News reports say that President-elect Trump is actively considering retired General David Petraeus for Secretary of State. To be sure, the general is worldly, knowledgeable, and experienced and his service to our country, particularly in Iraq, is noteworthy. Moreover, it’s a certainty that if appointed and confirmed he could bring value to Mr. Trump’s foreign policy team. I’ve met the general. I admire him. The problem is that his willful, illegal disclosure of highly classified material should disqualify him for true consideration. He broke the law, he knows it, and more importantly so do the thousands upon thousands of men and women who have been entrusted with national security secrets – including me.
I know more than a little about classified information. Until 2013 when I was fired by the Pentagon for criticizing President Obama on television, I was working as a private contractor on one of the government’s most classified clandestine programs. Off and on I had worked for our government since 1983, when I became the military operations officer for the Pentagon’s super secret Intelligence Support Activity. All of the programs I was involved in over the years were of the highest levels of security, operating out of Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence Facilities (SCIF’s) and very limited in who had knowledge of their existence.
Before my sudden retaliatory firing, I was helping manage a unique, one-of-a-kind program. The Secretary of Defense personally approved every mission and the information collected went to the desks of the Secretary and the President. The Defense Intelligence Agency, General Michael Flynn’s organization before he retired, was unaware of the program for most of its existence, and only the highest levels of leadership at the CIA knew of it. It was a matter of ‘need to know’, and the less who knew, the better.
Over the years, I worked with some of the very finest, quiet, unassuming men and women our nation could find. Each of them lived with the knowledge that disclosure of classified information could cost lives, not only of Americans who were operating under cover but also foreign assets who were taking incredible risks on our behalf. Sometimes those risks were taken for money, but often they were taken because of simple allegiance to America and what they believed we stood for.
Although full details of what General Petraeus provided to his lover, Paula Broadwell, have not been disclosed, the mere fact that he provided anything at all is an alarming display of lack of judgement and, worse, provided opportunity to compromise sensitive operations and put lives at risk. Regardless of the legal actions already taken against him and penalties imposed, he should not be granted a security clearance again – something he would need as Secretary of State.
The president-elect comes from a different universe and frame of reference than those who have dedicated their lives to the service of our country. He’s about to join it at the very highest level — good news for Americans interested in national security and foreign policy.
Mr. Trump would never consider bringing someone into a high position in his administration who had been convicted of financial fraud or repeated building code violations. So, speaking on behalf of those who have been given secrets and never disclosed them, I hope Mr. Trump will consider what message is being sent to ‘holders of the secrets’ if he selects General Petraeus as Secretary of State. The general should be held to the same standards as the rest of us. Anything less undermines the foundation of classified activities, operations, and the agreements we all signed with the government to safeguard classified information entrusted to us.
Bill Cowan is a retired USMC Lieutenant Colonel, co-founder and CEO of wvc3, inc., a Reston, Virginia based company specializing in international security. He is also a contributor for the Fox News Channel.