Rachel Marsden: Crony-industrial complex thrives on security clearances

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I have nothing bad to say about the president," reality-TV star Kim Kardashian said recently on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" A woman known for posting nude selfies apparently has more decorum than many leaders of America's intelligence community.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced last week that U.S. President Donald Trump might strip some former national security officials of their security clearances.


"They've politicized, and in some cases, monetized their public service," Ms. Sanders said.

The officials who could have their security clearances revoked are former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice — all of whom have publicly taken shots at the legitimacy of Mr. Trump's presidency by wrapping their rhetoric in anti-Russia hysteria.


Should a public servant with a security clearance be denied the First Amendment right to self-expression? No. But if you're one of the faces of these agencies, leveraging your CIA, FBI or NSA big boss badge to peddle activist rhetoric looks like an attempt to manipulate the public.

Consider, for example, this gem of a tweet from Mr. Brennan earlier this year: "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history."

Imagine that Mr. Brennan's tweet had been directed at a political target other than Mr. Trump -- for instance, a non-American head of state. It sounds like textbook regime-change rhetoric. Now consider that Mr. Brennan was downloading this kind of rhetoric onto the American people about their own elected president.

Is it too much to ask for thoughtful, rational, balanced analysis from the former leaders of institutions responsible for executing highly secret operations? Hysterical paranoia is a bad look. Is that really what you want to convey to the public?

The lack of diversity of viewpoints among these intelligence community bosses raises the issue of a potential disconnect between the rank-and-file officers and agency leaders, if only because it's hard to imagine entire agencies full of people with the exact same political beliefs. Mr. Trump should investigate the extent to which important intelligence-related decisions made by previous presidents were based on the political will of intelligence community leaders rather than objective data produced by their underlings.

How many legitimate intelligence analyses regarding critical issues have been cast aside because they contradicted a political objective of an intel boss? And how many detrimental courses of action were taken because of it?

The White House threat to rescind the security clearances of these former intel leaders forces them to make a choice: Stop abusing your platform as former executive-level public servants, or lose your business advantage.

If you are a former upper-level intelligence executive, top-secret security clearances are highly attractive to clients who might think you're able to provide access to information that could be valuable to them. Private-sector companies seek such profiles for generously compensated board positions, believing that having board members with active security clearances is good for marketing.


By raising the issue of security clearances, Mr. Trump has opened Pandora's box on another matter: letting former intelligence community members maintain a monopoly on the lucrative defense and security sector.

Most defense contractor jobs require high-level security clearances from previous government positions. It's a way to limit access to these well-paid jobs to a relatively small club of former government employees. Those who have the same or better skills, knowledge and experience despite a background in government service are automatically excluded from consideration, with the company citing the cost and time required to obtain a new clearance.

The end result is systemic discrimination in certain quarters of the private sector against those who lack government experience, thereby creating two castes of workers and quashing equality of opportunity. This system reflects the deeply ingrained crony-industrial complex, whose top representatives can't seem to hold their tongue about how much they despise President Trump.

In the interest of fairness and equality for all Americans, perhaps it's time for Mr. Trump to revoke security clearances for anyone leaving the public sector — not just those at the very top.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She appears frequently on TV and in publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her website can be found at