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Aug. 30, 2018
Notes from the Pentagon

More clearance revocations coming
The White House is expected to announce a second round of security clearance revocations for former government officials in the near future.

“We’re continuing to review,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Aug. 22. Mrs. Sanders said a White House working group has been set up to look at “the overall security clearance process and who maintains those, and whether or not those are needed across the board within government.”

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, is taking part in the review.

The review has been ongoing since the Trump administration cut off the security clearance of former CIA Director John O. Brennan Aug. 17. The former CIA chief lost his access to government secrets after taking to the cable news airways for months attacking President Trump, calling his behavior “treasonous” and suggesting he was a Russian agent. The revocation prompted a backlash from a group of mostly liberal former intelligence and policy officials who said the government had violated Mr. Brennan’s First Amendment rights.

The next round of security clearance revocations is expected to be announced in the next two weeks. A review has been underway within the National Security Council to examine other former officials and their access to classified information.

The review involves three presidential executive orders that together authorize security clearances and access to classified information.

The first is Executive Order 12968 on “Eligibility for Access to Classified Information” that sets standards for investigations and granting clearance approvals.

A second order, E.O. 13526, “Classified National Security Information,” outlines the government’s security classification system. A third is E.O. 13467 on security classification reform.

The ultimate arbiter of granting and removing security clearances currently is Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who under executive order is the president’s designated security executive agent.

Mr. Coats, working with the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, would have to sign off on pulling the clearances by making a determination on whether the former officials under review are “eligible for access to classified information.”

There are two ways to retain security access after leaving public service. First, a former official may meet the definition of a government employee under E.O. 12968 and then would be covered by all rules and regulations regarding access to secret information.

The second way for former officials to keep their clearances is under E.O. 13526, which governs access by historical researchers and certain former officials. In those cases, the “need to know” criteria for a clearance can be waived and access granted to people who were senior policymakers appointed by the president or vice president, or served as president or vice president, and who an intelligence agency head determines can access secrets in support of U.S. national security.

Asked about the security clearance revocation issue, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters earlier this month: “All I can tell you is, I have taken security clearances away from people in my previous time in uniform, and a security clearance is something that is granted on an as-needed basis.”

Mr. Trump said in a statement earlier this month that he took the action against Mr. Brennan in his capacity as head of the executive branch and commander in chief.

“At this point in my administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior,” the president said.

The president also noted that Mr. Brennan appeared to mislead Congress about now-infamous anti-Trump Christopher Steele dossier.

“Mr. Brennan told Congress that the intelligence community did not make use of the so-called Steele dossier in an assessment regarding the 2016 election, an assertion contradicted by at least two other senior officials in the intelligence community and all of the facts,” Mr. Trump said.

The former CIA leader’s behavior raised larger questions about whether former officials should maintain access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets after leaving government.

“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,” Mr. Trump said.

Those facing clearance revocation include fired FBI Director James Comey and fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, along with fired FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who was linked to the Steele dossier, also may have his clearance pulled.

Others facing clearance loss are former Directors of National Intelligence James Clapper and Michael Hayden; former National Security Adviser Susan Rice; and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, has written to FBI Director Christopher Wray seeking answers about Chinese intelligence efforts to recruit a staff member for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who for years had access to the government’s most sensitive secrets.

“The American people expect their elected representatives to protect them from foreign threats,” Mr. Banks stated in the Aug. 14 letter to the FBI. “Critical to this effort is protecting sensitive intelligence information from foreign adversaries. It is imperative that those with access to this information exercise extreme diligence in guarding that material that, if exposed, would present a danger to the national security of the United States.”

Mr. Banks voiced concerned after news reports stated that Mrs. Feinstein, former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, employed a staff member “who was using his position to secretly report information to the Ministry of State Security in China” — Beijing’s spy service known as MSS.

“Given the type of information Sen. Feinstein had access to and China’s position as the top foreign adversary of the United States, this revelation is alarming,” he stated.

Mr. Banks said the American people have a right to know whether secrets were compromised in the case and requested a classified briefing on details of the case.

Among the details Mr. Banks is seeking is the name of the Senate staffer and the nature of the information shared with the MSS.

The lawmaker also wants to know how long the staffer was under surveillance concerning the activities and whether any other former employees of Mrs. Feinstein were under surveillance.

The former staffer, Russell Lowe, has not commented on the case.

The senator said in a statement that the staff member “was not a mole or a spy, but someone who a foreign intelligence service thought it could recruit.”

The California Democrat, who is running for re-election, has said the staff member had no access to classified or sensitive information or legislative matters and that the FBI never informed her of “any compromise of national security information.”

A spokesman for Mr. Banks said the congressman has not received a response yet from the FBI.

The Banks letter was first reported by The Federalist.

A staff report produced by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission says China’s Communist Party is waging political warfare against rival Taiwan.

The information warfare operations are being led by a Communist Party unit known as the United Front Work Department, which is tasked with influence operations against overseas Chinese and others.

According to the report, Chinese Communist operations in Taiwan include the use of “Triad” organized crime groups to foment unrest.

The Chinese regard a destabilized Taiwan as key to creating the conditions for the Chinese military to invade the island nation in a bid to protect the Taiwanese people.

One example cited in the report is that of Chang An-lo, the Triad-linked head of Taiwan’s Chinese Unity Promotion Party that advocates for unification with the mainland. The party organized a group of about 200 pro-Beijing activists and Triad associates who protested the arrival in Taiwan of Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and pro-self-determination Hong Kong legislators.

“Chang has admitted he has regular contact with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) and has friends in the United Front, but he also denies receiving funding from Beijing or following its orders,” the report said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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