Undaunted is the memoir of John O. Brennan, the CIA director for the last half of President Obama’s term. Since his retirement, he has been critical of Trump and the Republicans who refused to act to punish Russia for intervening in our election.
Brennan began his memoir with his childhood when he thought he would grow up to be a priest before he became more skeptical in high school. He applied to the CIA in college. He writes about his training with self-deprecating stories of his mistakes such as being the first person noticed in a shadowing exercise mainly because he was wearing clothes that stood out. He soon dropped Operations (the movie kind of CIA) for Analysis (the reading and writing kind of CIA.)
He studied Arabic in college and spent time there early in his CIA career and returned mid-career as well. This was his area of expertise and the reason he was in counter-terrorism. He tells about his work during several administrations and his advancing career.
I enjoyed Undaunted quite a bit. Brennan is a good writer, concise and organized, which is a natural reflection of his lifetime of preparing analyses and briefings. He can take the complex and distill it to the essentials in a few paragraphs. If you’re expecting secrets, though, you won’t get any. Not only did this go through the CIA review process, Brennan is not writing to share secrets, but to give folks an idea of the value of nonpartisan professional civil servants like him. He worked well with Republican and Democratic presidents. This is a necessary antidote in these days of “deep state” conspiracy-mongering.
One of the strangely comforting things was his explanation of how hard they worked to develop a framework for drone strikes. When Obama took over, drone strikes happened, but there was no systematic checklist of requirements necessary to okay a strike. They put a lot of work into creating guidelines about the degree of certainty, the lack of other options, the safety of non-combatants, etc. So, perhaps this sounds weird. Drone strike assassination of suspected terrorists is a moral wrong, in my opinion, but there is comfort in knowing that the people doing it are uncomfortable enough with that power that they try to limit and circumscribe it. It doesn’t make it less wrong, but it does make it better than those ordering it also think it’s wrong enough they try to limit it.
I received a copy of Undaunted from the publisher for review.