Saturday, August 18, 2018
The Real Danger in Trump's Threats About Security Clearances
While for most Americans a security clearance is not essential to employment, that is simply not the case for millions of Americans who work in the national security field. Want to work for DoD, the FBI or the CIA? You need a clearance. Want to work for a defense contractor? You need a clearance. While I don't "need" my clearance to do my job as a national security lawyer, I have no doubt that my income would drop significantly if my clearance was taken away.
It is for this reason that since our current security clearance system was created after World War II, we as a Nation have worked hard to protect our security clearance system free from politics. The only relevant factors were whether a person would treat classified information appropriately and whether they had a need to know. Indeed, we have a long and storied history of individuals with high clearances being quite vocal about their opposition to the actions of the Administration in power. Some of the harshest critics of our involvement in the Vietnam War had clearances. During the Carter Administration, outsiders with clearances were sharply critical of the failure to confront the Soviet Union. This has been true of every Administration. Dick Cheney and John Bolton were harshly critical of the Obama Administration, and they could do so without any fear that their security clearances could be taken away.
Until now. The decision of President Trump to take away John Brennan's security clearance by the stroke of a pen, without due process, and for the stated reason that he didn't like Brennan's exercise of First Amendment Rights, is unprecedented and remarkable. The fact that there are orders prepared to do the same to at least ten other critics of the Trump Administration is stunning. President Trump has politicized the security clearance process, and turned it into a loyalty test for the current Administration. John Brennan, and those on the hit list, probably won't be affected much by this. Many do consult regularly on issues faced by their former agencies, but do so for free as Patriots. My main concern, however, is not about them--it is about the chilling affect on those to whom the security clearance really is financially important. It is their speech that will be chilled, and they are the real targets of Trump's petty and vindictive actions.
To make this quite personal, I must admit that I now wonder whether I am putting my own likelihood at risk for being so outspoken against this Administration.
To be clear, there is a legitimate issue of whether former senior government officials should automatically keep their clearance. (For the record, my clearances are solely because of work I now do. I did not keep my clearances when I left government). While there may be value to the government in keeping the clearances alive for former senior officials, perhaps we should end this practice. If President had done so, I would not be critical. But that is not what he did. Instead, he is going after only former officials that have been sharply critical of him. Perhaps he realized that the "no security clearances merely for being a former senior official rule" would harm many of the friendly commentators who support the Trump Administration on Fox News.
I am heartened that even died-in-the wool Republicans like former CIA Directors Robert Gates, George Tenet and Robert Gates have joined their forces with dozens of former national security professionals to denounce Trump's actions to politicize the security clearance process. While some of these professionals have been critical of Trump in the past, the large majority have kept silent--until now. The fact that they have spoken up should be a wake up call to those who love our country.
So here is my plea--even if you otherwise like President Trump, and support his policies--speak up and denounce this un-American enemies list. Be like the Democrats during the New Deal who opposed Roosevelt's court packing scheme. They put their country first. You should too.