OpenCDA

August 17, 2018

Monetizing Hypocrisy

HypocrisyTwelve former senior intelligence officials have signed a statement criticizing President Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.  Their letter asserts the President’s decision was based entirely on Brennan’s criticism of the President.

It is very likely that several of these officials were in that “special” category of officials who were allowed to retain their security clearances when they left the government service.   In fact, some of them may still have clearances on file with their final employer.

But as has become typical of our national, regional, and local skews media, we’re not getting the complete picture about the signators to this letter.   Some of them appear to be capitalizing on their clearance retention to financially enhance their retirement incomes.

The pretext for allowing retired senior intelligence officials to retain a security clearance is that it allows present intelligence officials with proper clearances and authorization to seek retirees’ counsel.    That continuing access for the retireee to his former employer has definite value.  But that could be done without the retiree having a security clearance.  It would be inconvenient, but it could be done.

The official seeking counsel would have to ensure that his questions did not divulge any national security information.  For example, there is no need for any retiree to have a clearance to answer a question, “When you were in my position, what was your impression of Prime Minister Dowahdiddydiddydumdiddydo of Trashcanistan?”  As long as the question was asked and answered using means or in an environment consistent with the highest level of classification the information sought may have had, the retiree does not need a security clearance to respond.

It may be helpful to explain a few points about security clearances.

  • Think of security clearances as being the property of an employer, not the employee.   The employer, usually a government agency or contractor, is authorized to have and use national security information during the course of conducting his business.  The employer is responsible for ensuring that employees who need access to that information to perform their assigned official duties are cleared for that access.
  • A security clearance does not grant access to classified information; it grants eligibility for access.  Above and beyond merely having a valid security clearance, an employee must also have a “need to know” or a “need to go” or both for actual access.   “Need to know” means the employee needs the classified information to perform his specific official duties for the agency or contractor who sponsored his clearance.   “Need to go” applies to the employee who needs access to a restricted location to perform official duties.
  • A security clearance is neither an entitlement nor a right; it is a revocable instrument which exists to protect the national security.
  • A security clearance can be revoked or suspended if and when the need for eligibility for access to national security information no longer exists.  In fact, it should be and usually is.  Revocation is not necessarily an adverse personnel action against the employee.
  • A security clearance can be revoked or suspended even for a current employee holding a position requiring a security clearance.  There is a specified administrative adjudicative procedure that applies to current employees such as Bruce Ohr.
  • See Executive Order 12968 of August 2, 1995, regarding access to classified information.

So, do any of the twelve signators to that letter need their formerly held security clearance to work for their present employment?  Maybe.  If they’re moving from one agency to another or even moving from an agency to a cleared contractor and the job requires “need to know.”  However, I suspect few if any of them are in that category.

A senior intelligence official retiring going to work for himself or a non-government organization or contractor does not need a security clearance when his duties do not require or permit lawful access to national security information.

However, the fact that certain government officials are allowed to retain their security clearance after their departure from government employment can unquestionably be a salary-boosting benefit.  If they retain their clearance, it certainly makes their access easier to unscrupulous government employees who are cleared and who are willing to curry favor by making unauthorized disclosures of national security information to the officials who no longer have a “need to know.”   In that circumstance, both parties need to be prosecuted, have their clearances revoked, and be debarred from federal employment.

It is likely that Brennan and the twelve who signed the letter are blowing smoke.  If I were John Brennan,  the last thing I would want is public disclosure of the results of an investigation into my conduct which led the President to order my clearance revoked.  Then again, clearance revocation may be the least of John Brennan’s legal problems.

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