“We have clearance, Clarence.”

That was airline captain Roger Murdoch, played by UCLA and NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 film Airplane! full of unforgettable performances by Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and Barbara Billingsley (no relation). Nearly 40 years later, the public learns that a host of federal government bigshots, including the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, retain their top-secret security clearance even after they leave the job. Americans have good cause to find this troubling. 

If a retired NFL or college football coach retained access to his team’s playbook and game plans, that would certainly enhance his value in Las Vegas. If a retired Apple or Microsoft executive retained access to product development and marketing plans, that would give her the inside track in the stock market. In similar style, former intelligence bosses can rake in the dough as television pundits based on the perception that they are dealing in secret information. That was not the purpose of the security clearance. 

Taxpayers might imagine a retired Air Force general retaining access to an F-15 fighter for occasional joyrides. Picture a retired admiral cruising the Caribbean on a Navy destroyer, or a former Army general keeping an M-1 tank on his Idaho ranch. As with the retained security clearance, there is simply no reason for it. Taxpayers also have good cause to wonder why some players had their security clearance in the first place, or even their government job.

In 1976, twenty years after Nikita Khrushchev denounced the crimes of Josef Stalin, and a quarter century after the landmark The God That Failed, college student John Brennan voted for Gus Hall. This dutiful Stalinist was the presidential candidate of the Communist Party USA, a party founded and financed by Soviet Russia. 

As Commies and The Rosenburg File author Ronald Radosh notes, former Clinton National Security Adviser Anthony Lake failed to become CIA director partly because he thought Alger Hiss might be innocent. He wasn’t, as Allen Weinstein proved in Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. As Radosh noted of Brennan, “in a sane world, he would have been turned down.” 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.
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