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Trump Revokes Ex-CIA Director's Security Clearance

By Steve Herman, Jeff Seldin August 16, 2018

The security clearance of a former Central Intelligence Agency director was revoked Wednesday by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said in a statement that John Brennan has been sowing "division and chaos" about his administration.

The clearances of other former officials also are under review, including those of former U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former Obama administration National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

"Security clearances for those who still have them may be revoked, and those who have already lost their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said to reporters Wednesday, reading out a statement in the president's name.

Sanders, responding to reporters' questions, denied that Brennan and others are being singled out because they are critics of Trump.

Critical of the president

The president's statement accuses Brennan of "erratic conduct and behavior" that "has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him." It also accuses Brennan of "a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility."

Brennan has been extremely critical and outspoken about the president's conduct, for example, calling Trump's performance at a joint news conference last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland "nothing short of treasonous."

Brennan, on Twitter, described Trump's action Wednesday as part of a broader effort "to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics," adding that it "should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out."

Brennan, who spent 25 years with the CIA, concluded: "My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent."

"Two things, in my view, are true at the same time," former CIA deputy director of intelligence Carmen Medina told VOA. "It was unwise for Brennan to be so vitriolic in his comments, unwise but not illegal. And it is an abuse of power for Trump to revoke clearances, unless he can prove misuse of classified information, which I don't think he can."

Matter of courtesy

Such former top officials, as a matter of courtesy, retain their government clearances so that they may be able to consult with current government officials or take outside positions for contracted entities that are involved with sensitive intelligence matters.

An official with knowledge of the process told VOA that senior intelligence officials "had no hand in this, no role in this."

Both the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency referred all of VOA's questions about the matter to the White House.

Two senators applaud

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky applauded the president's action, saying he had urged the president to do so because Brennan's "behavior in government and out of it demonstrate why he should not be allowed near classified information."

"He participated in a shredding of constitutional rights, lied to Congress, and has been monetizing and making partisan political use of his clearance since his departure," Paul said in a statement.

Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana also defended Trump's action, telling CNN that he does not see why Brennan should continue to have a security clearance.

"I think most Americans look at our national intelligence experts as being above politics. Mr. Brennan has demonstrated that that's not the case," Kennedy said.

Danger to free speech, security

But critics of the move to strip Brennan's clearance called it a threat to free speech and even national security.

"It's unprecedented. I don't know of a case where this has ever been done in the past," Clapper said on CNN.

Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who had been appointed to top intelligence posts by both Republican and Democratic party presidents, called Trump's action "an infringement of our right to speak and apparently the appropriateness of being critical of this president in which one degree or another all of us have been."

Clapper noted he has had no access to intelligence information since he left government on the day Trump was inaugurated.

The threat to pull his security clearance, Clapper added, will not silence him.

"I don't plan to stop speaking when I'm asked my views on this administration," said Clapper on CNN.

Critical of the president

The president's statement accuses Brennan of "erratic conduct and behavior" that "has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him." It also accuses Brennan of "a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility."

Brennan has been extremely critical and outspoken about the president's conduct, for example, calling Trump's performance at a joint news conference last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland "nothing short of treasonous."

Brennan, on Twitter, described Trump's action Wednesday as part of a broader effort "to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics," adding that it "should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out."

Brennan, who spent 25 years with the CIA, concluded: "My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent."

"Two things, in my view, are true at the same time," former CIA deputy director of intelligence Carmen Medina told VOA. "It was unwise for Brennan to be so vitriolic in his comments, unwise but not illegal. And it is an abuse of power for Trump to revoke clearances, unless he can prove misuse of classified information, which I don't think he can."

Matter of courtesy

Such former top officials, as a matter of courtesy, retain their government clearances so that they may be able to consult with current government officials or take outside positions for contracted entities that are involved with sensitive intelligence matters.

An official with knowledge of the process told VOA that senior intelligence officials "had no hand in this, no role in this."

Both the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency referred all of VOA's questions about the matter to the White House.

Two senators applaud

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky applauded the president's action, saying he had urged the president to do so because Brennan's "behavior in government and out of it demonstrate why he should not be allowed near classified information."

"He participated in a shredding of constitutional rights, lied to Congress, and has been monetizing and making partisan political use of his clearance since his departure," Paul said in a statement.

Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana also defended Trump's action, telling CNN that he does not see why Brennan should continue to have a security clearance.

"I think most Americans look at our national intelligence experts as being above politics. Mr. Brennan has demonstrated that that's not the case," Kennedy said.

Danger to free speech, security

But critics of the move to strip Brennan's clearance called it a threat to free speech and even national security.

"It's unprecedented. I don't know of a case where this has ever been done in the past," Clapper said on CNN.

Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who had been appointed to top intelligence posts by both Republican and Democratic party presidents, called Trump's action "an infringement of our right to speak and apparently the appropriateness of being critical of this president in which one degree or another all of us have been."

Clapper noted he has had no access to intelligence information since he left government on the day Trump was inaugurated.

The threat to pull his security clearance, Clapper added, will not silence him.

"I don't plan to stop speaking when I'm asked my views on this administration," said Clapper on CNN.



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