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Transcript of John Brennan on CNN

Sunday, May 9, 2010; 11:02 AM

Candy Crowley interviews John Brennan, top White House counterterrorism adviser, on CNN's 'State of the Union,' on Sunday. A transcript of the interview follows:

CROWLEY: Joining me now is John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. Welcome after a really busy week, I know.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Catch us up to date on the case of Faisal Shahzad. Have you found a link between this alleged Times Square bomber and many terrorist groups?

BRENNAN: OK. First of all, I want to wish a happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there, many of them serving on the front lines in the defense of this country. Also happy Mother's Day to my wife and mother.

The case is still evolving, ongoing investigation. As you know, Mr. Shahzad is in custody. He is being cooperative as far as responding to our questions.

It looks like he was working on behalf of the Tariqi Taliban Pakistan, the TTP, that's the Pakistan Taliban. This is a group that is closely allied with Al Qaida. They have been responsible for a number of attacks in Pakistan against Pakistani targets as well as U.S. targets. But this is something that we're taking very seriously. The investigation is ongoing. And we are learning more and more every day.

CROWLEY: Well, this is scary then, because what you are telling me is that the Pakistan Taliban has moved sort of regional targets, reaching into the United States. What is our counter to that?

BRENNAN: Well, the TTP has been training with, operating with, planning attacks with Al Qaida for a number of years. It was formed several years ago. It is dedicated to the same type of agenda that Al Qaida has, which is a murderous one, to kill innocent civilians. They have operated inside of Pakistan. They have pledged to carry out attacks in other areas of the world, including the United States here.

So I think what this incident underscores is the serious threat that we face from a very determined enemy. And we have to remain very vigilant. And we have to do everything in our power to prevent them from carrying out successful attacks.

CROWLEY: So far, you know, you could say we have been lucky. We have been talking about the Christmas Day attempted bombing aboard the airline, we're talking about this Times Square. These were people who did not put together effective bombs. And so in that sense, we were lucky. Aren't you dealing now with if there is a 12-person conspiracy and they are running around the United States, you have different 12 different shots of getting some kind of information? If it is one person with a backpack or with a car with explosives in it, how can you prevent all of those from happening? You can't, can you?

BRENNAN: It is a very difficult challenge. And because of our success in degrading the capabilities of these terrorist groups overseas, preventing them from carrying out these attacks, they now are relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks, showing that they have inept capabilities in training. So this is a challenge that every day, we have to remain on our guard. They are trying to find vulnerabilities in our defenses and we have been very, very successful because of the tremendous courageous and brave work that Americans are doing throughout the world.

CROWLEY: Was Shahzad trained, do you think, or taught how to put together a bomb in Pakistan? Is it looking like that?

BRENNAN: He has traveled back and forth to Pakistan a number of times over the years. He returned to the United States in February.

And it is, again, looking like the TTP was responsible for this attempt, that he had worked with the TTP over the past number of months when he was in Pakistan. But again, this is an ongoing investigation. We are trying to learn as much as we can. Pakistani authorities have been very cooperative with us, and so we are sharing information with them. But we are determined to uncover all of the different elements of this plot and those who are responsible.

CROWLEY: Are there other Shahzads out there? Are they in the United States? I mean, this was an American citizen that -- a naturalized citizen. Are there others like him out there similarly trained with that kind of connection?

BRENNAN: I think over the last six or eight months, we have seen Najibullah Zazi, David Headley. These are individuals who have roots in that region, who travel back and forth. And I think it shows that al-Qaeda, the TTP and other groups, are trying to take advantage of individuals who may have been able to come here to the United States, in some instances like Mr. Shahzad, acquire United States citizenship, and exploit them for their agendas. This is something we have to remain on guard against that, and we are doing that every day.

CROWLEY: And how do you do that, though? This seems to me so difficult. You are talking about one person who may be an American citizen.

BRENNAN: Yes. And that's why we have this redundant security perimeters and capabilities in place. We were able to stop Mr. Shahzad before he was able to leave the country. Tremendous work by FBI, law enforcement, Homeland Security, to identify who was responsible for the attempted attack in Times Square, find that individual and stop him before he was able to leave this country. In a span of a little over two days.

So this was I think a remarkable illustration of how capable now our system is. After 9/11, there has been some tremendous work done, in the previous administration as well as this administration. And so what we have put in place is a system where we have the capabilities to stop people overseas. If they are able to come into the United States, also find them.

CROWLEY: What about Al-Awlaki? Have you been able to find any connection between Shahzad and Al-Awlaki? And what can you do about a person who uses the Internet, basically, to reach out to some of these people and, you know, tell them to go ahead and do things like this?

BRENNAN: Well the Internet now is the arena that that terrorist groups are trying to exploit to propagate their message, to reach out, to identify individuals, recruit them, contact them. And so Mr. al-Awlaki has been over the past number of years, spewing a lot of this venom internationally via the Internet. And his messages are resonating with some individuals, unfortunately, who also adhere to this distorted agenda.

CROWLEY: Well he's had exchanged e-mails with at least two of the people that we know of that have made attempts here in the U.S.

BRENNAN: We know that there are a number of people who have reached out with Mr. al-Awlaki and Mr. al-Awlaki has been in contact with him.

CROWLEY: How about Shahzad?

BRENNAN: Well, we're still looking at all of the information that is now becoming available to us. But Mr. al-Awlaki has been able to, through his sermons on the Internet, and his rhetoric, to have this appeal to this group of individuals who have unfortunately been attracted to this very distorted and perverse Islamic message that is anything but Islamic. It is just a murderous agenda.

CROWLEY: Other than killing him, there is no way to stop this Internet connection?

BRENNAN: Well, we are working very closely with the Yemeni officials. I returned from Yemen last week. I've been out there about three times since I've come into this position. We are working with them. We are trying to build up their capacity so they can attack this threat that they have within their own borders. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is targeting not just United States but also targeting Yemeni officials, Saudis and others. And this is something that we are very concerned about it. But we are getting good cooperation from the Yemenis.

CROWLEY: Two quick questions in our final moments here. One, motivation, has Shahzad talked about that? Was it indeed drone attacks, the loss of civilian life as they seem to think some of these drones have done?

BRENNAN: What we have been able to understand so far is that he was captured by this murderous rhetoric of al-Qaeda and the TTP that looks at the United States as an enemy. And what we are trying to do is to determine now exactly who helped him, who worked with him and making sure that we are able to uncover and then to address successfully these individuals who are trying to carry out other attacks. Making a lot of progress, I'm confident that we are going to make additional progress and uncover those individuals who collaborated with them.

CROWLEY: Do you see more arrests inside the United States?

BRENNAN: I see that there's an ongoing investigation that is uncovering information that will help us understand what we faced in Times Square and what else might be out there still.

CROWLEY: And final question, why is there not a kind of Amber Alert? You were out there in a dragnet looking for Shahzad over a very intense period of time. Why is there not something that could alert the ticket tellers at the airport, the train stations. Look, we are looking for a guy with this name and this basic description, instead of asking airlines to update their information every two hours?

BRENNAN: Well, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did push out a lot of information to law enforcement officials throughout the country. This was happening in a very fast-paced environment. We were able to get his name on the no-fly list. And because of the system that's been put in place, we were able to find him, get him, and prevent him from leaving the country. So again, it was a success.

CROWLEY: Right. Just barely, though. Shouldn't there be in place some sort of mechanism that you could immediately alert people? And this was a guy, after all, who paid cash for a one-way ticket to Pakistan in the final minutes.

BRENNAN: Well, that's right, in the final minutes, and so we acted very quickly in those final minutes. And again, we were working on a very compressed time period here, so things were moving very quickly.

There were a lot of people involved in this. We didn't know where he was in the United States. Could have moved in any number of directions. So I think what this demonstrates is that the system was able to push information out and take appropriate action.

CROWLEY: John Brennan, counterterrorism adviser and homeland security adviser for the president, thank you so much for joining us.

BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Candy.

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