Media’s Bogus Claim on White House Security Clearances Exposed
Office of Personnel Management is chronically behind on completing, approving federal employee background checks, has been for decades
One of the narratives in the fall of White House staff secretary Robert Porter is that a large number of top executive personnel working for President Donald Trump have not yet gained permanent security clearances.
The wording on some of the media stories could lead many to believe that not only has the White House hired poor choices, but some of them are also thumbing through classified materials illegally.
A CNN report Tuesday, for example, said Donald Trump boasted on the campaign trail that his White House team would feature the “‘best people in the world.’ But his claim is being undercut by revelations that 30 to 40 people in the White House have yet to secure permanent security clearances a year into the administration and could potentially be unsuited to such high-level jobs.”
Similarly, Vox writer Sean Illing wrote Tuesday that he “wanted to know if it’s normal for a White House to be staffed by so many people without legal, permanent access to sensitive information.” Vox estimated there are “dozens” of top White House officials without permanent clearance.
One such top staffer is Trump adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who has waited for 16 months — since the end of the election. His application is bogged down by the number of his many foreign business contacts and relationships.
The implication is that interim clearance is illegitimate. In fact, because the federal government has a failed system in place to handle clearances for federal employees and contractors, the backlog has now accrued to 700,000 people, according to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who disclosed the shocking number to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during a Tuesday hearing.
Coats called for a “revolutionary change” in the issuance and processing of clearance applications. Coats said the work-intensive rituals of personal interviews with people who know the clearance applicants are delaying the process.
“We have to basically start with a clean sheet and say, ‘What can we do better to make sure that we get the correct background info necessary to certify that someone should be working within our community and in the government?'” said Coats at the hearing.
“But how can we do it in a way that doesn’t leave us with hundreds of thousands waiting to be looked at and certified, with key slots open in various agencies? We have moved this to a very top priority because it is really undermining our ability to get the right people into the right place at the right time.”
The issue has many causes, and has been a problem in Washington for decades. The spying done by Chelsea (né Bradley) Manning in the U.S. Army and former National Security Agency (NSA) private contractor Edward Snowden led to examinations of the process.
Then, in July 2014, Chinese hackers broke into the computers of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which administers the federal workforce, including performing background checks.
The Chinese hackers stole millions of files affecting 4 million applicants for clearance. The theft was a treasure trove of top-secret information — and contained personal secrets such as alcoholism, criminal offenses, and more, much of which could be used for blackmail.
In the summer of 2015, the Department of State did some of its clearance applications by hand — a complication caused by the Chinese hack.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that it takes about four months to acquire a clearance to gain access to "secret" information, and nine to 10 months for "top-secret" clearance. But those are the averages.
The brutal reality for federal contractors is that clearance can take much longer. Potential snags can include benign characteristics such as credit, dual citizenship or having once worked for a lobbying firm that got caught up in federal investigations.
"We have people that regularly take 12-plus months to go from interim to normal clearance," said a consulting-firm executive who requested anonymity and who supervises dozens of contractors. "The backlog is a nightmare."
So while Porter should have been told he would never get federal clearance, his wait is not unusual. Indeed, a contributing factor has been the federal government itself, something the liberal media are not eager to point out.