President Trump revoked former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan’s security clearance on Aug. 15. Politicians and pundits are arguing about the decision. But as they do, they have missed a critical thing: the revocation of Brennan’s clearance appears to fit with former President Obama’s policy of preventing insider threats. Insider threats include any government employee who engages in the “unauthorized disclosure of national security information.” Trump’s official statement on the clearance revocation indicates that he suspects Brennan may be doing just that.
Obama issued Executive Order 13587 (“Structural Reforms to Improve the Security of Classified Networks and the Responsible Sharing and Safeguarding of Classified Information”) on Oct. 7, 2011. Under “Sec. 6. Insider Threat Task Force,” the EO states that:
There is established an interagency Insider Threat Task Force that shall develop a Government-wide program (insider threat program) for deterring, detecting, and mitigating insider threats, including the safeguarding of classified information from exploitation, compromise, or other unauthorized disclosure, taking into account risk levels, as well as the distinct needs, missions, and systems of individual agencies.
Notice that the EO lists government employees who engage in the “unauthorized disclosure” of classified information as insider threats.
Obama made this definition even clearer in the “Presidential Memorandum – National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs” that he issued on Nov. 21, 2012.
This Presidential Memorandum transmits the National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs (Minimum Standards) to provide direction and guidance to promote the development of effective insider threat programs within departments and agencies to deter, detect, and mitigate actions by employees who may represent a threat to national security. These threats encompass potential espionage, violent acts against the Government or the Nation, and unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including the vast amounts of classified data available on interconnected United States Government computer networks and systems.
The policy remains in effect today, as does the Insider Threat Task Force that the EO ordered to be created.
Compare Obama’s policy with the official presidential statement that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders read on Aug. 15. The following paragraph is particularly noteworthy:
Such access is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks. Any access granted to our nation’s secrets should be in furtherance of national, not personal, interests. For this reason, I’ve also begun to review the more general question of the access to classified information by government officials.
The statement stops just short of accusing Brennan of unauthorized disclosures of classified information. And if Trump suspects that Brennan might be engaging in such behavior, then he appears to be following the policy Obama set in issuing EO 13587. In other words, he has acted to deter or mitigate damage from what he assesses to be a potential insider threat.
So as politicians and pundits continue arguing over Trump revoking Brennan’s security clearance, it really isn’t that surprising of an action. It seems to fall in line with Obama’s insider threat policy regarding safeguarding classified information.