladimir Putin ends Russia’s misguided policy of propping up Bashar al-Assad, CIA Director John Brennan said in a presentation Friday at the Aspen Security Forum.

Brennan, in his first appearance in Aspen, had harsh words for the Russian president and his country’s role in prolonging the fight in Syria and allowing people to continue dying.

“I believe there’s going to be no end game even in sight as long as Bashar al-Assad stays in Damascus because he is the reason why so many Syrians are fighting,” Brennan said.

“There needs to be some sense that Al-Assad is on his way out,” he later added. “It needs to be clear he’s not part of Syria’s future.”

He noted that Syria was a country where Muslims, Christians and Jews once lived side by side. Now there’s been “so much blood spilled” that it seems impossible the country will ever return to the past.

Putin was so determined to stabilize Syria and stop the spread of terrorism toward Russia that he moved in with brutal force and backed al-Assad when he was on his heels, Brennan said. But he criticized Putin for acting without a long-term strategy and hoping that all chips fall into place.

Syria’s problems aren’t going to be resolved on the battlefield. A political solution needs to be negotiated as well, he said, and he wishes Russia would follow the United States’ path.

“I think the Russians need to come to terms that Assad has to go. We don’t want him to go overnight,” Brennan said, saying that would create too great of a vacuum too soon.

Brennan, a career CIA man who was appointed director in March 2013, said Syria is the most complex issue he’s encountered.

“I see Putin playing checkers here when it’s really a five-dimensional chess game,” Brennan said.

A big part of that chess game is addressing the presence of ISIL, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the name that Brennan regularly used rather than ISIS, referring to the Middle Eastern terrorist group.

Moderator Dina Temple-Raston, a correspondent for NPR, asked Brennan if he sees ISIL competing with the terrorist organization al-Qaida.

Brennan responded that ISIL is more of a “global menace” then al-Qaida has ever been. ISIL members grew up in the digital age and have created a social-media presence that is difficult to attack.

“The world can be their playground,” he said.

Al-Qaida requires prospective members to apply, then it vets them and, if they pass, they join a secret society, he said. Whereas al-Qaida tends to spend more time planning large attacks, ISIL compresses the time required to hatch an idea and get a person in position to act. They prefer an “operational cadence” of actions to strike fear into the world, he said.

Brennan contended that ISIL leadership itself doesn’t know for sure if attacks carried out in the U.S. and other countries are really members of the terrorist group.

“They will take credit for a lot of things. This is part of their brand,” he said.

He said the two terrorist groups might be shooting at a common enemy in Syria and they are cooperating in Yemen, but he doesn’t see the groups merging. That means prolonged action against twin threats. He said he doubts Syria can be stabilized, rebuilt and restored to peace during his lifetime.