WASHINGTON — Ex-CIA Director John Brennan, who has been critical of President Trump, has now lost his security clearance. In addition, the White House has identified a number of others who are at risk of losing the security clearance they obtained at their previous positions.
The mainstream media is correct to highlight the threat to government integrity when those with inside knowledge of its workings are threatened with losing their security clearance. Many of these former government workers and members of the military utilize their security clearance to work in jobs after their service. If that key to their economic livelihood is continually under threat, then there is a high risk that dissent against the government from those in a unique position to know will be stifled.
Why do ex-officials get to keep their security clearance?
What the mainstream media does not ask is: Why do these ex-government and military personnel get to keep their security clearance in the first place? Since security clearances are originally granted on a need-to-know basis for secretive information, what is the basis for keeping the access after leaving public service? Should they be allowed to retain access to classified information by virtue of their previous position?
While security clearances are periodically reviewed, it should not be standard practice for someone leaving the government or the military to maintain their security clearance unless they demonstrate a need after departure. Therefore, a reapplication for clearance should be mandatory. If the information is too sensitive to be public, keep it within the government and the military. Then decide who shall be privy to it based upon their then current need-to-know status.
Security clearance, the revolving door and control
The establishment does not want a reapplication procedure since it would interfere with the lucrative nature of the revolving door. Upon exiting public service, such personnel pass through the revolving door to much more lucrative jobs in lobbying, news commentary, and contract procurement. The high compensation is made possible in part by their maintenance of the security clearances.
More importantly, the establishment values this method of future compensation as a means of control over government and military personnel. Most people in government know the high compensation is in large part a reward for prior actions taken while in the government or military. Such actions include the favorable passage of laws and regulations, favorable enforcement of law, and favorable provision of contracts.
The best example of this may be Eric Holder’s former law firm keeping his corner office vacant the whole time he was head of the DOJ. After the calamitous 2008 recession triggered in large part by Wall Street malfeasance, Holder did not prosecute a single executive at the Wall Street firms, large mortgage originators, or the rating agencies. Most predictably, Holder received numerous retainers providing a compensation of millions of dollars per year after his departure from the DOJ.
Of course this ignores the separate issue of over-classification of information that is the public’s right to know in a democracy. Over-classification exacerbates the problem of government malfeasance. Without daylight, tyranny is likely to thrive. Yet, given this state of over-classification of information, why should a privileged few who are well-compensated by the establishment have access to this information, which then has all the greater value because of its over-limited availability to the general public?
Still, since keeping the security clearance is the standard operating procedure today, revoking it for political purposes is an unjust and dangerous application of what is already an unjust system. Either revoke all clearances upon departure or not at all. Not just when it serves a political purpose. The clear threat to one’s livelihood stifles the ability to reveal government malfeasance or even discuss how our democracy could do better.
Once again, we see the mainstream media discuss just one facet of an event presenting many issues. While the revocation of security clearance is one threat to our democracy, there is the larger question of how the security clearance system and the classified information it protects fits into our form of government. There is also the question of how the revolving door between government, the military, and private enterprise affects our democracy. The establishment would prefer though that we don’t consider this wider range of questions.
Top Photo | Former CIA Director John Brennan is reflected in a table as he prepares to testify on CapitolHill in Washington, May 23, 2017, before the House Intelligence Committee Russia Investigation Task Force. Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP
Ian Berman is an entrepreneur and former corporate banker at leading global banks in New York City. He now focuses on financial advisory services and writing about representative government, equitable public policies and ending American militarism and Israel’s continuing colonization of Palestine. He is the Co-Founder of Palestine 365, the Ongoing Oppression and its predecessor, Palestine 365, on Facebook.