Salzburg Global Fellows Sign Former US National Security Officials’ Letter to President Trump

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Aug 23, 2018
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Salzburg Global Fellows Sign Former US National Security Officials’ Letter to President Trump

Four members of the Salzburg Global community are among the 250 former US national security officials who have issued a rare public rebuke of a sitting US president, denouncing President Donald J. Trump for his withdrawal of John Brennan’s security clearance

More than 250 former US national security officials – including four members of the Salzburg Global community – have joined a rare public campaign to rebuke President Donald J. Trump for withdrawing the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, who has become a vocal critic of the president.

On August 16, 15 American former senior intelligence officials from bipartisan presidential administrations signed an open letter condemning President Trump’s decision as “an attempt to stifle free speech.” William H. Webster – the first and only person to have served as director of both the CIA and the FBI and who at age 94 continues to serve on the advisory board of Salzburg Global’s Lloyd N. Cutler Center for the Rule of Law – was among the signatories. 

Bipartisan outcry over President Trump's revocation of Brennan's security clearance continued to grow with the release of a statement of opposition signed on August 17 by 60 retired CIA officials and then on Monday by another 177 signatories spanning a wide range of national security jobs. Among them were Salzburg Global Fellows John B. Bellinger, III, former legal counsel, National Security Council; Antony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor; and Eliot A. Cohen, former counselor of the US Department of State and former member of the Defense Policy Advisory Board. 

The statements indicated that while the signatories do not necessarily agree with the opinions expressed by Brennan, their signatures represent a firm belief in Brennan’s right to express them, as protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. 

See the full list of individuals who publicly opposed President Trump’s decision here.

The changing political climate in the US has been a point of discussion at a number of other Salzburg Global Seminar programs in the last two years, building on long legacies of programs in American studies, the rule of law, and the role of media

In September 2017, the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) held a symposium on Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, the report from which was published in January 2018, marking the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration. 

Letter signatories Webster and Bellinger (who delivered the 2016 Cutler Lecture shortly after Trump’s election and served as Webster’s special assistant at the CIA) voiced their support for the intelligence community during the Salzburg Cutler Fellows program in February 2018. Speaking to a group of students from 11 top US law schools, the two mentors defended the intelligence agencies under fire from President Trump and called on the aspiring lawyers to help rebuild public trust

In July and August 2018, students from around the globe examined the implications for journalism in the “post-truth” world at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. 

Salzburg Global Seminar will continue to examine, debate, and dissect the political climate in the US when academics, Americanists, political scientists, cultural professionals, and public servants convene at Schloss Leopoldskron in September for the next SSASA symposium, Understanding America in the 21st Century: Culture and Politics.  

Questions for discussion include “What explains the loss of trust that America is currently experiencing and what are the implications for the future?” and “In what way and manner has the expectation and conduct of political leadership changed in the 21st century?”

It is exceedingly rare for intelligence professionals who spent most of their careers in the shadows and who tend to abstain from politically-charged public disputes to launch such a public campaign. However, in the initial statement issued on Thursday, the former intelligence leaders wrote that they felt “compelled to respond in the wake of the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions taken by the White House.” 

Such unprecedented remarks – and the responses they provoke – will provide much fodder for discussion at Salzburg Global programs for many more months to come.