John Brennan Loses His Security Clearance – That Doesn’t Mean He’s a Lost Resource

Intelligence

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Unless you’ve been hiking the Appalachian Trail, there is no way you missed the revocation of the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan by President Donald Trump. It is not hyperbole to say this action shook Washington D.C. The story lines are decidedly critical of the POTUS, saying “in a striking act of retaliation against an outspoken critic” (New York Times) and “unprecedented act of retribution” (Chicago Tribune). Suffice it to say, its a hot button.

Can the POTUS revoke clearances?

Yes, he can and he did, and we can expect to see more.

We don’t have an optic on who does and doesn’t have an active security clearance among the former senior executives within the intelligence community and national security community. What we do have is nine names (there are probably more) whose access to classified materials are being reviewed: James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr.

In the August 15 statement, the press secretary noted the president has the “constitutional responsibility to protect classified information.” She went on to characterize Brennan as “erratic” and his “increasingly frenzied commentary” and one who had abused his access to the secrets of the United States. She added, that Brennan and others had “politicized and inappropriately profited from their access to delicate information.”

Is Brennan a victim of retaliation or a recipient of a counter-punch to the nose?

Brennan, in February 2018, signed with NBC/MSNBC as a paid contributor. Given his unambiguous and frequent invectives directed at the president , his foreign policy, personnel, and leadership decisions, his new employers could count on him providing a continuous litany of negative sound bites toward the White House, and he did not disappoint. To be fair, Brennan is not alone in his criticism – there are many critics. He just happens to be a former director of Central Intelligence from 2013 to 2017.

On July 16, Brennan publicly gave the president a pop in the nose when he declared that his actions were “nothing short of treasonous” – in reference to the Helsinki meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On July 26, a memo was drawn up which announced the revocation of Brennan’s clearances – Marcus of Queensbury rules need not apply. This memo was released to media on August 15 2018, causing one CNN correspondent to question the timing.

Brennan’s access to classified materials

Brennan may have contracts with any number of organizations to provide his insight, opinion and sage advice on matters of national security. Those engagements requiring access to classified materials must, by definition, be directly associated with the U.S. Government.

The various classification authorities are the stewards of the nation’s classified information, and rightly require the continued trust and confidence that the information will be handled in accordance with government regulations. Brennan the private citizen is still available to the government, with or without his clearances.

The United States Government (all branches) has and always has the option to share the information for which they are stewards as they (head of agency) deem in the best interests of the country. So the critics that say the POTUS has taken one of the best horses and placed him out to pasture should be pleased to know they can rest easy. That prize horse can be brought back into the stable at any time.

Brennan’s loyalty to country and POTUS

There has never been any doubt that Brennan believes himself to be loyal to country and his lifetime of service to the country serves as ample and demonstrative evidence of this loyalty.

What Brennan has allowed to occur, through his outspoken criticism, is to allow himself to become part of the narrative and in some cases the object of the narrative.

Indeed, when one is working with classified materials, one must take every step possible to ensure that there never exists the slightest shadow of impropriety in the conduct of office and use of the classified information for personal gain.

To that end, Brennan’s role, since February 2018, has been one of a non-governmental employee, serving as a paid contributor for a media network. A media network that has minced no words in their distaste for the current Administration.

Brennan’s access to classified information at the behest and interest of the country should benefit the country. President Trump, via his press secretary’s remarks, implies this access also puts coin into the pocket of Brennan through this media work.

While I personally have never heard Brennan share information on-the-air which appeared to me to step over the line, I will defer to those with active and current access to the nation’s secrets to call the event out when and if it should happen.

What I do think occurs is Brennan’s access to classified information provides him with a nuanced view of world events, specifically those dealing with national security. This nuance permits his “contribution” frankly be superior and closer to the actual events than perhaps they otherwise may be sans the access to the classified information.

Brennan’s access to classified information allows a shadow of impropriety to fall upon him.

What now?

In sum, the president was within his rights to ask that Brennan’s access to classified information be removed. Given his unending criticism of White House policies, there is no way that Brennan enjoys the trust and confidence of the president. He exercised his prerogative, and in time we will know if this and those revocations which are anticipated to follow will have a positive or deleterious effect on the country and government.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).

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