Drew Forum: 4 Takes from Former CIA Director John Brennan

On globalism, digital security, whistleblowers and more.

February 2019 – Former CIA Director John Brennan tackled everything from globalism and digital security to climate change, governance and whistleblowing at a Drew Forum.

Brennan, who spent 29 years in the CIA and served as director under President Barack Obama, was the guest of the university’s Drew Forum speaker series, which is sponsored by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation and the Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lectureship.

The event took place at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Here are Brennan’s takes on four hot-button topics.

1. Globalism spawns populism

Globalism facilitates the flow of data, goods, services, technology, knowledge and people across borders, creating economic opportunities for many but not all. As Brennan put it, “This globalism and modernism is happening at an uneven rate.” At the same time, those who aren’t benefitting question the success of those who do, sparking populist movements. “It’s around the world. It’s not limited to here,” Brennan noted. “These are some serious challenges that are only going to accelerate as globalism continues.”

2. Balancing freedom with security

The digital footprint that individuals create includes not only financial transactions but also personal information—and most of it falls within the domain of private companies. So, how do you protect those individuals from cyber attacks or worse—and what role should the government play? “How are we going to ensure that these mobile devices and digital domains continue to be the engine of growth, prosperity and privacy and not allow the technology to be used by those terrorists, the proliferators, the pedophiles or organized criminals?” Brennan asked. “How are we going to ensure that the government is going to be able to carry out its responsibilities in this highly digitized, highly technical, very fast-paced world?” He had no answer, but suggested that Congress create a bipartisan independent commission of public and private leaders who can thoroughly examine security in the digital world and propose long-term solutions.

3. Governing amid partisanship

“Having first come to Washington in 1980, I have never seen partisanship and politics consume the government the way it has in recent years,” Brennan said. National leaders, he added, need to “make sure that they look at our country in all of its great capabilities and complexities. And that’s why I do express, on occasion, my disagreements, dyspepsia with some of the comments that are being made.”

4. Leakers and whistleblowers

Brennan sees value in whistleblowing, as government accountability is critically important to him. But he said that it needs to be done in a responsible way. Former national security contractor Edward Snowden could have taken what he knew about the U.S. government’s sweeping surveillance program to the inspector general, Congressional leadership or the White House. Instead, he leaked it to the press, placing intelligence officers in jeopardy. As Brennan sees it, “That was not a patriotic act. That was a selfish act.”

Next up at Drew Forum? Republican political strategist Ana Navarro, on Feb. 27, followed by former Congressman, governor and GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, on April 9. For more details, please click here and here. 

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