Brennan, who has served as CIA chief since March 2013, offered the following admission during an appearance on "Face the Nation":
"I think the president has tried to make sure that we're able to push the envelope when we can to protect this country. But we have to recognize that sometimes our engagement and direct involvement will stimulate and spur additional threats to our national security interests."
But as John Schwarz of the Intercept points out, that statement by Brennan contrasts comments he made five years ago – as the White House counterterrorism adviser – in an interview with the late reporter Helen Thomas about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who tried to blow up a US flight over Detroit:
Thomas: And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.
Brennan: Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents …
Brennan: I think this is a – this is a long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.
At his sentencing hearing the following year, Abdulmutallab explained his motivations:
"I [attempted] to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children and noncombatants."
In fact, the government's own sentencing memorandum for Abdulmutallab cites this statement, and points out that trying "to retaliate against government conduct" is part of the legal definition of terrorism.
According to Schwarz, of the Intercept:
"So Brennan well understands that our foreign policy causes attacks against Americans. And our legal code specifies that attempting to retaliate against US actions is what makes you a terrorist. Nonetheless, this obvious reality is almost never said out loud by government officials."
That certainly was not laid out by former President George W. Bush who, while addressing Congress after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, said the country had been targeted by "enemies of freedom."
Al Qaeda leaders, he said, "hate … our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."