Why John Brennan Doesn’t Deserve a Security Clearance

Summary: Ex-CIA director John Brennan has a history of lying (even the WaPo recommended that Trump fire him). Now he is a hero to Democrats, a truth-teller penalized by Trump stripping away his security clearance. Here a former government official explains how these are a lucrative perk for deep state officials, public badges used for private gain.

John Brennan
John Brennan. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo.

Why John Brennan Doesn’t Deserve a Security Clearance

By Peter van Buren.
From The American Conservative • 20 August 2018.
Posted with the generous permission of the TAC.

After leaking for a while, most boils dry up and go away. Not this one.

After President Donald Trump revoked his security clearance, John Brennan arose as a Hero of Free Speech. On Twitter, he announced in terms that reanimated the Founding Fathers and marched them down Constitution Avenue: “This action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent.” Twelve former senior intelligence officials agreed, calling Trump’s revocation “an attempt to stifle free speech.”

No less than Ben Wizner, a director at the ACLU, stated, “The First Amendment does not permit the president to revoke security clearances to punish his critics.” Republican Bob Corker, the retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, said, “It just feels like sort of a…banana republic kind of thing.” Admiral William McRaven, former SEAL and bin Laden killing superhero, said of Trump’s revocation, “Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children.”

Relax. The only danger here is to John Brennan’s credibility as a #McResistance pop idol.

Over five million Americans hold security clearances. When a cleared person honorably leaves government, he usually retains his status. Ostensibly this is to allow him to help out his successors, yet most people use their clearances to hop on the gravy train. High-level clearances take time and cost a lot of money to obtain. Retired, cleared federal employees can slide into a range of lucrative contractor jobs. They can also use their clearances to garner information from old colleagues and put it to vaguely legal use at think tanks, universities, and as media analysts.

That’s not to say that once out of government a former employee can run around openly sharing secrets. What officials can do, and Brennan is pack leader, is become “sources” for journalists, unpaid positions albeit ones of extraordinary political power. Next up is to become a paid commentator, as Brennan also has done, where he can imply and allude to classified information to bolster his credibility. “If you could only see what I see,” the line goes, and the audience fills in the blanks.

None of this is particularly unique to Brennan though. To fully understand the real impact of his losing his security clearance, one has to grasp the role he plays in the “Destroy Trump” ecosystem.

If Special Counsel Robert Mueller is the guy at the table who chooses his words carefully, Brennan is the drunk uncle, blurting out crazy stuff that would be embarrassing except you so desperately want to believe him. To the anti-Trump family, Mueller has been a real disappointment. Already into his second year of an investigation that seems to have no end in sight, he’s off mopping up Paul Manafort’s financial naughtiness from a decade ago, which doesn’t appear to have anything to do “with collusion.” Unless he’s planning to drop a bomb just ahead of the midterms and ignite a full-on war over interference in the American political process, Mueller is pretty much on ice until – if the Democrats improbably score a lot of new seats in November – the end of the year.

Not Uncle John. Within hours of losing his clearance and ostensibly some of his free speech rights, Brennan appeared in the New York Times announcing “Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.” And about that security clearance? Brennan plays with us, stating, “While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware – thanks to the reporting of an open and free press – of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.”

Bang! Brennan mentions his “deep insight” from 2016, implying classified stuff, then saves himself from an Espionage Act charge by saying it’s really all just from reading the news. The does-he-or-doesn’t-he game adds shady credibility as he spews up fact-less opinions. Brennan, with his access to tippy-top secret stuff, would know, even if he couldn’t tell us just now, right? He might as well be peddling a revised version of 2002’s WMD tall tale.

Of course, the punch line is that, if there was anything to really know, Mueller and all of the CIA already would know, and maybe just haven’t gotten around to acting on it over the last couple of years. So how do you keep a politically useful story alive in the absence of conclusive evidence? John Brennan. The ever-pliant media has been quick to pick up on his value. The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius reminds us that Brennan absolutely knows the truth: “Trump was frightened – and remains so to this day – about just how much Brennan knows about his secrets. And by that, I don’t just mean his dealings with Russian oligarchs and presidents but the way he moved through a world of fixers, flatterers and money launderers. What does Brennan know? What did he learn from the CIA’s deep assets in Moscow?”

That’s why Brennan wants his security clearance, and the media wants him to have it. He wants the flexibility to leak bits of real secrets to the press, while overtly hinting to the public that he knows the whole story, sealing the deal with a wink. Mueller is the stern dad who may or may not come through. The rotating cast of jesters – Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti, Tom Arnold, Omarosa – enliven the story with cheap entertainment.

Brennan is the big voice who coughs up Trump attacks, driving the narrative. As a true Deep State actor, he implies proof without ever producing proof. Spewing capital charges without evidence, hoping the accusations alone do damage, is pure McCarthyism, and Brennan has learned that lesson, even if we, and the media, have not.

Brennan needed that clearance as a hedge against sounding like just another old man shouting at Trump in stream-of-consciousness rants on Twitter. The media needed him to have it so he appeared credible enough for the front pages. Implied access to the real classified story is the only thing that separated Brennan from every other Russiagate conspiracymonger cluttering up social media.

Is it all political? Sure. But what was the point of Brennan, or other Obama-era officials unlikely to be consulted by the Trump administration, having clearances that outlived their government tenures anyway?

Brennan monetized his security clearance to flavor his “commentary” with the tang of inside knowledge. There is no government interest in that, and the government has no place allowing Brennan to hold a clearance for his own profit. Shutting him down preserves the entire point of issuing a clearance, which is so the grantee can do Uncle Sam’s bidding. A clearance isn’t a gift; it’s a tool issued by the government so employees can get work done. Brennan is working now only for himself. He deserved to lose his clearance.


Peter Van Buren

About the author

Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq as team leader for two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams. See his Wikipedia entry. He is permanently banned from Twitter (thoughtcrime!), a badge of honor in these darkening days (see this sad story here, sad for America).

He blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction, described in We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011). He has also written two novels: Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent and Hooper’s War: A Novel of Japan. He now writes about Iraq and the Middle East at TomDispatch , The American Conservative, and at , We Meant Well (his blog). Especially see …

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about RussiaGate, and especially these…

His book about our expedition to Iraq, a tragedy for them and us

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

“One diplomat’s darkly humorous and ultimately scathing assault on just about everything the military and State Department have done―or tried to do―since the invasion of Iraq. The title says it all.”
Review by Steven Lee Myers at The New York Times.

"We Meant Well" by Peter Van Buren
Available at Amazon.

From the publisher (I wonder if the last sentence is intended seriously, or as bleak humor) …

“Charged with rebuilding Iraq, would you spend taxpayer money on a sports mural in Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhood to promote reconciliation through art? How about an isolated milk factory that cannot get its milk to market? Or a pastry class training women to open cafés on bombed-out streets that lack water and electricity?

“As Peter Van Buren shows, we bought all these projects and more in the most expensive hearts-and-minds campaign since the Marshall Plan. We Meant Well is his eyewitness account of the civilian side of the surge – that surreal and bollixed attempt to defeat terrorism and win over Iraqis by reconstructing the world we had just destroyed. Leading a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team on its quixotic mission, Van Buren details, with laser-like irony, his yearlong encounter with pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world’s largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can’t rebuild a country without first picking up the trash.

“A work of “scathing, gallows humor” (The Boston Globe), We Meant Well is a tragicomic voyage of ineptitude and corruption that leaves its writer – and readers – appalled and disillusioned, but wiser.”

4 thoughts on “Why John Brennan Doesn’t Deserve a Security Clearance”

  1. The Man Who Laughs

    I had this argument with someone else on another site. I told him that I agreed with Ishmael Jones, a former CIA deep cover officer who has argued that if you don’t work in the building, you don’t need to be hanging out there, and that all former officers should lose their clearances generally. I’ve favored this since I read his book. (Which I found about here.) . . But if the revocation is not to be general, then individual clearances can be revocable for cause, and brother, there is cause here.

    “As a true Deep State actor, he implies proof without ever producing proof. Spewing capital charges without evidence, hoping the accusations alone do damage, is pure McCarthyism,”

    Truer words was never spoke. If you’ve got proof, whip it out. But it will not do for Brennan to go around saying that in his hand he has a list and there is a conspiracy so vast. Even James Clapper, who is up to his asteroids in whatever this actually is, recognizes that Brennan is making himself the issue and serving to discredit the Russiagate investigation. If you make enough accusations and can’t show down, if you conduct a long enough investigation that disturbs the peace and produces no result, eventually you get dismissed as paranoid, and then you get dismissed. McCarthy is a case in point. So is James Angleton, who conducted a decade long fruitless molehunt that ended with his sacking by CIA Director William Colby.

    Which is why I honestly think the clock is running on the Mueller investigation. You’ve had a lot of guilty pleas by people who were more or less mugged or entrapped. Yeah, Manafort and Cohen were dirtbags, but they had nothing whatsoever to do with Russian collusion. I suspect that Flynn was framed, which is why neither the transcript of that phone call or Strozk’s 302 have ever seen the light of day. At this point, if you told me that every single person who ever contacted anyone in the Trump campaign offering Russian dirt on Hillary was either FBI, CIA, or British intelligence, I wouldn’t call you a liar. The only reason for Brennan to have a security clearance at this point is that every time he opens his mouth, he makes his Deep State pals look bad.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      The Man,

      “You’ve had a lot of guilty pleas by people who were more or less mugged or entrapped.”

      The Mueller probe is run using standard methods originally developed — as “extraordinary tools” — to fight organized crime. As some warned back then, these tools would become commonly used by the government. “Asset forfeiture” (aka asset seizure, or asset theft) is the best known example.

      Mueller is using prosecutorial discretion, the almost unlimited number of laws, and the mind-blowing severity of punishments in the US criminal code to force Trump’s associates to turn on him. They’ll say whatever they have to say in order to avoid America’s prisons (assignment to which, from tolerable to hellish, is also at the government’s discretion).

      Don’t assume this will fail because its slow. The government has convicted many people on the basis of perjured testimony. It’s routine, for example, in getting evidence for search warrants.

  2. The Man Who Laughs

    Everything you say is true, and yet I can’t help thinking that Trump is in no serious danger of impeachment. The Mueller investigation is starting to feel like the “It will go on” Speech from the movie The Battle Of The Bulge. (It’s on YouTube.) Manafort and Cohen can be tortured for confessions and maybe they’ll confess to cavorting with Putin, or Satan, or whoever. But even impeachment requires a semblance of a trial, and I don’t they seriously want to go there. An endless investigation is better than a trial for their purposes. The Democrats promising to impeach Trump s like the GOP promising to overturn Roe back in the days. The rubes might eat it up, but it ain’t happening. So no, Trump isn’t getting impeached. It can go on and on for now, but nothing goes on forever. Investigations eventually exhaust public patience. So here’s where we can cue up “I’ve Been Wrong Before” by Abney Park. We’ll see what we see.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      The Man,

      “Everything you say is true, and yet I can’t help thinking that Trump is in no serious danger of impeachment. ”

      The Dems can’t, since they’ll not have the Senate votes. The GOP only will do so if the public decisively turns against him. Which will require much more dirt. With people in his inner circle turning against him, we can only guess at what might happen next.

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