Sun, Aug 26, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Trump’s war on intelligence may parallel Austrian situation

By Kent Harrington

Despite his seemingly limitless capacity for vindictiveness, it would be a mistake to interpret US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan as only his latest vendetta for lese-majeste.

True, Brennan has all but labeled Trump and his behavior, including his Russian connections, a national security threat.

However, Trump’s move is more than personal payback.

As the most recent blow in his two-year-long attack on the intelligence community, his slap at Brennan is a harbinger of more to come as Trump tries to bring his espionage agencies to heel.

More ominously for the health of the democracies of the West, other populists are following Trump’s example.

In Europe, a variety of right-wing parties, having now found themselves in power, are taking on former government antagonists, who have monitored and policed their extremism for decades.

In Austria, the country’s populist leaders have been intimidating, muzzling and purging the nation’s intelligence services. In February, on orders from the populist interior minister, Austrian police raided the country’s main intelligence agency — the very organization charged with monitoring right-wing extremism.

It should be recalled that the Freedom Party, the coalition partner in Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government, was founded by former SS officers.

What was the pretext for the raid and subsequent demotion of senior Austrian intelligence officials? That the agency was running an operation aimed at harming North Korea.

No doubt, Trump wishes that he could pull off such a stunt and both halt the investigation of him led by Robert Mueller and bring to heel all of the US intelligence agencies.

A fan of strongman leaders who “get it done,” Trump admires diktats and brazen contempt for legal processes. He almost certainly will pay even closer attention as the intelligence-fueled investigations into his presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Moscow in 2016 close in on him.

It is this combination of self-interest and contempt for law that makes Trump’s revocation of the Brennan’s security clearance so troubling. The regulations governing clearances are straightforward: The president has the power to deny access to official secrets if someone is found to have compromised classified information or is at risk of doing so.

By all accounts, Brennan has done nothing of the sort. In fact, Trump admits that.

Buried in the explanatory word salad that accompanied the revocation of Brennan’s security clearance, the White House claimed that Brennan’s “erratic” behavior was the cause.

That accusation would be laughable if it was not so serious.

Trump has simply ignored the laws — including laws governing the US intelligence services — that he swore faithfully to execute. Eleven former CIA directors and deputy directors, as well as 70 former senior CIA officers — including me — said as much last week, criticizing the unprecedented revocation as political coercion and accusing Trump of misusing presidential powers, damaging national security, and threatening current and former officials’ right of free speech.

As if to underscore the point, White House spokespeople say that Trump intends to order more revocations, including a former national security adviser and deputy attorney general, as well as former directors of national intelligence, the CIA and the US National Security Agency.

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