President Barack Obama’s assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism told about 700 people, including members of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville, that the fight against terrorism requires everyone to be watchful and engaged.
“In this day and age, we need to really rely on people to offer their services to the government,” said John Brennan, who has served in the role since 2009.
Brennan met with World Affairs Council members at a reception for about an hour before his presentation last Monday evening at the University of North Florida University Center.
His topic was “Securing the Homeland and Ensuring al-Qaida’s Demise.” The event was part of the UNF Distinguished Voices and World Affairs Council of Jacksonville Global Issues Evenings series.
The lecture was supported by Water Street Capital, Coastal Construction Products Inc., William and Barbara Harrell and Regency Centers.
“The president is determined to keep this country safe,” Brennan said at the reception.
Brennan had earlier met with students.
“We need to be able to eradicate the intolerance,” Brennan told the larger group.
Brennan talked about several topics, including his job, U.S. strategy and “the things I worry about at night.”
He traced the formation of al-Qaida and the U.S. efforts to take the fight to the source, including the killing of its former leader, Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
“Over the past decade, we took the fight to al-Qaida,” he said, “We cannot play defense.”
Brennan also talked about the diversification of terrorism into other countries and other methods, including by people who grew up in the U.S., “and know what gets into our psyche.”
Brennan said over the past decade since 9/11, the U.S. has strengthened potential targets, such as aviation and seaport facilities, to “make it much more difficult” for terrorists to attack.
He said the core of al-Qaida is “on the ropes.” Bin Laden and the No. 2 and 3 leaders of the organization “have been taken out,” he said.
“That pressure is going to continue,” said Brennan.
“The president has had to make some very important decisions,” he said. “He will do whatever it takes to protect this country.”
Brennan said the fight continues.
“This is going to be an enduring challenge,” he said.
Brennan told the group to be proud of the work “of your fellow Americans.”
The ongoing battle against terrorism requires “regular Americans like you and me working together to protect our country.”
He said the country also must be prepared to react.
“We need to make sure we as a country stay strong when there are attacks. And there will be attacks,” he said.
Brennan said other countries have joined in the fight against terrorism and many people have given their lives in that fight.
He called on the group to realize that poverty, inequity, lack of water and famine are conditions that “make it easier for al-Qaida” to recruit terrorists.
Brennan also said the U.S. needs to maintain its system of jurisprudence and “not bend to the temptation to twist our laws.”
“We need to remember what we are fighting for,” he said, listing privacy and civil liberties as exam-ples.