WASHINGTON – A former senior Senate Intelligence Committee staff member claims the CIA denied a security clearance to Trump National Security Council official Robin Townley over his attitude toward the agency, which he called “unprecedented.”
The CIA rejected Townley’s security clearance on Feb. 10, according to news reports. Sources told Politico the CIA did not offer an explanation, but that Townley and his then-boss former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn believed it was motivated by his skepticism of the intelligence community’s techniques.
“They believe this is a hit job from inside the CIA on Flynn and the people close to him,” said one source, who argued that some in the intelligence community feel threatened by Flynn and his allies. “Townley believes that the CIA doesn’t run the world,” the source said.
Top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) dismissed the allegations as “baloney.”
Trump and Flynn “see treachery everywhere they go,” Schiff said, adding that the denial must have been for a reason.
Angelo Codevilla, a professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Times on Thursday: “The CIA did not want to deal with him.”
“Hence, it used the power to grant security clearances to tell the president to choose someone acceptable to the agency, though not so much to him,” he wrote.
Codevilla said not granting clearances allows the CIA to veto the president’s staff, and that he expects it to continue.
“Chances are 100 percent that they will use that prerogative ever more frequently with regard to anyone else whom they regard as standing in the way of their preferred policies, as a threat to their reputation, or simply as partisan opponents,” he wrote.
Codevilla said he learned this lesson while serving eight years as the designee of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s budget chairman to oversee the agency.
He claimed in the piece that the agency made repeated attempts to withdraw his top-level, cross-cutting security clearances after he attempted to cut some of the “many outside contracts that seemed corrupt.” When he left the Senate staff for Stanford, and accepted a position teaching a highly classified course, the schools’ security office asked the CIA for clearances.
CIA bureaucrats told the school they had never heard of him, according to Codevilla, who then had to call then-Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey to phone in personally.
“The CIA uses pretense about security to insulate itself from criticism, to protect its own, and to intrude into policymaking,” Codevilla said.
He also accused the CIA of using secrecy to avoid responsibility, by leaking conclusions of its reports to The New York Times and The Washington Post while cloaking the “thin or nonexisting facts” behind those conclusions.
Codevilla argued the denial of a clearance without just cause “breaks new ground and shows truly revolutionary boldness.”
He said traditionally bureaucrats have used “sticks and carrots” to convince political appointees to “play along,” and presidents have had to choose between appointees who have “gone native” or replacing them.
“Now, the CIA’s denial of Mr. Townley’s clearance removes all subtlety by demanding that Mr. Trump appoints only ‘natives,'” he wrote.
Codevilla said if Trump “indulges” that demand for self-emasculation by his appointees, the message to agencies will be to pay no attention to them.
“We cannot know nor does it matter why Donald Trump seems to be deferring to bureaucrats who have gone out of their way to delegitimize him. But we can be certain about the kind of dynamic engendered by deference in the face of assaults,” he wrote.