The CIA took 9/11 personally. The agency took the terrorist attacks personally “because we weren’t able to prevent it. Officers felt they needed to redouble efforts,” said CIA Director John Brennan who recently spoke at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Brennan recounted his memories of the attacks and discussed the agency’s early response and the ongoing fight against the evolving terrorist threat as part of a public program on Monday.
After his remarks, he sat down for a discussion with Clifford Chanin, the senior vice president of education and public programs at the museum. Acknowledging the power of speaking at the World Trade Center site, Brennan’s voice broke as he referenced the firefighters who climbed the stairs of the towers to their deaths on 9/11.
Brennan emphasized the immediate response of the CIA to prepare the ground work for pending military action in Afghanistan after the attacks, and the swell of public interest both inside of the agency and beyond to support the counter-terrorism effort. Brennan answered Chanin’s questions about how the agency assesses its priorities, the Islamic State and the battlefield in Syria, and how the threat has changed. “ISIL is more shotgun-like—they go quickly from idea to bang,” said Brennan. “Al Qaeda is more like a diversified investment portfolio.”
In looking to emphasize progress in the war on terror, Brennan underscored the sense of American resilience and core values as the driving force that would ultimately overcome the struggles against terrorist organizations that seek to undermine these values.
Over the course of the program, Brennan was interrupted by several audience members who felt passionately about the recent decision by President Barack Obama to veto a bill that would allow families to sue the Saudi Arabian government. His response to the interruptions? The CIA fights to protect freedom of speech, he said.
By Jenny Pachucki, 9/11 Memorial Content Strategist