Former CIA Director and Alumnus John Brennan Joins UT as Distinguished Scholar

In the nearly four decades since he left the Forty Acres, John Brennan, MA ’80, has been a clandestine intelligence analyst, architect of U.S. counterterrorism strategies, and chief of the nation’s top spy agency. Now he is taking on a new, unfamiliar title: Distinguished Non-Resident Scholar. In November, Brennan will join UT as a senior advisor for the university’s
Intelligence Studies Project (ISP), a joint enterprise of the Clements Center for National Security and the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

After earning a master’s degree in government from UT, Brennan entered the Central Intelligence Agency in 1980. His CIA tenure took him through many different posts: analyst, station chief, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and chief counterterrorism advisor to former president Barack Obama while serving in his capacities as deputy national security advisor for Homeland Security and assistant to the president. He rose through the ranks and in 2013, Obama tapped him to be director of the CIA, a position he held until January 2017. In his new position, Brennan will regularly visit campus to speak in a series of public events titled the “Ethos of Public Service,” lecture in the classroom, and contribute to relevant research projects.

“I am delighted to renew my association with The University of Texas at Austin, an institution that prepared me well for my national security career,” Brennan says. “With several decades of experience as an intelligence and national security practitioner, I am now looking forward to returning to Austin to share my experiences by interacting with students and faculty.”

In the Obama administration, Brennan was at the forefront of complex, fraught, and divisive issues like counterterrorism techniques and strategies, the Snowden leaks, mass surveillance, instability and conflict in the Middle East, the Abbottabad raid and killing of Bin Laden, and the use of lethal drone strikes. “Brennan has had a profound impact on our national policies, including a number that have proven controversial,” says LBJ School Clinical professor Stephen Slick, who heads ISP. “[He’s] anxious to share with students and scholars at UT the lessons he learned during decades of service at the highest levels of our federal government.”

Brennan’s onboarding is a watershed moment for UT and its ISP program, which was created in 2013 to fill a critical gap between the academic world and the intelligence community. Through course offerings, events, and research, the program is designed to create better public understanding of American intelligence-gathering institutions, foster closer ties between the university and U.S. national security institutions, and create a pipeline of talent to draw from at UT. The ISP program dovetails with UT Chancellor Bill McRaven’s quantum leap” initiative to bring UT System-wide academic breakthroughs and research opportunities in the national security sphere.

“John Brennan’s affiliation with UT and the Intelligence Studies Project will bolster strong existing links between the university and the US national security community,” Slick says. Another benefit of Brennan’s presence, Slick adds, is that there is a wellspring of “interest among students … in public service, particularly in the national security and intelligence arenas.” Brennan will serve as a mentor to public service-inclined pupils, “and likely inspire many of our students to consider government service as a realistic and satisfying career path.”

Robert Chesney, UT Law professor and Strauss Center director, says that Brennan’s choice of UT was inspired by the university’s serious commitment to the study of intelligence as well as Brennan being a lifetime Longhorn. He added that within an hour of the announcement on Sept. 19, “We already had professors reaching out to us and saying, ‘Hey, can [Brennan] be here this day, I’d like to have him guest-teach.’”

Photo courtesy of the LBJ Library/ Gabriel Cristóver Pérez


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