John Brennan, Free Speech and The Swamp

If you’ve been taking the various legacy media reports regarding John Brennan’s security revocation by President Trump last week to be good faith reporting, the one thing you got from them was that Trump was engaging in a direct attack on the First Amendment. The argument holds that by revoking Brennan’s security clearance, Trump was punishing him for making extremely critical remarks about the President on television. The knock on effect is to signal to all government officials that maintaining one’s clearance comes with an obligation not to criticize Trump.

In order to make this argument, one has to hold the following things as true – first that John Brennan had done nothing but express a political opinion, and that security clearances are some sort of proxy for a constitutional right to free speech.

Regarding the first, the reality is that John Brennan has done a lot more to warrant the revocation of a security clearance than just bloviating in the media. At the very least, his lying to Congress, twice, about very damning behavior from the CIA is more than enough justification. In fact, much of the media had called for Brennan’s resignation and/or firing at the time of these incidents.

More pertinent to Trump, Brennan leveled a charge of treason at the President after his meeting with Vladamir Putin. That has serious implications when it comes with the gravitas of an ex-CIA director potentially having intimate knowledge of incriminating, but classified matters. Indeed there are various investigations ongoing, and Brennan’s comments are at the very least irresponsible in light of that.

The bottom line is that, were Brennan attempting to apply for a security clearance today, with all of that on his record, he would be rejected instantly. Therefore it is no big deal that he does not have his clearance.

Which leads us to another angle the legacy media Is running with – namely that these clearances are some sort of stand-in for first amendment political speech. In addition, they represent a layer of national security maintenance, given that former officials with clearances may be needed in short bursts for their expertise in dealing with the intelligence and/or national security matters of the present.

A much less noted consequence of a security clearance revocation is the subsequent inability to land roles with private sector contractors and consulting firms which deal in information requiring such clearances. Brennan himself confirmed as much over the weekend with Chuck Todd, after Todd asked what the ramifications of losing a clearance were generally:

Well for me, it probably does mean that, that I just can’t go into the agency and have conversations with people who may call me up and ask me for my thoughts and views, and that has happened in the last couple of months. But for others, former officials who are on that list, some of them serve on boards of directors that require security clearances because the companies involved deal with classified information, and this can have a very punitive, very financial hit against them, and so now if I was asked to be on a board that requires a security clearance, I couldn’t.

Here, Brennan gets at the crux of the matter. The US government spends roughly $500 billion annually on contracts to the private sector, which in turn hires career government officials who have developed security clearances to handle the sensitive information that is dealt with. This explains how “career public servants” like James Comey can end up multimillionaires. In his case he went from the DOJ to Lockheed Martin and Bridgewater and made vast sums serving as counsel to those firms. Undoubtedly his clearances were of great value in securing these roles.

The issue underpinned the viral exchange between Phil Mudd and Paris Dennard on CNN earlier this week. A visibly unhinged Mudd scoffed at the argument that his security clearance served as a golden ticket. A look at his bio suggests otherwise:

Mr. Mudd is the President of Mudd Management, a company specializing in security consulting; analytic training; and public speaking about security issues.  He is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.  He now serves as Senior Global Adviser to Oxford Analytica, a British-based firm specializing in advising multinational companies.   He sits  on the advisory board for the National Counterterrorism Center and for the Director of National Intelligence, and he serves on the Aspen Institute’s Homeland Security Group.

The idea that Mudd’s security clearance status affects absolutely none of those roles is difficult to believe, to put it mildly. Indeed, his inability to remain cool and his over the top defensiveness in the face of Dennard’s simple acknowledgement of the monetary benefits to holding a security clearance is telling. But more generally, his indignation is perfectly representative of how The Swamp must feel at this moment.

Those government officials who are particularly vexed by this, along with their mouthpeices in the media are ultimately less angered about Brennan specifically than they are about the sunlight now being directed on the revolving door between the government and private contractors and consultants.

Trump’s actions are alarming to the Swap because they are a disruption of a bipartisan feeding trough for some government officials. In the good old days, these individuals could put in their time in the Institutions, and then have the option to cash out at a cushy consulting gig, with a contractor, or as a media contributor. The game was largely kept outside of political squabbling because both Democrats and Republicans benefited handsomely from it.

In this regard, to refer to Trump as attacking the First Amendment is to effectively declare that these exalted career government officials have a Constitutional right to high paying sinecures once their time in government is up. It is just as well, given the legacy media is itself part of that Swamp.

That stance is incorrect, of course, and insidious to boot given the actual threat to free speech currently being posed by social media companies, mostly at the behest of the very legacy media which defends Brennan – and indeed the other government officials who are potentially set to lose their security clearances – from Trump.

In those other cases, the rumored revocations are tied to the conduct of the individuals in question with respect to prior and current FBI investigations. The recently fired Peter Stzrok, for example, is under review for likely manipulating and/or withholding 302s, which are essentially FBI transcripts of subject interviews. The media has framed any and all censure of Stzok however, as being a result of his anti-Trump text messages, painting a picture of political retribution by Trump. This is not accurate.

In the end, this piece of the saga highlights the entrenched nature of The Swamp, and its inability to let go of the status quo. It is also confirmation of President Trump’s effectiveness. He was elected to take these fights head on, and his mere engagement in them reveals to the  public, bit by bit, the reality of the corrupted system in which we find ourselves.