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Did President Obama nominate an Islamic convert with a decades old connection to the most anti-American variant of that religion to a post no less potent than the director of the CIA?
That is the hot charge against John Brennan that gained rapid viral traction over the weekend because of comments made by an ex-FBI agent known for his efforts to expose radical Islamists.
John Guandolo first made the accusation during a recent radio interview. Today he repeated the charge during an interview with TheBlaze in which we pressed him to provide details that might substantiate his case.
There is a lot to sort through here, and as is often the case when viral charges start to spread, readers would be wise to keep an eye out for as many hard facts as possible.
Let's start with the radio interview that triggered the current viral wave. Guandolo made a third party accusation during a Friday interview with the famously anti-Muslim talk show host Tom Trento. The entire interview can be viewed below:
The most relevant 10 minutes of the interview can be viewed here:
John Guandolo, the accuser, has an interesting background beyond simply his past an FBI agent. His website describes him thusly:
In 1996, Mr. Guandolo resigned his commission in the Marine Corps and joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), serving at the Washington Field Office. From 1996-2000, he primarily conducted narcotics investigations domestically and overseas. In 2001, he served for one year as the FBI Liaison to the U.S. Capitol Police investigating threats on the President, Vice-President, Members of Congress and other high-level government officials. Shortly after 9/11, Mr. Guandolo began an assignment to the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI’s Washington Field Office developing an expertise in the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Doctrine, the global Islamic Movement, and a myriad of terrorist organizations to include Hamas, Al Qaeda, and others. In 2006, Mr. Guandolo created and implemented the FBI’s first Counterterrorism Training/Education Program focusing on the Muslim Brotherhood and their subversive movement in the United States, Islamic Doctrine, and the global Islamic Movement. He was designated a “Subject Matter Expert” by FBI Headquarters. This course was hailed as “groundbreaking” by the FBI’s Executive Assistant Director in a brief to the Vice President’s National Security Staff.
As to why he left the FBI, a 2009 profile from Talking Points Memo lays out the answer:
An FBI agent who worked on the corruption case of former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson resigned after superiors found a list he wrote of his sexual conquests with agents and a confidential source, according to court documents.
The same agent, John Guandolo, who is married and who unsuccessfully solicited a $75,000 donation for an anti-terrorism group from a wealthy witness in the Jefferson case with whom he was having an affair, resigned from the FBI and appears to have landed on his feet on the speaking circuit playing up the threat of Islamic terrorism.
And now here Guandolo is talking up a seemingly very imminent threat. In the Trento interview, Guandolo lays out a three part accusation against Brennan himself (emphasis added):
My contention is he [Brennan] is wholly unfit for government service in any national security capacity. And that would specifically make him unfit to be the Director of Central Intelligence for the United States. And really, I would break it down into three areas that make him unfit for duty.
The first is that he has interwoven his life professionally and personally with individuals that we know are terrorists, and he has given them access to not only senior leaders inside the government, but has given them access to the National Security Council, the national security staff. He has brought known Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood operatives into those positions of government. He has overseen and approved and encouraged others to bring known leaders of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood into the government in positions to advise the US Government on counterterrorism strategy as well as the overall quote unquote War on Terror. That's just the first part.
The second part I would say is he has proven through his own comments publicly that he is clueless and grossly ignorant of Al Qaeda's strategy. Now, Mr. Brennan himself says that Al Qaeda is the enemy, which those folks who have read or are aware of my work...know that that's not the total threat. But the first thing is, Mr. Brennan believes the threat is just Al Qaeda, which is problematic, and number two, even when he discusses Al Qaeda, he does not know what he's talking about. So he's ignorant of that enemy, their strategy, and how they operate.
And then third and finally, which some would say is most disturbing, is [that] Mr. Brennan did convert to Islam when he served in an official capacity on behalf of the United States in Saudi Arabia, and that fact alone is not what is most disturbing ,and what makes him unfit for duty. What makes him unfit for duty is his conversion to Islam was the culmination of a counter-intelligence operation against him to recruit him. And the fact that foreign intelligence service operatives recruited Mr. Brennan when he was in a very sensitive and senior US Government position in a foreign country means that he is either a traitor, which I'm not saying, but that's one of the options, and he did this all unwillingly and unknowingly ,or he did this unwittingly, which means that he is naive and does not have the ability to discern, to understand how to walk in those environments, which makes him completely unfit to be the Director of Central Intelligence.
These accusations are very serious, and such accusations demand serious consideration of all factors involved. They also demand an understanding of the context of the accusations, and a consideration of the identity of the man making them. Guandolo and Trento are long-time crusaders against what they see as malicious Islamic influence in government, or as Salon put it, they both "have a long and colorful history of anti-Islam activism."
However, outside the confines of their activism, questions do remain: Did Brennan convert to Islam? If he did, would it matter? Why? Should this become a part of his confirmation hearings? To aid in answering these questions, TheBlaze spoke to Guandolo himself, as well as sources with knowledge of his argument, and to Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, an expert on Islam. Calls to the CIA for comment went unanswered.
Guandolo's first accusation - that Brennan has brought known terrorist operatives into the United States government purposefully - is both deeply serious and somewhat difficult to verify. Throughout the radio interview, Guandolo flings this accusation about, but never once names a single name. Guandolo's own writings give us some idea of who he might mean. For one representative sample, one can look to an entry about Imam Mohammed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), being invited to speak to a CIA training session about his organization's successful cooperation with Dallas-area police on matters of law enforcement. ISNA, which is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial that exposed one of the largest Islamic charities in the United States for money laundering and financial support for terror, arguably has a troubling level of friendliness with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, unindicted co-conspirators are a tricky category, seeing as they can be anyone from people/organizations who cut deals with prosecutors to individuals/organizations who prosecutors lack the evidence to convict. Moreover, as Guandolo himself acknowledges (with some frustration), Magid is also a frequent guest of the White House and has even even been honored by the FBI.
Guandolo and his associates argue that these latter facts are evidence of political correctness gone wild at best, and intentional malice at worst, as Guandolo himself does when he describes how Muslim Brotherhood operatives "censor" counterterrorism training. Worse, Guandolo believes that the CIA and FBI are intentionally ignoring evidence of Muslim Brotherhood sympathies out of concern with protecting their agents' personal religious freedom.
"No one in the Government is willing to make the case that it's an intelligence operation," Guandolo told TheBlaze. When asked if he could directly prove that this intelligence operation is taking place, Guandolo admitted that he could not, though he did cite information from unnamed agents claiming that CIA Station Chiefs are routinely approached as religious converts by members of the Saudi government and Saudi intelligence agencies. When pressed, he admitted that this evidence might not be conclusive, but said he would like the question asked anyway.
"From a security standpoint, there are a lot of questions that should be asked of those people that are not," Guandolo said.
This brings us to Guandolo's second accusation against Brennan - that he has proven with his own words that he is ignorant of Al Qaeda's strategy and also considers Al Qaeda the sole enemy in the War on Terror. The second piece of this accusation is more an academic or ideological disagreement than one that can be disproven by facts, so it behooves us to instead focus on the first part about Brennan's own words. A video cited in the interview with Trento is especially instructive here, as it shows Brennan making statements that might justifiably worry those who view Islamic civilization as inimical to the United States:
"For more than three decades, I have also had the tremendous fortune to travel the world, and as part of that experience, to learn about the goodness and beauty of Islam," Brennan says. "In Saudi Arabia, I saw how our Saudi partners fulfilled their duties as custodians of the two holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. I marveled at the majesty of the Hajj, and the devotion of those who fulfill their duty as Muslims by making that pilgrimage. And in all my travels, the city I have come to love most is Al Quds -- Jerusalem -- where three great faiths come together."
Is this a problematic quote? Possibly, if you view Islam itself as an enemy of the United States, or worry about the positive references to Saudi Arabia (whose royal family subscribes to a particularly hard line brand of Islamism), but it is not an admission of treason. It also loses some power when matched against Brennan's actual record, which does not read like the record of a poorly concealed closet Islamist.
Why? Because when Brennan first came up as a nominee for CIA Director, back in 2008, his main critics came from the Left. In fact, so pervasive was the left-wing criticism of Brennan that President Obama was forced to withdraw his name from consideration. Again, why? Because Brennan had supported the "enhanced interrogation techniques" pioneered by President George W. Bush and was seen as unacceptably hawkish on civil liberties. He even served under President Bush as interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Finally, his nomination is even now being attacked by the ACLU over his support for fierce interrogations and the Obama administration's drone strike program. After his confirmation hearings, even the Weekly Standard expressed grudging admiration for Brennan's knowledge of the issues. News sources that lend a sympathetic ear to Islamism, on the other hand, such as Al Jazeera, have criticized and lambasted Brennan.
Which brings us, finally, to the accusation that Brennan is a Muslim. This one is impossible to prove or disprove, except to take Guandolo's word on it, since his sources are anonymous. Equally impossible to prove or disprove is the allegation that Brennan's conversion was the product of foreign counterintelligence, without speaking to Guandolo's sources. Given that those sources will not talk to anyone else, Guandolo's position is fairly precarious.
Guandolo himself is completely unfazed by the tenuousness of the accusation, and told TheBlaze, "For me, there's a sense of duty here."
However, Guandolo's concern for duty may have cost him friends at a time when he will almost certainly need them. Blaze sources familiar with Guandolo and his supporters indicate that even some who might privately agree with his assertions are not comfortable with how he's handled this. They also worry that Guandolo's argument - that Brennan is politically of a piece with ideological Islamists - will be straw manned as an attack on Muslims generally.
Guandolo is aware of this latter vulnerability and wants to avoid it. "The focus of [the argument] is the fact that John Brennan is unfit for duty, not that he's a Muslim," Guandolo told TheBlaze. "The reason that his conversion is relevant is because he was the station chief for the CIA in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at the time that it happened, and that it was the culmination of his being clearly manipulated by employees of the Saudi Government, and in our world that's an intelligence recruitment. So it's not just that the 'Hey, John Brennan converted'...John Brennan is not the only Station Chief for the CIA who served in Saudi Arabia who converted to Islam. That is not just a personal position when it happens that way."
Yet despite Guandolo's assurances that Brennan's alleged Muslim faith is not the issue, his arguments suggest that he views the act of converting to Islam while acting as a CIA station chief as itself an act worthy of condemnation, because it compromises one's ability to act as a representative of the United States.
"Converting to Islam is a very significant lifestyle change," Guandolo told TheBlaze, likening the act to joining the Communist Party after serving at a US Embassy in Moscow. "The biggest problem is he was utilized by the Saudis and recruited and softened, and the conversion to Islam is the outcome of that."
However, there is a problem with this. Brennan was quite arguably already sympathetic to Middle Eastern culture before he ever entered Saudi Arabia, as his past studies at the American University in Cairo demonstrates. Converting to Islam might have been the next logical step from his own independent study, rather than a conversion what was foisted on him by dubious people. In any case, it is difficult to imagine the Bush White House giving him a high-ranking position in the CIA at the height of the War on Terror without some sort of information as to his loyalty, especially if his conversion is the open secret that Guandolo and others claim it is.
And loyalty is still a live question, because unlike in the case of Communism, a conversion to Islam does not necessarily presage political loyalty to a foreign regime. Rather, the idea that a Muslim is necessarily loyal to hostile foreign entities is demonstrably false, and there has already been at least one counterexample covered by the press. A story in the Washington Post from last year highlighted an anonymous CIA operative (not Brennan, as his title doesn't match up) serving as the head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, who has been one of the most committed and effective opponents of Islamic terror (he led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and seems to make an appearance in the movie "Zero Dark Thirty"), despite being a converted Muslim himself:
Roger, which is the first name of his cover identity, may be the most consequential but least visible national security official in Washington — the principal architect of the CIA’s drone campaign and the leader of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In many ways, he has also been the driving force of the Obama administration’s embrace of targeted killing as a centerpiece of its counterterrorism efforts.
Colleagues describe Roger as a collection of contradictions. A chain-smoker who spends countless hours on a treadmill. Notoriously surly yet able to win over enough support from subordinates and bosses to hold on to his job. He presides over a campaign that has killed thousands of Islamist militants and angered millions of Muslims, but he is himself a convert to Islam.
His defenders don’t even try to make him sound likable. Instead, they emphasize his operational talents, encyclopedic understanding of the enemy and tireless work ethic.[...]
Roger’s longevity is all the more remarkable, current and former CIA officials said, because the CTC job is one of the agency’s most stressful and grueling. It involves managing thousands of employees, monitoring dozens of operations abroad and making decisions on who the agency should target in lethal strikes — all while knowing that the CTC director will be among the first to face blame if there is another attack on U.S. soil.
Most of Roger’s predecessors, including Cofer Black and Robert Grenier, lasted less than three years. There have been rumors in recent weeks that Roger will soon depart as well, perhaps to retire, although similar speculation has surfaced nearly every year since he took the job.[...]
He also married a Muslim woman he met abroad, prompting his conversion to Islam. Colleagues said he doesn’t shy away from mentioning his religion but is not demonstrably observant. There is no prayer rug in his office, officials said, although he is known to clutch a strand of prayer beads.
Granted, "Roger" may not have converted under the same circumstances as Brennan, if indeed Brennan did convert, but in the absence of more information both about him and Brennan, there is no way to know that outside of raising questions or getting sources who know the truth of Brennan's conversion to come forward. Neither of these things is necessarily encouraged by Guandolo's accusation, especially given that Guandolo's background has already been dragged into any dispute over these accusations by political opponents in order to discredit him. Anyone who might have verified his claims (if they are verifiable) may be hesitant to risk being treated the same way.
Ultimately, however, Guandolo would settle for questions being raised about Brennan's background, if nothing else. "I realize this is Washington and we're very polite and can't talk about criminal investigations," Guandolo said wryly, "but questions would be nice."