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Former Obama and Bush CIA and State officials: Trump’s travel ban “undermines” national security

A bipartisan group of national security officials argues in a legal brief that the ban is unnecessary and even dangerous.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order. Aude Guerrucci/Pool via Getty Images

A group of former CIA and US Department of State officials who worked under Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton on Sunday filed a legal brief against President Donald Trump’s immigration order, arguing that it “undermines the national security of the United States.”

The brief, which officially opposes the order that halted refugee intake into the US for 120 days and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, was signed on to by mostly Democratic administration officials, including Obama and Clinton Secretaries of State John Kerry and Madeleine Albright. But it also includes one notable Republican official: Michael Hayden, the former CIA director who served under Bush and who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s national security policies.

It comes at a pivotal moment for the future of the controversial ban, which was put on hold on Friday by Judge James Robart of the Western District of Washington, barring its enforcement nationally, and kept on hold by a federals appeal court. The next step is for the lower and higher courts to consider whether the hold should be left in place or extended — particularly if Trump’s immigration order is deemed unconstitutional.

The brief mixes a narrow counterterror argument — that it will boost ISIS and make American Muslims less likely to work with US military and law enforcement officials — with a broader assertion that it is a violation of fundamental American values:

[T]he Order disrupts thousands of lives, including those of refugees and visa holders all previously vetted by standing procedures that the Administration has not shown to be inadequate. It could do long-term damage to our national security and foreign policy interests, endangering U.S. troops in the field and disrupting counterterrorism and national security partnerships. It will aid ISIL’s propaganda effort and serve its recruitment message by feeding into the narrative that the United States is at war with Islam. It will hinder relationships with the very communities that law enforcement professionals need to address the threat. It will have a damaging humanitarian and economic impact on the lives and jobs of American citizens and residents. And apart from all of these concerns, the Order offends our nation’s laws and values.

Furthermore, the brief states, there’s no evidence it will do anything to help national security (which has been explored at length by my colleague Jennifer Williams):

Since September 11, 2001, not a single terrorist attack in the United States has been perpetrated by aliens from the countries named in the Order. Very few attacks on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001 have been traced to foreign nationals at all. The overwhelming majority of attacks have been committed by U.S. citizens. The Administration has identified no information or basis for believing there is now a heightened or particularized future threat from the seven named countries. Nor is there any rational basis for exempting from the ban particular religious minorities (e.g., Christians), suggesting that the real target of the ban remains one religious group (Muslims).

The brief fleshes out these arguments further, repeatedly emphasizing that the order will likely be seen as an insult to Muslims around the world in a way that could end up helping terrorist organizations.

It provides several examples: The order will make it easier for ISIS to claim that America and the West are in a deliberate war against Islam and Muslims — which is a key part of ISIS’s recruiting message. It will also make intelligence sources less willing to work for Americans, since they may no longer have an assurance that if something goes wrong in their home country, they can find safe refuge in the US. And it will alienate Muslim communities at home, making it harder for law enforcement to get the kind of cooperation they need to get in front of potential terrorist attacks.

“To the extent that the Order bans travel by individuals cooperating against ISIL, we risk placing our military efforts at risk by sending an insulting message to those citizens and all Muslims,” the brief claims.

Pundits and politicians have made these types of arguments in the past few weeks against Trump’s immigration order, but this comes with a bit more weight since it’s coming from veteran national security officials who largely spent their careers in intelligence and defense roles, not in partisan politics. As they note, together these officials have “decades to combatting the various terrorist threats that the United States faces in a dynamic and dangerous world” with “the highest security clearances.”

And with Hayden at the helm in particular, the brief also has a bipartisan sheen to it, suggesting this isn’t a solely Democratic concern.

With that experience, the officials make their point clearly: Not only is Trump’s order unnecessary, it could very well endanger Americans — and the courts should prevent that.


Watch: Donald Trump’s refugee ban, explained