Statement from Former Senior Intelligence Officials

Twelve senior former intelligence officials published this statement attacking the “ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions by the White House regarding the removal of John Brennan’s security clearances.”

They further stated that:

[W]e all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances – and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech. You don’t have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information. We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case.  Beyond that, this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials.

6 thoughts on “Statement from Former Senior Intelligence Officials”

  1. "Quite clearly a signal."

    Yes, quite so. Nevertheless, a slightly more subtle signal than the ones we've been seeing for the last two years–the vitriolic tweets that seem to assault us every day.

  2. It's bad, but maybe not as bad as it is made out to be. It's not as if this administration was going to consult any of the people on Trump's hit list for input on classified matters anyway. And if for some reason, Trump did want them consulted, he could reinstate their clearances. So, other than making fine martyrs out of them and perhaps putting a chink in their earning power, I'm not sure how much we have lost. There should be more than enough known already to remove Trump from office if Congress had the inclination to do so.

    1. I'm not an expert on how clearances work, but I do know that people aren't allowed to keep their clearances because a benevolent and indulgent government thinks it would be nice to let them to earn a few extra bucks in retirement. They keep their clearances when their knowledge and expertise will predictably be of value to their successors or other officials in their fields. Institutional memory is a thing. Having run an academic program, I've had first-hand experience with the benefits of being able to consult with previous directors. I can identify at least two instances when my own expertise after stepping down saved a subsequent director a substantial amount of work reinventing wheels in one case and explaining to the higher-ups why things are done a certain way in another.

      Those directing agencies involved with intelligence labor under the added problem that, due to the fact that they're dealing with classified material and the (appropriate) complexity and time required for clearance, the circle of people with whom they can consult is extremely limited. And an added problem on top of that? These folks usually work with emergencies, where time for clearance isn't available. A circle of available, already cleared, knowledgeable consultants who can be quickly read into classified material is a real benefit. So part of what we've lost is access to the expertise of people who are familiar with how things work in their areas of expertise, and with that, the potential for the agencies to function at their very highest possible level in an emergency (or even in non-emergencies).

      The Trump White House staff wouldn't be making use of these people, of course, but Coats, Haspel or Nakasone might find it very important to do so. And of course, at this point in any administration, we have to keep in mind that the administration may have as little as two more years left. A subsequent administration, appreciating the value of expertise, may want to reinstate someone's access to a particular area of information under classification, and Trump's action will simply make that take longer and cost more.

      (Note: there's a distinction between actually being cleared for certain material and being eligible to be cleared for it that I'm not dealing with here because I don't have the requisite knowledge.)

  3. Good point, though I imagine they can still be consulted on their prior knowledge, they just can't be given new classified information.

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