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Sunday, August 19, 2018

On Security Clearances

Sorry. I know I had vowed to stay away a couple of months (or so) while I dealt with the new house in Wilmington and a variety of issues with my late father's estate. Lots of travel and stress! But, as at least one reader predicted, I couldn't stay away too long.

The issue of Brennan's revoked security clearance has driven me back to the keyboard. What a load of utter nonsense! I have pored through the Constitution to find the part where people are guaranteed a security clearance and I can't find it! The President has removed former CIA Director (and Communist voter) John Brennan's security clearance, citing his "reckless" and "erratic" behavior. Let's be clear. The President doesn't have to cite a reason. He has absolute power over these clearances. He can take them away with no explanation needed. It has nothing to do with the First Amendment or any other civil rights that Brennan might enjoy as a US citizen.

Security clearances have become a scam. I recently read (can't find it) that some 1.3 million people have security clearances of some sort or another. I don't know how many have the top level ones, but I am sure it's in the tens-of-thousands, at least. That's absurd. What's even more absurd is that former Feds (such as yours truly) get to keep their clearances when they leave government service. Within days of my leaving the Foreign Service, I got five or six generous offers of employment with various contractors looking for people with security clearances--I, however, wanted out of DC! Security clearances can become quite profitable and certain employers (e.g., CNN) will pay handsomely to get people with them. It's absurd. The logic behind letting people keep their clearances until they expire is that they might need to be called back, and get read in on some or another classified program on an emergency basis, or that their advice is urgently needed by the President. How often does that happen? If it does, they can be issued temporary clearances.

Something that's being lost in all the uproar over Brennan's clearance is the principle of "a need to know." It's not enough, in other words, to have a top level clearance, you must have "a need to know" certain information for the benefit of the mission given you by the government. What's Brennan's need to know? None.

All ex-Federal employees should lose their clearances the minute they walk out the door. Not having a clearance is an aid to free speech. When I worked in the government I always had to be VERY careful what I said and wrote for fear I might have learned that bit of knowledge from a classified source. My clearance expired a couple of years ago, and that's fine.

Brennan's freedom to speak has been enhanced. He should thank the President.

Back to my self-imposed exile . . . I'll be back in another couple of months . . . or so.


45 comments:

  1. Good post, checked on a whim and was pleasantly surprised!
    Kent

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  2. Yeah.. somehow the status quo has become sacred cows... because people don't like the purported reasons for terminating clearance.
    I get this even from people who work in the infosec field: "Oh, it's just Trump being petty, there's not reason to do this, it's been the same forever."
    really... from the same people who change all the corporate passwords whenever someone leaves the team.

    - reader #1482

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  3. It seems to me that clearances ought to be revoked immediately after one is no longer in government service. If one it recalled, it should be a minor matter to re-classify the person being recalled-- assuming that he/she/whatever has done nothing to make himself/herself/whateverself UNqualifiable in the meantime.

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    1. If not immediately, then certainly upon the first occasion of that person making a public appearance as a national security Bigmouth.

      Delete
    2. As taxpayers we pay for the expensive background investigations that must be conducted to give an individual a clearance - how Brennan ever got one is amazing to me - but as long as the clearance is valid (5 years) then that person is good to go. I don't want to spend the extra money and time needed to reinvestigate someone that left service for a year or two - to get a degree or work in a field where a clearance was not needed - if their background check was still valid and they had conducted themselves in a manner that would not suggest that they had become a risk. That said, too many people have clearances today.

      As the Diplomad rightly said, "need to know", meaning access, is the key here. People with clearances don't get to look at classified materials unless they've been granted access. This is where someone that still retains a valid clearance can be brought in for a limited event - but for the rest of the time, sorry, no access.

      After five years you need a reinvestigation and if you are not in a position that requires that check, your clearance expires. Too bad.

      It's an important distinction because during that five year period if you engage in unreported foreign travel or have and maintain foreign contacts for personal or business reasons, this can impact your ability to hold the clearance or pass your reinvestigation. A DUI, a failed drug test, a stint in rehab, and financial problems, among other things, can all end up with a clearance being pulled. The mere act of leaving service does not give cause to pull a clearance held in good standing.

      I don't know what the deal is with certain privileged senior level personnel that seem to retain clearances beyond the life of a normal 5 year period, but that would be a good place to start when it comes to drawing the line.

      I'd like to see special scrutiny, in light of recent events and older instances such as Sandy Berger's violations with classified materials, given to political appointees that couldn't pass a polygraph if it was laying by the side of the road.

      Delete
  4. Like Anonymous I checked to see if you were still "on" and just like Anonymous, was pleasantly surprised.
    I must agree with you - I had a Fed level clearance (in Oz) when working for them over a decade ago but had it revoked pretty much when I walked out the door. I can't see the need to have it if you're no longer part of the circus. Well done to President Trump. After Hilary's email fiasco, you guys certainly don't need any more leakers.

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    Replies
    1. That's the way it should be. Turn in your badge and your security clearance. Thank you.

      Delete
    2. Glad you came back - even if only briefly - to offer your insights on this topic.

      When leaving an organization, you are read off of programs, but your clearance remains valid for up to five years, if you should decide to return or go to another organization where a clearance is required.

      It would be a needless expense to reinvestigate someone that took a year or two off to work where a clearance was not necessary. Think about a scenario where a soldier with a clearance uses his GI Bill to get or finish a degree and then seeks employment requiring the same clearance we already paid for a few years before.

      It happens more than most people think but I also agree with your premise that we have too many people with clearance in the first place.

      Delete
  5. Up until 2 years ago, we owned water front property in Southport.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have read many of your posts. What is your point?

      Delete
    2. Reading Diplomad's first sentence told me that a while back, he and I would have been neighbors along the Cape Fear River. Nothing sinister.

      Delete
    3. Hmmm, sounds awfully like code and collusion traffic, ww! That and fraternizing with an unsecure displaced gubmint asset with a greater than "5 year" degree of seperation! Cape FEAR Indeed!
      OW~~~~

      Delete
    4. Well, MOTSU is located nearby...

      Delete
  6. That's a good idea...Pres. Trump could revoke all security clearances for non-governmental employees and make everyone re-apply to weed out "Resistance" plotters...hope someone in the Trump administration reads your blog...

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely. Makes no sense to have tens-of-thousands of people wandering around outside of government service with security clearances. It's a scam.

      Delete
    2. Cleared defense contractors - often retired military - are technically non-governmental employees and need their clearances to perform services for the government. The expense and time needed to reinvestigate these individuals every time they came off of contracts would be an enormous expense for taxpayers and would further delay the security clearance process by forcing the reinvestigation of tens of thousands of personnel each year that had already been cleared months or a year or two before.

      Delete
    3. Like the Navy shooter? How much money would you pay to have that man lose his base security clearance?

      Delete
    4. Costs too much?
      Yes, but only in the sense of lost operational security.
      It's insane to keep all these people under clearance.
      Anybody want my password? I'm sure you won't abuse it!

      - reader #1482

      Delete
    5. ...."As taxpayers...we pay... as long as the clearance is valid (5 years) then that person is good to go."-tfhr August 20, 2018 at 11:43 PM

      ...>needless [taxpayer] expense to reinvestigate someone that took a year or two off" -tfhrAugust 20, 2018 at 11:56 PM

      ..."expense and time needed to reinvestigate these individuals ...would be an enormous expense for >taxpayers" -tfhr August 21, 2018 at 12:02 AM

      Broken Record -- Needle check please!
      Sounds like somebody thinks all one has to do to win an argument is to play and replay the "taxpayer expense" lament, (Blues) Key in G!

      First off, if, in this digital age, checking or re-checking the bonifides of any Govt. employee is an "enormous expence", let the prospective beneficiary PAY FOR IT (or portion thereof) as a condition of his/her employment! If its a deal breaker, Sayonara Suzie and Sal!

      Moreover, as suggested by the posters above, uncovering even one rotten apple is well worth the expense, theirs, or ours - the US taxpayers.

      Last for now, I'll bear witness to the fact that once 'upon a time' good men and women, can, and do go bad, in a much shorter time frame than 5 years! The bottle, broads, buck$, or bad drugs have been known to take even the BEST, down quickly~~~the species is fallible. Keeping a tight rein on those who have been given National security clearances should not be held hostage to penny-pinching or hyperbole, theirs or the taxpayers~~~

      On Watch~~~
      "Let's Roll"

      Delete
    6. Babs,

      The lunatic that shot up the Washington Navy Yard accessed the facility because he was granted access to work there, not simply because he had a clearance. There are many uncleared personnel that work as contractors on military installations - from groundskeepers to janitors to administrative personnel to Starbucks and Burger King employees - they are given access because they are employed there and none of them are given special psychological screenings that would have prevented this particular murder spree.

      In fact, clearances in general, have no special psychological screening involved though you do have to allow access to medical, finance records, etc.

      That said, the former sailor, turned lunatic, should never have been granted a clearance - or even an initial enlistment based on his history - but that's another debate as was his ability to purchase a firearm. (For another recent example, see the Texas church lunatic that got the boot from the USAF without getting the word to state or local law enforcement.

      I took the time to lay out those details because most people don't have much background on clearances or accessing military installations for work but I know you know this: blaming a clearance for the murderous behavior of a lunatic is pretty much on par with blaming the gun they used.

      Delete
  7. spot on analysis of th protocols. POTUS is where all security classifications and clearances begin and end. if you don't have a need to know, then you don't need the clearance. brennan got his cnn gig probably because he had clearances and now he doesn't. guess how long he keeps the cnn gig.

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  8. When I took the uniform off, my sensitive compartmented information clearances were definitely turned off. I got debriefed. To my knowledge, my TS was turned off as well. My first civilian job was as a contractor to the military. I only needed a secret clearance for that job, so I got a secret, despite still being TS/SCI eligible. For us little people outside DC, there's no access to classified info despite prior clearances.

    Of course, my continued eligibility (not clearance!) was valuable to employers in my town, but I couldn't talk classified with anybody until I got into a job that had 'need to know', so my clearance could be turned back on. Still not sure what kind of 'need to know' exists at CNN!

    Seems like any former government folks who still have clearances should lose them upon starting work at any media outlets. There is no good security rationale for letting CNN's nose into classified business. Or Fox's for that matter, but at least Fox likes the US better than our enemies.

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  9. I may be way off base on this but.... someone like Brennan probably has those he has mentored - acolytes if you will - still in the agency or other sensitive areas. If he still has his clearance, they can leak stuff to him without too much risk of running afoul of security regulations. Never mind "need to know."

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    Replies
    1. I don't doubt that Brennan has minions of his own that still feed him materials that he should not be able to access but he's going to do that whether he as a clearance or not and as soon as he's caught he should go to prison. Improper handling of classified materials is a felony - regardless of intent - unless your name is Hillary. (Most people don't know about that exclusion -I know I didn't)

      Delete
  10. From time to time I'm an info nerd, so here is some actual data on # of clearances.....just over 4 million approved as of FY2016. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/FY16-Report-Security-Clearance-Determinations-PubRelease-20171017.pdf

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  11. When I retired from the Navy my TS/SCI was inactivated, though the files and information remains in the event future employment requires a clearance...no use tossing information already gathered. When I got my present job at a Warfare Center (DoD Civilian) A SECRET clearance was required. A quick review and Q&A from NCIS and my clearance was reactivated, but only to the Secret level...as it should be. That is the current level of information my job requires. When I retire in the next decade or so my clearance will again be inactivated.
    And their is ALWAYS that little thing called "Need to Know." Nobody working at CNN has any requirement for a Security Clearance (beyond a Secret Service background check for those who are part of the White House pool) and certainly no one at CNN has any "Need to Know" anything.
    Now, when someone with a Clearance leaves Government Employment, companies do try to hire them, mostly because if they have certain contracts that require someone with a clearance, the Government has already done he expensive and time consuming leg work of the back ground checks and granted a clearance. For that company, its a quick, inexpensive, and almost guaranteed process of getting that new hires clearance reactivated and working on the contract.

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  12. We are nothing more than peasants. My husband had a security clearance for many years. He worked in the scientific/optics field. We were scared to death of violating that clearance.
    When I look back at it, based on today's standards, what an absurd sense of patriotism we had.

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    Replies
    1. And considering that Shrillary Shroooooooo got away with something for which anyone else in the State Department would have done time!

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  13. I have mixed feelings on this issue. A few years back, as a civilian (I lost my clearance when I left State), I had to go through all the rigamarole of being fingerprinted, grilled for hours about my foreign relatives and contacts, etc. because a translation agency put me in their files (I didd some work for them, but all of it was open source). Sure, I'm willing to be up front with Uncle Sam, and I know about keeping my mouth shut, since I love translation work and would be more than happy to help the gov't keep tabs on what China is thinking; or even help corporations have a clue about whom they're dealing with. If I could have a steady stream of translation and editing work (even if I had to leave my basement and go to a secure facility for a couple of days), I'd gladly give up my position in that great American swindle of public education.

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  14. Please do not stay away too long....your writings hit many hearts and minds....I know dealing with details from a loved one's life is hard but keeping your mind while doing that is also important.
    Sincerely
    B Gunn
    E. Texas Rancher
    Chaplain

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  15. I had a TS/SCI clearance for my job in the Army, but when I got out, I was read off and my clearance went inactive. I still signed the 75 year "nondisclosure" agreement. I cannot understand why these senior officials keep their clearance when us "commoners" get ours removed and rightfully so because we are not doing the job anymore. The clearance for the high and connected is a perk of the political class to support the agenda of the political class. The clearances should be removed for all those no longer in government service or dealing with classified materials.

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    Replies
    1. I still signed the 75 year "nondisclosure" agreement.

      Pardon my asking, did you have a choice? I.e., one that didn't involve a fort in Kansas?

      Delete
  16. The more things change, the more they remain the same. I seem to remember a perjured Communist who infiltrated the US State Department prior to WWII. He was a golden boy, a darling of the FDR lickspittles. His name was Alger Hiss.
    When this traitor was finally exposed by a freshman Congressman named Richard Nixon, all hell broke loose. The Reds never backed off and here we are today. This will not end except by force of arms.

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  17. "Security clearances have become a scam." Been that way for a long time. The President has the right to pull anyone's clearance without reference, consultation, or confirmation with or by anyone.

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  18. Back in the days when I was part of the US Army, a rather controversial communique came down from on high. It required that no longer were recruits to admit they were communist, ever were one, etc. and that it was no longer an automatic denial of a Security Clearance. THAT'S how Brennan got and kept a TS Clearance. It's also the little umbrella that a father and son team called Walker, using a TS clearance at Hampton Roads to broach into nuke subs, and other places they didn't belong. Before the Walkers, a security clearance allowed you to see ANYTHING at that level. After the Walkers, you could only see classified material that was strictly in your job description, and it was not a blanket you could use to cover all your viewing of classified material. This happened in the early 80's. In the Army at least, once you changed jobs to one that had no need of a security clearance, it was inactivated. Getting a security clearance updated or engaged is not something that costs, it's something that pays. TS clearances are reviewed and updated as a matter of policy in the Army, every five years. Installation Security Officers are required to constantly review all clearances on military posts, monthly, and to rescind and inactivate them as is found necessary.

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    1. when I was part of the US Army, a rather controversial communique


      When, exactly? Or approximately?

      Delete
  19. Knew you couldn't stay away (and your readers are happy for that)!

    On topic, in the private sector, the minute your are terminated (well, at midnight, when all the systems run), you lose your access, your passwords become instantly invalid, you can't even use the men's room anymore. I'm not clear why government is so different.

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  20. A blast from the past:

    https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/07/executive-order-13587-structural-reforms-improve-security-classified-net

    Y'all who've "enjoyed" clearances at, roundabout, the time [some] did, ought probably get a kick outta that.

    But there's more:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/30/opinion/sunday/if-donald-trump-targets-journalists-thank-obama.html

    And how short is the NYT's memory?

    Plenty looks like.

    JK

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    Replies
    1. And how short is the NYT's memory?

      The movie "50 First Dates" come to mind.

      Delete
  21. For the elite who choose to go from senior government service to the news media, a security clearance is a valuable asset. An retired/resigned employee should NOT be able to retain the clearance, especially since need to know has expired.

    Brennan should have lost his the day he left government service. He has consistently broached the firewall between intelligence work and policy work, and CNN and others have encouraged him in doing so.

    Since his clearance has value, he should be taxed on its value. That's Glenn Reynolds' proposal: tax USG employees who benefit from their positions in subsequent jobs. He calls it the revolving-door tax, and I am fully in favor. James Comey, who earned some $4 million in the aerospace industry during a brief hiatus from government service, should have paid a heavy tax burden on what he earned at Lockheed.

    I am sick and tired of government employees becoming very rich during and after their time in government, and this includes people like Brennan, who benefit from insider knowledge or access to classified information, and trade on that knowledge.

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    1. The need to know is what excludes said clearance holders from accessing classified materials. Simply having a clearance doesn't mean you get to access classified material.

      The money that goes into clearing thousands of military, civilian government, civilian DOD personnel and contractors would be wasted if a clearance was granted on the basis of a very expensive background check, let's throw in a polygraph too, and then revoked simply because a program was cancelled and that individual went to another job that didn't require it. As long as the clearance is valid - and they have expiration dates - the individual can be read on when access is needed, if the clearance is still up to date.

      Again, having a clearance is akin to being "qualified" from the date it becomes active to the date it expires for access if there is a need to know. It isn't the same as being able to access that material simply by announcing that you have a clearance.

      Keep this in mind: clearances - with all of the background investigations that go into them cost tens of thousands of dollars each - multiply that by the number of personnel that actually need them and you're talking about staggering sums of taxpayer money spent to clear people.

      The debate - at least for me - is how someone like Brennan ever got a clearance in the first place, let alone how he managed to rise to such heights even before Obama came along. A second debate might be the overuse of classifications to block legitimate FOIA requests and a third point is simply the size of the government work force that "requires" a clearance.

      Your point about acquiring vast wealth while in government service is right on the mark - think of Dirty Harry Reid - but after you're out - your employment and compensation ought to be market-based like anyone else but if you've got insider access of the type that justifies the existence of the SEC, then you'd better not cross the line.

      I know - that never happens - snork!

      Delete
  22. Following up on my previous statement, perhaps we could have a law effectively barring government employees (including elected officials) from earning more than 1.5X their government income without paying something like 95% tax on the excess. This should apply to immediate family too, as far too often the wife of a senior official receives a gigantic income from some bank or lobbyist, essentially for her access to the person in question.

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    1. Sadly, we could not trust the IRS to enforce that kind of law in any kind of even-handed manner.

      And that is the big issue. The Swamp Creatures seem to have forgotten the example of the French Revolution. It is not sustainable to have a situation where the Political Class is functionally held to lower standards than the peons. Eventually, the peons are not going to take it anymore.

      There is arguably a contrast with the British Empire in its growth phase, where the Political Class apparently held themselves to a higher standard than applied to the common folk -- at least with respect to public behavior.

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