National security expert troubled by Trump’s clearance revocation

National security attorney Mark Zaid talks former CIA director's security clearance revocation (WTOP/Mike Murillo )

WASHINGTON — A national security lawyer said that he is “very troubled” by the White House’s revocation of former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance, and the president’s threats that similar actions may be taken against others.

Mark Zaid told WTOP that the message conveyed by these actions say, “If you’re a political opponent, your clearance is at risk.”

Zaid said that there are 13 adjudicated guidelines used to revoke or deny someone’s clearance and none of them have to do with politics other than the violent overthrow of the government, which Brennan and others whose clearances are at risk have not been advocating.

Whether Brennan could be afforded a recourse — an executive order by former President Bill Clinton that entitles one to administrative due process — is unclear, Zaid said, since it was President Donald Trump, himself, who revoked the clearance, and it is not clear if anyone below him could take a different position.

“Federal courts have been unwilling to hear substantive determinations,” Zaid said.

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But why do former government employees need to keep their clearance?

There’s a difference between eligibility and access, he said. “People can have eligibility because their background investigation is still in scope but not have access to classified information.”

Zaid said most of the time they would not retain their clearance; it is always a need-to-know.

However, it’s customary for people such as Brennan and others on the list that include former CIA, National Security Agency, director of National Intelligence to retain their clearance because historically, new administration would call upon them for their expertise, experience and opinions, Zaid said.

“It was for functionality of government.”

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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