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Trump’s move to revoke former intelligence officials’ security clearances could backfire



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Martinez Monsivais/AP

  • President Donald Trump’s move to revoke the security
    clearances of former US intelligence officials who have
    criticized him prompted swift reaction on Monday.
  • Intelligence officials who no longer work for the
    government generally maintain a security clearance so the
    current administration can consult them on matters pertinent to
    national security.
  • That access to officials with decades of experience is
    all the more crucial to the Trump administration, which has
    seen record turnover in the 18 months since Trump took

The White House named a handful of former US intelligence
officials it says President Donald Trump wants to punish by
revoking their security clearances. The move is motivated by the
former officials’ criticism of Trump.

That proposal received some swift reaction in the intelligence
community and throughout Washington on Monday. Presidential
administrations have historically relied on former leaders, like
the heads of the CIA and FBI, who typically maintain a security
clearance after their service has ended, for the purpose of
advising the current officials on matters of national security.

In a moment of crisis, these people may offer valuable insight
and expertise that could help inform the current administration’s
decision, said CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. “You
want to be able to go back to the former officials who dealt with
these problems and be able to talk with them in a classified
setting,” Starr said on Monday.

“Given the amount of turnover in the Trump administration, it
might be, from a national security standpoint, rather valuable to
retain these people, to have that ability to consult them,” she

The White House said the former CIA director John Brennan, former
national security adviser Susan Rice, and the former director of
national intelligence James Clapper are among those Trump is
targeting for security clearance revocation. Press secretary
Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused the group of having “politicized”
and “monetized” their clearances.

Starr knocked down that claim, saying “They don’t go on TV and
disclose classified information. They don’t go trolling through
files and computer discs. They don’t even have, necessarily, a
need to know that would allow them to get into classified

james comey
James Comey.
Angerer/Getty Images

Former FBI director James Comey, the former National Security
Agency director Michael Hayden, and the former deputy FBI
director Andrew McCabe were also named. Both Comey and a
representative for McCabe responded to the proposal on Monday,
saying their security clearances ended when they were fired from
the bureau.

“These clearance exist to further the national security of the
United States, and that’s the only people that are entitled to
have it,” Republican
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said
during a CNN interview.

The move comes after a dayslong run during which Trump was at
odds with the US intelligence community in the fallout over
summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin
last week. Trump
at the time showed deference toward Putin and suggested he
believed the Russian leader over the US intelligence apparatus on
the finding that Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 US
presidential election.

Trump earned some particularly fiery rebukes after the summit
from the former US intelligence officers he is now targeting:

  • Brennan called Trump’s deference to Putin “treasonous.”
  • Clapper said Trump “seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin.”
  • Hayden said he agreed with assertions that Trump believed
    Putin over the US’s intelligence agencies.
  • Former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who was not named by
    the White House on Monday, said Trump “failed America” with the
    way he behaved around Putin.
  • Ash Carter, another former defense secretary who also was not
    named by the Trump administration, said Trump’s performance in
    front of Putin was “like watching the destruction of a

The White House’s move is largely seen as retaliation against
those who have been publicly critical of Trump — who himself has
frequently attacked them at his rallies and on social media.

Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee
said on Monday: “Politicizing security clearances to retaliate
against former national security officials who criticize the
President would set a terrible new precedent.”

“An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic, and un-American. Is there
no length Trump will not go to stifle opposition? Wake up, GOP,”
Schiff said.

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