Yesterday, former CIA director and Resistance mouthpiece John Brennan had his security clearance pulled by President Trump. Brennan’s defenders, left and right, including some who have enough brains to know better, have been out loudly proclaiming that this is some kind of an affront to American democracy and a violation, get this, of John Brennan’s First Amendment rights. The newest defender is retired Admiral Bill McRaven. This is from his Washington Post op-ed titled Revoke my security clearance, too, Mr. President.
Former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him.
Let’s take a quick break here and let McRaven spit and gargle.
Washington Post op-ed, Obama should fire John Brennan
An apology and an internal review board might suffice if this were Brennan or intelligence leaders’ first offense, but the track record is far from spotless. In 2011, Brennan claimed that dozens of U.S. drone strikes on overseas targets had not killed a single civilian. This remarkable success rate was not only disputed at the time by news reports — even supporters of the drone program called it “absurd” — but as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the New York Times both reported later, President Obama received reports from the very beginning of his presidency about drone strikes killing numerous civilians. As Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser at the time, Brennan would have received these reports as well, so either Brennan knew that his claim was a lie, or he is secretly deaf. Similarly, Brennan denied snooping on Senate computers six weeks after Feinstein first made the accusation to the CIA in private, which means either that he was lying, or he had ignored a serious charge against his agency for six weeks, then spouted off about it without any real knowledge — hardly the behavior expected of an agency director.
Back to the fluffing:
Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.
Like John Brennan, Adm. McRaven is a patriot, not a partisan. Both men spent their long public service careers – one in intelligence, the other the military – always putting country first.
— Jay Carney (@JayCarney) August 16, 2018
Bill McRaven is among the least partisan, the least political, the most patriotic people I know. His taking a stand on this issue is very significant. https://t.co/6D1B4yv0jU
— Michael Morell (@MichaelJMorell) August 16, 2018
Worth noting that Retired Adm. McRaven was rumored to be looked at as a possible VP candidate for Hillary, though he'd previously rejected the idea after retiring https://t.co/0hoEccQQvt https://t.co/ljhXaNePiG
— Spenser Hickey (@SpenserHickey) August 16, 2018
There are two separate and distinct issues here. Brennan’s clearance and his access. His access to classified programs should have ended the day he left Langley. He no longer occupies a billet requiring access nor does he have need to know. Clearances are different. Clearances are in effect for a period of years and can be extended by a refresher, so to speak, investigation. When you leave government your clearance is in effect until it lapses but a clearance without need to know is nothing. People leaving the military and government with high security clearances are in big demand with Beltway contractors.
Senior officials are often called in to give advice, etc. For instance, retired generals like Jack Keane were part of the brain trust that David Petraeus used to plan The Surge. If their clearances had been revoked when they retired, that would have been more difficult. Brennan was not the sharpest knife in the drawer as CIA director.
His relentless, unhinged, and highly partisan attacks on President Trump guarantee that he won’t be called in to consult.
So why is a clearance important to Brennan? And to Clapper? $$$$$
They are both paid “contributors.” Their value is knowing what is happening. This is what that looks like:
At about 5:45 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 7, just before the evening newscasts, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top White House adviser on counter-terrorism, held a small, private teleconference to brief former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators on TV news shows.
According to five people familiar with the call, Brennan stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had “inside control” over it.
These “former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators” had zero need to know…beyond their desire to carry water for the Obama administration…but they all retained active, high-level security clearances. Why is it important that they have clearances? Because their nice fat checks as talking heads depend upon them having inside information. What Brennan was doing was feeding buddies the Obama administration spin which they had to regurgitate in exchange for access to the information.
Just after he got off the phone with Brennan, Richard Clarke was on the air talking about it. If you recall, Clarke was Bill Clinton’s go-to guy on terrorism. After 9/11, Clarke spent a lot of time and effort blaming everyone else for his incompetence. No one thinks Clarke isn’t smart, but across the board, people agree that Clarke’s interest in terrorism was limited to expanding his influence and building his empire as is demonstrated by how al-Qaeda grew on his watch.
On the air, Brennan said the plot, underwear bombs (I am not making this up), was foiled and never a threat “because they had insider information, insider control.”
In this case, Brennan briefed some ex-intelligence guys about an issue so they would spin it in the direction the Obama administration wanted it to go and one of the recipients compromised an agent on the ground by talking too much. Now Brennan is in the position of being told classified information that he can use for his television gig. It is really that simple.
First, let’s clear the undergrowth. No one has the right to a security clearance. In particular, there is no right to use a security clearance to enrich yourself and that is exactly what Brennan and James Clapper, in particular, are doing. Allowing retired and former officials to retain their clearance is a courtesy and by any measure, those two guys are not in need of any courtesy from the administration.
There is no First Amendment issue. Brennan is free to speak as much as he wishes. But it does make speaking to him about classified information a felony whereas right now that can be done with lots of plausible cover about “consulting.” Furthermore, courts have ruled, without exception, that pulling a security clearance is not subject to legal review. Inside the military and federal government, it is not unknown for supervisors to have a security clearance revoked in order to force people out of a position or out of a job.
Back to the op-ed, McRaven is showing solidarity with a buddy, with a fellow member of the Resistance. This is theater. If he wants his security clearance revoked, President Trump should accommodate him or anyone else that feels that way. He’s showing that his loyalty to Brennan is higher than his loyalty to either the Navy or Special Operations or the nation and if he feels that way, it is dangerous for him to keep a clearance.
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