An avalanche of retired senior intelligence officials and spies have joined more than a dozen of their former bosses in issuing a public rebuke of President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, the ex-CIA chief who has become a strong critic of the president.
In a rare public campaign, a total of 60 former CIA station chiefs, analysts and operations officers — along with a former director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center — declared on Friday afternoon their “firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views.”
“We believe equally strongly that former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so,” they added in a brief statement.
The statement follows a similar one issued late Thursday by 11 former directors and deputy directors of the CIA and one director of national intelligence. They served in Democratic and Republican administrations, and decried the removal of the security clearance “as a political tool.”
The back-to-back statements also follow a blistering op-ed by retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, who, in an act of solidarity with Brennan, appealed to Trump to revoke his security clearance, as well.
Bill Harlow, a former CIA spokesman who helped coordinate the pair of statements from former officials, said on Friday that “in the process of putting out the first letter, we heard from a lot of people who were not directors of agencies but wanted to know, ‘How to we get in, as well?’”
Harlow called it exceedingly rare for intelligence professionals who spent most of their careers in the shadows and who shy away from politically charged public disputes to insert themselves so directly.
“There have been one or two other times where I recall a bunch of people speaking out, but not in this number and not at this speed,” Harlow told POLITICO. “They are trying to speak out against politicizing national security and security clearances. This is not about a person. It is about the practice of trying to regulate speech by former officials by tinkering with their security clearances.”
“There are rules and regulations under which circumstances they should be removed,” he added. “None say they should be removed if the holder of the security clearance annoys the president.”
After Brennan’s security clearance was revoked earlier this week, the White House said the former CIA chief was being punished because he “leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this administration.”