Former CIA directors just politicized the intelligence community

Former CIA directors just politicized the intelligence community
© Greg Nash

As a twenty-seven year retired veteran of the Intelligence Community—FBI and CIA—it was with great disappointment that I read the recent letter signed by 12 former Directors and Deputy Directors of the CIA, admonishing President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE for removing former Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanBrennan shreds 'misleading & highly politicized' Barr memo Attorney General Barr puts former intel bosses on notice Iranian president: 'Situation is not suitable for talks' with US MORE’s security clearance.

Their letter is tacit acquiescence to the politicization of the Intelligence Community - something former Directors going back to the beginning, in 1947, have taken great pains to protect against and something every American should fear.

I, and many other Intelligence Community veterans, hold in great contempt John Brennan’s actions. Calling a President of the United States a traitor, without impeccable proof, is far beyond the pale. It demonstrates a lack of judgment and self-control, and is far beneath the demeanor required of a former CIA Director.


While some of the former Directors reportedly think Mr. Brennan is acting inconsistent with the stature of his office, they offer him support. They state the President is not upholding the requirements of his office, but decline to criticize Mr. Brennan’s outrageous conduct or to hold him to any standard. The implication is the elected President has to meet a standard, but the unelected government official does not. Their silence encourages Mr. Brennan to continue his antics and bring further disrepute on the Intelligence Community. 


Sadly, it’s not surprising. Several of these Directors previously have made negative statements about President Trump. Former Acting Director Mike Morell, who organized the letter, in the heat of the 2016 campaign declared his allegiance to Hillary Clinton and stated in a New York Times editorial that then-candidate Trump was an unwitting agent of Vladimir Putin, essentially forerunning Mr. Brennan’s accusation of treason. His impeccable proof: that the two exchanged niceties and therefore Mr. Putin was using his KGB training to ingratiate himself with Mr. Trump. Downright silly.

Did the former Directors come together to condemn Mr. Morrell’s statement? No. Then, as now, their silence was deafening.

For a former CIA employee, not to mention a former Director, to be leading the opposition to a democratically elected leader in this country is unprecedented and a game changer. This isn’t about free speech, it’s about keeping the Intelligence Community out of the political life of this nation. It’s difficult to understand the former Directors’ failure to comprehend this fact.

This isn’t partisan: It doesn’t matter whether you despise or love President Trump. If President Trump is followed by a Democrat, will it be ok for former Director Pompeo to hurl the most gross accusations? To call out the Democratic President as unfit for office and a traitor? Democrats would be outraged, and I would agree with them. Yet, these former Directors have now sanctioned and made inevitable such political tit for tat by future IC leaders.

Mr. Brennan and the former Directors are trying to play the free speech card. But they and every Intelligence Community veteran knows that active and former officials, by law, have limitations placed on their free speech rights to prohibit the disclosure of sensitive and classified information, and to prevent politicization.

Directors have an unwritten, but even higher standard. It’s ensconced in precedent, not law, that former Directors remain apolitical. That doesn’t mean they cannot support candidates, but it does mean they don’t become the face of the opposition. It does mean they maintain a certain decorum.

Remember the negative reaction Gen. Michael Flynn drew when, as the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he led a “Lock her up!” chant at Trump rallies? They said he had gone too far and had violated the decorum of his office. Yet they seem to have no issue with a former CIA Director showing an unprecedented level of vitriol, accusation, and nastiness towards an elected President.

A former CIA Director leading the opposition could not be more damaging for the Intelligence Community. Articles are already appearing anticipating the upheaval amongst the 50 million Trump supporters that removal of the President could bring. Do you think - were the President to be removed – those 50 million Americans would forget Mr. Brennan’s actions and that former CIA Directors rallied around him? Would they not suspect the Intelligence Community had a hand in negating their votes?

Removing Mr. Brennan’s clearance was warranted to ensure the government did not acquiesce to his politicization of the Agency and the Intelligence Community. As Mr. Brennan’s outrageous conduct is not restricted by law—he has and retains his free speech rights—the only thing the President could do to signal the government’s disapproval was remove his clearance. As every Intelligence professional knows, a security clearance is a privilege, not a right.

Regrettably, the former Directors have put their stamp of approval on the politicization of the CIA and the Intelligence Community. It will be very difficult to return the community to its apolitical past. Something they, and all of us, will live to regret.

Jonathan Bowman became an FBI special agent in 1995 and retired in 2016 as an assistant special agent in charge of national security programs in the Honolulu field office. He worked on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and Russian organized crime investigations, and was the FBI’s assistant legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for three years. Before joining the FBI, he was a CIA analyst.