Dissent and the Revocation of Security Clearances

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that former CIA Director John Brennan had his security clearance revoked. Speaking on the president’s decision to break sharply with tradition, Sanders offered a particularly chilling rationalization, stating,

Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television about this administration. Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets and facilities the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.

On the surface, allowing former high-level intelligence officials to keep their security clearance may appear strange. However, the practice has long been maintained so that in the event a threat should arise in which the input or expertise of former decision-makers would be valuable, such national security-related conversations can take place in a classified setting.

Now some might very well argue that an end to this practice was long overdue, or that this was a welcomed check on the sprawling power of the executive. However, it must be made abundantly clear that the president’s decision to revoke the security clearance of a former official was not motivated by national security concerns, but rather, by political considerations.

Brennan—and colleagues like James Clapper, Michael Hayden, or Susan Rice, who have also been listed as targets for clearance revocation—has not imperiled American national security, nor has he acted in the manner described by Sanders.  Let’s be very clear, this decision was prompted by one thing, and one thing only, the president’s outrage over Brennan’s justified criticism, particularly his expressed unease over the former’s private meeting with Putin in Helsinki.

With that being said, let’s put Sanders’ rationale into context. Brennan does not harbor a pronounced track record of lying. Brennan doesn’t sow discord in American society by routinely assailing any and all opposition. Brennan doesn’t own a history of authoring Twitter tirades or levying personal insults against foreign leaders. Brennan isn’t the fellow who appointed a political strategist like Bannon to the National Security Council. Brennan didn’t entrust sensitive diplomatic efforts to an unqualified son-in-law—who at the time didn’t even possess a permanent security clearance. And Brennan, unlike Trump, is not embroiled in a federal probe into the possible existence of collusion with a hostile foreign power.

So don’t buy the feeble sales-pitch on offer from the White House. This move wasn’t spawned by national security concerns, but rather, by the president’s overt desire to quiet dissenting voices (and perhaps also has the added benefit of drawing attention away from the wildfire-like Omarosa controversy).