John O. Brennan, counterterrorism czar

The Bergen Record ran a profile this weekend of John O. Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism aka Obama’s counterterrorism czar.

He meets with the president several times a day, he said. He is Obama’s point man, for example, monitoring the military and law enforcement investigation into the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. He’s also been dispatched to Yemen to deliver private administration messages to leaders.

“My job is to make sure that the White House is doing everything possible … to prevent any type of catastrophe,” Brennan said in the interview, which took place before the Fort Hood shootings. “The president’s priority, first and foremost, is to save lives.”

Other crises that command Brennan’s attention include the H1N1 flu, the arrest of terror suspect Najibullah Zazi

The Record doesn’t say it, but Brennan has one of the most critical jobs in the national security apparatus.

Brennan is the “national continuity coordinator,” which means he’s responsible for agency-wide policy planning to ensure that the U.S. government survives a major catastrophe like a nuclear attack.

In the event of another 9/11, Brennan would be the White House point man. He has “direct and immediate” access to the president.

A 2007 presidential directive defines the kind of events Brennan must prepare for: “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”

Brennan spent 25 years in the CIA, including a stint as station chief in Riyadh in the 1990s and George Tenet’s chief of staff. He left the agency in 2005 and became a principal intelligence advisor to Obama.

Brennan withdrew his name from consideration as Obama’s CIA director after he was attacked for public statements in support of interrogation.  In a speech in August, however, Brennan said tactics such as waterboarding “were not in keeping with our values as Americans, and these practices have been rightly terminated and should not, and will not, happen again.”

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