U.S. president Donald Trump has faced drastic push-back from the American intelligence community since revoking the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, a frequent critic of the Trump administration, last Wednesday. As of Monday, more than 175 officials have publicly opposed Trump’s decision in a series of open letters, according to an Axios report.
The former officials have worked in all of the nation’s intelligence agencies as well as the National Security Council and the departments of Defense, Justice, and State.
“All of us believe it is critical to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure,” reads the latest letter. “But we believe equally strongly that former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so.”
The first open letter was that by Retired Adm. William McRaven, who called for Trump to revoke his security clearance in solidarity with Brennan. Several officials followed with the release of a joint statement Thursday denouncing Trump for using his power to strip security clearances to allegedly punish those who speak out against him. The letter was first signed by 12 officials; three more later added their names.
On Friday, 60 lower-ranking former CIA officials showed their support in their own statement, according to a CBS News report. By Monday, public support for the document snowballed to more than 175 former officials.
“Our signatures below do not necessarily mean that we concur with the opinions expressed by former Director Brennan or the way in which he expressed them,” the letter reads. “What they do represent, however, is our firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views.”
According to CBS, signatories of the first letter include former Directors of Central Intelligence Robert Gates, William Webster, George Tenet, and Porter Goss; former CIA Directors Gen. Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and former deputy CIA directors John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes, Avril Haines, David Cohen, and Michael Morell.
Monday’s letter includes former Director of NCTC Nick Rasmussen, former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, former Deputy Director of DIA Doug Wise, former National Security Advisor Tony Lake, and former Secretary of the Navy and NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, as well as former U.S. ambassadors and attorneys.
Trump first cited security concerns as his reasoning for revoking Brennan’s security clearance, but later connected the decision to the Russian investigation, saying in a Wall Street Journal interview that the investigation was a “witch hunt” and “these people led it.”