On Monday, President Barack Obama nominated John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to head up the CIA. Brennan, 57, has served as assistant to the president for counterterrorism and homeland security since 2009.
Before voting to confirm, Republicans in the Senate may want to question Brennan about the role he played in Obama’s 2008 campaign, specifically his potential involvement in the multiple breaches of the presidential candidates’ passport records in March of 2008.
The Washington Post headlined the story on March 22, 2008, “Rice Apologizes For Breach of Passport Data; Employees Looked at Files On Obama, Clinton, McCain.”
The “Rice” in question was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The offended party in the Post story was Barack Obama. He told reporters that he expected “a full and thorough investigation,” one that “should be done in conjunction with those congressional committees that have oversight function so it’s not simply an internal matter.”
It was not until the 13th paragraph of the Post story that the reader learned that of one of the three contract employees caught in the act worked for the Analysis Corporation, the CEO of which was Brennan.
The Post did report that Brennan donated $2,300 to the Obama campaign but suggested no deeper tie. This information was offset by the revelation that the other two culpable contract employees worked for Stanley Inc., whose CEO, Philip Nolan, contributed $1,000 to the Clinton campaign.
Stanley, however, had been handling passport work for 15 years and had just been awarded a five-year, $570 million contract. The company had no reason to play favorites in the 2008 campaign. It promptly fired the two employees, neither of whom was likely working at the directive of Nolan or of the Clinton campaign.
Unlike Stanley Inc., a huge government contractor listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Analysis Corp. had fewer than 100 employees, and its one culpable employee apparently escaped discipline. The Post article told us only that “his or her employment status is under review.”
Nor was Brennan a casual donor to the Obama campaign. To its credit, CNN Politics saw the real news angle in the passport scandal: “Chief of firm involved in breach is Obama adviser.” Having made this point, CNN and the rest of the media fell silent.
After its initial article, the Post said not a single word about the incident or Brennan’s connection to it. The Post remained mute on the subject even in its 1,300-word front-page article of Jan. 9, 2009, “Obama Taps CIA Veteran As Adviser On Terror; Brennan Has Drawn Fire on Interrogations.”
The fact that an employee of Obama’s new counterterrorism adviser had breached Obama’s passport files just months earlier held no interest for the Post or any other major media outlet of consequence.
A sidebar that emerged at the same time was the murder in Washington on April 18, 2008, of a fellow named Leiutenant Quarles Harris. He had earlier been apprehended for taking information off passport applications to procure fraudulent credit cards. It is highly unlikely that this murder had any connection to the passport breach.
What likely did have a connection was Obama’s strategic jab at the two people who stood between him and the White House at an April 2008 fundraiser in San Francisco.
“Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain,” said the candidate.
Obama took particular aim at Hillary Clinton. He countered her boast of having met leaders from 80 foreign countries with his real-world experience in several key outposts.
“I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college,” said Obama in the way of illustration. “I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic – Obama has always had problems with noun-verb agreement] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
This declaration took ABC reporter Jake Tapper by surprise. He thought it odd that he had not heard of this trip, especially “given all the talk of Pakistan during this campaign.”
Indeed, Obama had introduced the general subject of Pakistan as early as Aug. 1, 2007. As Tapper observed at the time, Obama talked about U. S. Pakistan policy as a way of challenging Hillary’s perceived strength on foreign affairs.
Yet despite the strategic edge his personal Pakistan experience might have given him, Obama failed to mention his Pakistan adventure in that August 2007 speech or for the next eight months.
Nor did Obama mention the Pakistan visit in either of his books, the 1995 “Dreams From My Father” or the 2006 “Audacity of Hope.”
Given that Obama used both of those books, especially “Audacity,” to emphasize his superior knowledge of the larger world, the omission of his Pakistan experience perplexes.
When Tapper asked the Obama campaign staff about the trip, they described it as a casual stopover to visit friends on the tail end of a trip to visit his mother and sister in Indonesia.
This, of course, should have prompted reporters to question why Obama had remained mum about the subject, at least until after his passport file had been accessed by at least one obvious sympathizer – and possibly three.
A curious reporter might also have asked how Obama got to Pakistan. In 1981, Pakistan was not an easy or likely destination for an American tourist.
When the blogosphere raised these questions, FactCheck,org made the valid case that American citizens could travel to Pakistan in 1981 and thus dismissed the travel issue as “more ‘Birther’ nonsense.”
The fact that Obama could have traveled to Pakistan on an American passport, however, does not mean that he did. Not surprisingly, FactCheck failed to mention the variable that prompted the controversy in the first place, namely Obama’s curious silence about the trip until April 2008.
Nor, of course, did FactCheck mention the event that took place just weeks before Obama’s first mention of the Pakistan visit, namely the passport breach.
The responsibility now falls on the U.S. Senate to raise the essential questions that the media have not raised and likely will not. Don’t hold your breath.