President Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. The White House cited “erratic conduct and behavior” by Brennan.
I have mixed feelings about this move, but favor it on balance.
We certainly shouldn’t want to see former officials lose their security clearances just because they criticize the president robustly. For example, the Trump administration reportedly is reviewing the clearance of Michael Hayden, former director of NSA and a strong critic of the administration. Unless there are facts regarding Hayden’s behavior I’m unaware of, I would hate to see him lose his security clearance.
For one thing, taking it away would smack of punishment for disagreeing with the president. In a free society, dissent shouldn’t be punished.
For another, unlike the clownish Brennan, Hayden is the kind of guy someone in the administration might want to consult in spite of his disagreements with Trump. Without a security clearance, Hayden can’t be given information that likely would be useful in a consultation.
John Brennan, though, presents a different case. “Erratic” properly describes his shrill and often mindless attacks on Trump. Moreover, his hatred of the president is so palpable that one can easily imagine him using access to secret information to harm the administration.
To be sure words like “erratic,” “shrill,” “mindless,” and “hatred” are not objective terms. Therefore, they are problematic as a potential standard for determining when a former official’s security clearance should be revoked. A president can always claim that his critics are erratic, shrill, mindless, and out to get him.
However, in Brennan’s case, objective factors also support Trump’s decision. Brennan was caught lying about breaking into the computers of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s staff. And, reportedly, he’s in jeopardy with the House Intelligence Committee for lying to Congress about the anti-Trump dossier — that collection of falsehoods gathered by partisans for partisan purposes. Indeed, Brennan appears to have played a significant role in promoting the dossier as a weapon to be used against Donald Trump.
A guy like that really ought not have a security clearance, and certainly not now, when Trump is our president and Brennan is accusing him, ridiculously, of treason.
The administration apparently is reviewing the security clearances of other critics. They include the aforementioned Gen. Hayden and Comey, Susan Rice, James Clapper, and Sally Yates. None deserves losing the clearance as much as Brennan does, and I believe that at least some of them don’t deserve to lose it at all.
As the administration makes its decisions on these former officials, we will get a better sense of whether Trump’s decisions have a sound basis in national security policy or are pure vindictiveness.