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Closing ranks around Brennan sends the wrong message

Another profession has closed ranks around a few bad actors. Despite the protestations of almost 200 former intelligence officials, common sense suggests that there was good reason to revoke John Brennan’s security clearance.

The notion that revocation infringes upon his First Amendment free-speech rights is belied by Brennan’s subsequent behavior because the former CIA director continues — unchecked by any Trump administration official — to lash out at the president at every opportunity via any available media channel.

Brennan fails the first and foremost qualification for a security clearance: the ability to keep a secret. In a New York Times opinion piece, Brennan wrote: “Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.” Yet, so far, there is no evidence in the public domain of collusion with the Russians by Trump or any member of his 2016 campaign. Russian meddling, yes; collusion, no.
If there is such evidence, it is secret, in which case, Brennan is guilty of a security breach. Revelation of the existence of a secret is equivalent to divulgence of the actual information. If no such evidence exists, Brennan simply is incompetent or an outright fraud. Whatever the case, he shouldn’t hold a security clearance.

Knowingly or not, Brennan is trading upon his status as a former official in making these public statements. Citizens can only take Brennan’s pronouncements as those of someone who should know — the former CIA director during the period of alleged collusion. Moreover, a holder of a security clearance remains a government employee in part. Brennan’s statements are no more the exercise of his free-speech rights than a professional boxer’s use of his fists amounts to engaging in fisticuffs, rather than using lethal weapons.

In effect, Brennan is arrogating to himself authority and responsibility that is officially lodged elsewhere. It is special counsel Robert Mueller’s mission to determine whether there was any collusion. Due respect would suggest that Brennan should reserve judgment until Mueller reports.

Finally, Brennan himself is not above suspicion. He was the nation’s top intelligence officer. As such, inevitably, he participated, at least to some degree, in the preparation of the controversial FISA warrant application for court approval to surveil members of the Trump campaign. It was the CIA that detailed its operative Stefan Halper in London to contact former Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to ascertain the nature of their Russian contacts.

Brennan may have personal exposure in the controversial launch of the Russian collusion investigation — at least reputational exposure, if not more serious exposure. So, now, he may be acting to protect his own flank. Brennan is compromised, in appearance if not in fact and, therefore, should not hold a clearance.

While the former senior intelligence officials have objected to actual or threatened removal of security clearances from former government officials, only Brennan’s has been revoked — for reasons an ordinary citizen might well consider justified. The few whose clearances Trump has threatened to revoke include two officials fired for cause by the Department of Justice — former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI agent Peter Strzok — and one, former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, who soon may follow them ignominiously out the door. To an ordinary citizen, it seems only prudent to revoke the clearances of officials fired for cause.

These four individuals might be considered bad actors more than the first victims of an intimidation campaign. The phalanx of former intelligence officials defending them brings the entire intelligence community under a cloud. No matter what anyone thinks of President Trump, he is right to have revoked Brennan’s clearance and to have put McCabe, Strzok and Ohr on notice. Even if he did so, in part, to wreak revenge or to punish or intimidate them, he is guilty only of having done the right thing partly for the wrong reason.

And only someone living under a rock is unfamiliar with Trump’s often provocative and insulting behavior; intel officers should get over their injured feelings.

There’s an even more practical reason to remove these clearances: they are not being utilized. The chances that anyone in the Trump administration is giving Brennan current access, or has given him access since the day he left, are slim and none. So, Brennan has no need for a clearance, and the government has no need for Brennan to hold a clearance. Brennan is not indispensable, so dispensing of him is a non-event.

As appeared in The Hill on Aug. 31, 2018.


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