Former CIA director John Brennan talks security, future at UT

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Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan briefs reporters at the White House in Washington, in this Oct. 29, 2010 file photo. The White House says the president will announce Brennan’s nomination as his next director of the Central Intelligence Agency during an event Monday afternoon Jan. 7.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

John Brennan, former CIA director and rock ‘n’ roll fan, is rejoining the Longhorn community determined to help students find their launchpad into the national security field just like he did as a UT graduate student almost 40 years ago.

Brennan returned to campus last week as part of his recently-appointed role as a distinguished scholar to give a lecture on the ethos of public service at the Blanton Museum of Art and visit classrooms.

As former director of the CIA and deputy national security advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, Brennan’s long history in national security started right here on the 40 Acres.

“I very much enjoyed my two days here,” Brennan said at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center on Friday morning. “(UT) was my launching pad to my professional career, and the first couple of years of my marriage were spent here as well. So I have very
fond memories.”

Brennan retired from the CIA in January after directing the agency for four years. He was appointed distinguished fellow in September and will return to campus regularly to speak and mentor students.

While studying for his master’s degree in government, Brennan spent time in Austin in the late 1970s, when Earl Campbell had just won a Heisman Trophy for the Texas Longhorns and Armadillo World Headquarters was a favorite haunt. Brennan, a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the Ramones, said he found himself falling a little into the Texas swing scene as well.

“This is the home of Willie Nelson, so when I came down here I also got a little bit addicted to country western music and listening to Cotton-Eye Joe and doing the Texas Two-Step,” Brennan said.

Brennan and his wife drove down to Austin right after getting married in 1978, so immediately after, he said he still owes her a honeymoon.

It is possible Brennan will find himself living in Austin again someday. He said his wife might want to return to the live music capital soon, and he is interested in a professor position at UT in the future.

Brennan’s successor Michael Pompeo spoke on campus last month and discussed his plans to increase the CIA’s aggression, speed and the number of agents in the field. Brennan said every CIA director has been committed to taking risks in the field in order to collect information.

“During my tenure I believe that we were aggressive and took risks, so it’s good that Mike is going to continue with that,” Brennan said. “I’d like to think he is going to continue along the path and build upon the world of his predecessors just the way I did.”

In his retirement, Brennan said he wants to inspire students to use national security to give back to the country. He said he hopes to use his experience in the field to help students find their way to careers in national security.

“I wanted to give back to the schools that helped to launch me on a professional career,” Brennan said. “It’s part of my interest in once again having a connection with the University of Texas as well as working in support of the next generation of professionals who are dedicating their lives to public service.”