There’s a reason why security clearance is maintained for a select number of former federal government officials: institutional memory.
The most powerful nation on earth needs all the expertise it can bring to bear in times of national emergencies, which is why an individual with the standing of former CIA Director John Brennan is so valuable.
Brennan headed the CIA from March 2013 to January 2017 and served as chief counterterrorism adviser to former President Barack Obama. He had the titles of deputy national security adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and assistant to the president.
That’s why President Donald J. Trump’s decision to revoke Brennan’s security clearance has caused such a firestorm nationally.
Sixty former CIA officials have joined a growing chorus of national-security professionals in denouncing Trump’s action, which was triggered by Brennan’s criticism of him.
The president said he pulled Brennan’s clearance because he had to do “something” about the “rigged” federal probe of Russian election interference.
Trump has also signaled that he plans to revoke the security clearance for a Justice Department official whose wife worked for a firm involved in producing a dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia.
Fifteen former top-ranking intelligence officials early on expressed strong opposition to Trump’s moves.
The president does not suffer criticism kindly, and he is especially sensitive to the persistent speculation that he colluded with the Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he wanted Republican Trump to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state under Obama harshly criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Brennan has refused to be silenced by the president yanking his security clearance. He has charged that Trump’s willingness to believe Russian denial of involvement in the election over America’s intelligence agencies borders on treason.
Although he was expressing a personal opinion, that comment from one of the top intelligence officials in the country did strike a chord.
Nonetheless, Trump’s willingness to use his executive power to punish a critic is an example of the pettiness that has defined his presidency.
He has blasted his political enemies, has berated Republican members of Congress who refuse to kowtow to him and has publicly cast aspersions on the legitimate press.
Indeed, Trump has cast the press as the “enemy of the people” and has put reporters in harm’s way by accusing them of peddling fake news. His campaign-style rallies have become a setting for settling old scores.
By singling out journalists covering the rallies, Trump has fueled the anger of his supporters, some of whom have come close to physically assaulting individuals who are just doing their jobs.
AN IMPATIENT PRESIDENT
The president has expressed impatience with America’s system of government that is founded on a balance of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
But what he is doing with the security clearances of former and current federal officials is placing this nation in harm’s way. Former CIA Director Brennan may be a critic of the president’s, but he’s first and foremost a patriot. His record of service proves his commitment to America’s safety.
For Trump to use the security clearance as a political weapon is unacceptable and dangerous.
As we said at the outset, the institutional memory of former government officials is essential given the constant threat posed by this nation’s enemies.
There will come a time when the U.S. faces a national security emergency and the expertise of those who have served in government will be required. Decisions on how to respond to a threat should not be made in a vacuum. Historical perspectives are essential, as are the experiences of those who have participated in past emergencies.
President Trump’s contention that he’s more knowledgeable than the generals and that he is his own greatest adviser is at once troubling and worrisome. The leader of the world’s sole superpower with his finger on the nuclear button needs to be surrounded by people who will tell him what he does not want to hear.
Trump’s decision to revoke security clearances of those who have criticized him should be taken seriously. He’s crossing a line that feeds the perception that he’s fast becoming a dictator.
He has surrounded himself with sycophants in the White House, and that’s not a good thing. Someone needs to rein him in on the security-clearance issue.