Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Real Danger in Trump's Threats About Security Clearances

In 1980  spent six months as a college student studying in then Communist controlled Poland.  It was an eye-opening experience in any ways, but the biggest lesson I learned was that authoritarian regimes do not need secret police to get their way.  To the contrary, the most effective tool was to control access to schooling and employment, and then deny access to school and jobs to political enemies.

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.


  1. Interesting , just for bit balancing things here , worth to quote the official ( or semi official ) statements of the secretary of state , and of Trump himself , so first , generally speaking , they deny any illicit or irrelevant motives , here I quote :

    "The President has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it, and that's what he's doing is fulfilling that responsibility in this action"

    While more concretely concerning John Brennan , here I quote Trump , The report of the CNN ( see link ) and Sanders all together , here :

    “ Trump in his statement justified the move against Brennan by citing the CIA's infiltration of Senate computers during Brennan's time at the helm of the agency during the Obama administration -- for which Brennan subsequently issued a public apology -- and maintained Brennan has "recently leveraged his status" as a former official to "make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations" about the administration, which Trump called "increasingly frenzied commentary."

    And more :

    "Such access is particularly inappropriate when such officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks," Sanders said, reading from Trump's statement. ”

    End of quotations :

    Well , at least they deny any illicit motive . But , not enough concrete evidence or suggestion , that such act or revoking the security clearance , has really substantially to do , with national security .Not so strong It seems , I must admit here .

    One may read here ( CNN ) :


  2. One may read here ( fox news ) bearing the headline :

    “ Ex-CIA Director Brennan's anti-Trump comments did 'damage' to intel community, Mullen says ”