A dozen former top intelligence officials, representing previous Republican and Democratic administrations, issued a letter late Thursday supporting former CIA Director John Brennan and lambasting President Donald Trump’s move to revoke his security clearance.
The rare statement from the former officials — including former CIA directors who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — comes one day after Trump pulled Brennan’s clearance and said he would evaluate clearances for other former intelligence officials, including two who signed on to the pro-Brennan statement.
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That move from the White House “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” the dozen ex-intelligence officials wrote in their joint letter.
“You don’t have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information.”
Those signing the letter were former CIA Directors William Webster, George Tenet, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta and David Petraeus; former CIA Deputy Directors John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes, Michael Morel, Avril Haines and David Cohen; and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
In announcing the revocation of Brennan’s clearance, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement from Trump on Wednesday that denounced the Obama-era CIA director for what he called “lying,” adding that Brennan had “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.”
Brennan’s cohorts among onetime senior intelligence officials flatly disputed any suggestion that he had acted improperly during his time in government service, calling the implication “baseless” and praising him as “an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual who devoted his adult life to the service of this nation.”
“Since leaving government service John has chosen to speak out sharply regarding what he sees as threats to our national security,” the joint letter stated. “Some of the undersigned have done so as well. Others among us have elected to take a different course and be more circumspect in our public pronouncements.”
Trump’s yanking of Brennan’s clearance has earned him only scant criticism from congressional Republicans. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, released a statement earlier Thursday defending Trump’s “full authority to revoke his clearance as head of the executive branch.”
But the bipartisan group of former intelligence officials described the president’s decision as an “inappropriate and deeply regrettable” message to others about the consequences of airing political views in public.
“Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views,” they wrote.