Former CIA Director John Brennan’s unfortunate reappearance in the media urging FBI officials to fight the president’s recent declassification order drives me to discuss his much publicized loss of security clearance.
One practice that has justifiably drawn public scrutiny of late is the “tradition” of according retiring senior officials in the USG security clearances for life. This is perhaps the classic case of the Swamp protecting its own.
In both the Soviet Union and Russia, it's a tradition for senior Generals and Admirals to plan for retirement by building a Dacha, the classic Slavic summer cottage. To do so, these officers use the men under their command for construction, as well as government funds to build their dream dacha. Illicit? Unethical? Definitely — but the Russian government, provided the officer toes the company line, turns a blind eye to this practice.
And so it is in the United States with senior government officials retaining their security clearances.
The fact that the Washington elite quickly circled the wagons to defend Brennan’s clearance is indicative on how important security clearances are in the Washington pecking order.
Former intelligence officials are furious that Brennan has been singled out — regardless of his unprecedented, atrocious behavior on social media. Their irate defense of the practice of granting senior USG officials lifelong security clearances is the same as the Dacha building permitted by Russian leadership — both are elitist practices that insiders reward to one another to feather their own nests.
This practice of seniors retaining clearances is an elitist relic that needs to be scrapped as not only a potential security risk, but also an affront to the hardworking Other Ranks of the Intelligence Community who do not have similar privilege.
For 98 percent of the thousands-strong members of the intel community, security clearances lapse a year after retirement. This practical measure is because many retirees will transition to contractor work, where their clearance will continue to be needed in service to their country.
This piece is not directed at this practice — instead, what I applaud the president for is spotlighting to the American people the practice of allowing senior officials, unconnected to government work after retirement, working as media commentators, to retain those same clearances.
This is the classic example of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too… individuals like Brennan crave the public spotlight, visualize themselves as being part of “The Resistance” via their verbal attacks on the president, and, at the same time, retain their security clearance as if they were a retired contractor assisting CIA — except they are not!
Importantly, this is how the Swamp games the system: these officials do not officially maintain their access, meaning they are no longer personally downloading Top Secret (TS) information. By maintaining their clearances, however, they will be able to discuss classified material that is accessed by friendlies still within the government. These friendlies, it might be added, would not be penalized for discussing TS material with a “cleared” individual. These same D.C. insiders would be punished, clearly, if they discussed classified with a journalist.
So what would happen if the D.C. Swamp Insiders discussed classified with a cleared individual who worked for mainstream media — and who was intent on attacking the present administration at every turn (as Brennan has)? Answer: Nothing!
Both Clapper and Brennan work for the mainstream media.
As a former Field Grade officer, who served as a Station Chief overseas, my clearance lapsed as I did not continue to work for the government. I now appear on TV and radio as a national security commentator and writer. It would not be appropriate for me to retain my clearance, given my current position — so why should senior officials, already commanding high salaries from CNN, be allowed to retain theirs? Let alone those, like Brennan, whose contemptible social media rhetoric disgraces their parent agency?
As originally conceived, when Intel Directors went home or became intel contractors after retirement, maybe the program to allow senior officials continued clearance made sense. In this day of hyper partisanship and media commentary, however, this “courtesy” must be scrapped — for all retired officials, Democrat and Republican.
As with many government programs, it mutated and expanded far beyond its original mandate, such as encompassing more and more officials as more senior staff (i.e. “paper pusher”) positions were created.
So, Surprise! We have now is a bloated, elitist program that bears no recognition to what was originally intended. But Washington, you see, along with the Intelligence Community, has undergone radical transformation and expansion — especially since 9/11.
In today's intelligence-industrial complex, security clearances are the coin of the realm, they are the key — even more important than actual job performance — to a high paying job in the army of contractors that have settled into D.C. like locusts in the past 25 years.
Thus we have the protestations of former Directors defending Brennan — who most of them likely regard as a buffoon. But the Old Boys Club protects its own, because if Brennan loses his clearance, theirs might be next!
Scott Uehlinger is a retired CIA Station Chief and Naval Officer. A Russian speaker, he spent 12 years of his career abroad in the former Soviet Union. In addition to teaching at NYU, he is a frequent Newsmax TV and Fox Business TV commentator, and has a weekly podcast, "the Station Chief," that can be found on iTunes or at www.thestationchief.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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