When one takes the time to unpack pulling former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance, it’s pretty troubling.
Being granted a security clearance, through process, doesn’t give one access to classified information. It gives one eligibility to access. When someone with that eligibility is not acting in an official capacity and does not have a “need to know”, it doesn’t matter how high their clearance level is, they’re not allowed to access even lower level classified information. The “need to know” is a multiplier. A 1 or a 0. No need to know, no access. No consumption of classified material.
John Brennan represented no threat to national security that could not be controlled in means other than revoking a clearance.
There is also a process for revoking a clearance. The common one involves an appeal process. The process can be superseded by the needs of national security, in which case an agency can revoke one’s clearance without appeal. The agency leadership (DOD, Justice, Intelligence) has to do it though.
What the president did, was act on his Constitutional authority as the executive to directly revoke Brennan’s clearance, something that’s never happened before in America. So, in short, the president did something that no one had done before that had no positive impact on national security or the security of classified information.
And it didn’t really hurt Brennan either. John Brennan, at this stage of his life doesn’t need a security clearance. And he comes off looking much better than Trump in the exchange to all outside the Trump base.
So why did he do it?
Well, as best I can tell, and this is what I find most troubling, is to put the rest of the millions of Americans whose livelihood comes from working with the government, on notice. Most people aren’t John Brennan. And most people with a security clearance or even a government issued professional certification, would have to find another way to support their family if it was revoked tomorrow. And I’ve had more than one friend, as a vet, that’s whispered secretly, that they aren’t saying a thing to anyone on anything any more for fear that they would lose their livelihood.
That’s not healthy. Blind adherence to authority is not in anyone’s job description…even in the military.
Yesterday, Admiral Bill McCraven, who I served under in my time on active duty, wrote that it would be an honor to have his own security clearance revoked too, because it would identify him as someone not afraid to criticize the current administration.
I encourage you to read his statements here. (LINK)