John O. Brennan, FCRH ’77
John O. Brennan is a 1977 alumnus of Fordham College at Rose Hill.
The day starts early for John Brennan, FCRH ’77, the Obama administration’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security. Brennan’s driver greets him at 6 a.m. at his home in suburban Virginia with a binder brimming with the latest intelligence from around the world. He scours the reports during the 40-minute drive to his office in the West Wing of the White House. By 9.30 a.m., he’s in the Oval Office for the president's daily intelligence briefing, with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser James Jones Jr. and other top officials. After the intelligence briefer completes his presentation, the group spends the next half-hour discussing the latest threats to America's security.
“We talk about what threats are out there, what we are doing to address them,” Brennan says one July afternoon in his windowless office in the basement of the West Wing.
“It’s a rather full thirty minutes.”
Having studied in Indonesia and Egypt while he was an undergraduate at Fordham, Brennan has emerged as a moderate voice on Middle East issues, urging face-to-face talks with Iran and engagement with American Muslims.
John Entelis, Ph.D., professor of political science at Fordham and director of the University’s Middle East Studies program, taught Brennan at Rose Hill in the 1970s.
“He has a subtle and sophisticated understanding of the complexity of the issues in the Middle East,” Entelis says. “He’s neither an apologist nor an extremist advocate. He has a good, balanced view of the issues.”
For Brennan, the White House appointment in 2009 capped a career that has included 25 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, with a four-year stint as Middle East station chief in Saudi Arabia. In 2004, he was named director of the federal government's National Counterterrorism Center, which was established that year to better coordinate intelligence from the myriad agencies collecting data around the world. Three years later, he served as an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign. After the election, President Obama asked him to join the White House national-security team, where 16-hour workdays are the norm.
The son of Irish immigrants, Brennan was raised in North Bergen, N.J., and commuted to Rose Hill, where he became enthralled with the Middle East through Entelis' lectures. He traveled to Indonesia in the summer following his freshman year to work at the U.S. Embassy there and to research the politics of oil. Entelis later encouraged him to spend his junior year studying in the Middle East, so he attended the American University in Cairo.
Brennan found his niche there, gaining a firsthand understanding of Muslim worldviews and the motivation to speak out against discrimination as he works to diffuse threats of terrorism at home and abroad.
“I’ve lived in countries with Muslim majorities, and these issues have been at the center of my government career for more than twenty-five years," he says. “Terrorism, unfortunately, is found in the Middle East, so it's been a driving force in my career and in my life.”