12 ex-U.S. intelligence chiefs defend Brennan, rebuke Trump for using security clearances as a 'political tool'

Four former CIA directors criticize Trump
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Late Thursday, a dozen former U.S. intelligence chiefs dating back to the Reagan administration joined retired Adm. William McRaven in openly criticizing President Trump's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance for what appear to be political reasons. The six former CIA directors, five deputy CIA directors, and one director of national intelligence said in their open letter they felt compelled to respond after Trump's "ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions" regarding Brennan's security clearance.

The intelligence officials defended Brennan as "an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual" and said "insinuations and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless." They noted pointedly that not all of them have chosen to "speak out sharply" on Trump's perceived "threats to our national security," as Brennan has. But, they added:

Regardless, we 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. ... Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views. [Letter from intelligence chiefs]

Trump is clearly sending a signal to other government officials, they wrote, and "that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable." Officials typically retain their security clearance after they leave the government "in order to ensure institutional continuity and in the event their expertise proves useful to their successors," CBS News explains, and some also use it to obtain jobs in the private sector.

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