Trump Revokes Security Clearance of Former CIA Director and Other Critics
The security clearance of a former Central Intelligence Agency director has been revoked by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said in a statement that John Brennan has been sowing “division and chaos" about his administration.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 their lost their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said to reporters on Wednesday, reading out the 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.
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 press conference last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland "nothing short of treasonous.''
"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."
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.
Senior intelligence officials, according to sources with whom VOA spoke after the announcement, had no hand in compiling the list. Both the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency referred to the White House all questions from VOA about the matter.
Clapper: 'An infringement of our right to speak'
“It’s unprecedented. I don’t know of a case where this has ever been done in the past,” former Director of National Intelligence James 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, calls Trump’s action “an infringement of our right to speak and apparently the appropriateness of being criticism 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, succeeding Barack Obama.
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.
Most of the names on the list, read out by White House Press Secretary Sarah during a briefing on Wednesday “have been open or outspoken about the administration or have directly run afoul of it,” noted Clapper.
The current administration has questioned the loyalties of such officials, viewing their comments as attacks against the president, especially those focusing on the intelligence findings that Russia intervened in the 2016 election won by Trump.
One name on the list is that of a current high-ranking Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr. The president has criticized him on Twitter because of his connection to former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing damaging information about then-candidate Trump.
A former CIA deputy director, John McLaughlin, speaking on MSNBC after Sanders read out the names, said, “the message that goes out is be careful what you say” about Trump.
McLaughlin said it is critical for intelligence professional, especially those still in their jobs, to be able to deliver unpleasant news to a president, and he expressed hope that Trump’s action does not have a chilling effect on those who brief the president.
“This has zero to do with national security. This is an Official Enemies List. The offense: exercising 1st Amendment rights,” tweeted Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general of the Justice Department, which oversees federal law enforcement.
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.