Commentary

Secrets Should Be Protected with Proper Clearances

March 2, 2018

By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO

Our nation’s most sensitive information is being handled by people that have not been vetted as well as the woman that handwrites the name tags at White House dinners.

This week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly revoked the top secret clearances of several staffers that have been working under temporary approvals while their backgrounds were checked by the FBI.

Under normal circumstances, anyone that is allowed to handle or even see highly classified information must first pass a background check and vetting before receiving a clearance.

But, as in several federal agencies, top level workers in the White House are usually allowed to begin work while their background files are still being reviewed.

In the Trump White House, several high level aides have been working under interim clearances, including Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner, another close presidential advisor.

When news reports broke last week that several aides have been working for over a year without final clearances, Kelly said he would decide what to do.

Even Donald Trump said he would allow Kelly, a former four-star Marine general, to decide how to handle the staff’s clearances.

This week, Kelly reduced Kushner’s clearance to secret, the lowest level of approval to access some sensitive information, but not the highly protected intelligence included in the Presidential Daily Briefing, the morning report Trump receives each day that includes an update on volatile world events.

It was a blow for Kushner, who Trump has assigned to handle several sensitive policy areas, including trying to find a way forward with peace in the Middle East. Kushner’s complex financial filings could expose him to potential blackmail or undue influence from foreign adversaries so the FBI has not yet approved his permanent top secret clearance.

Now, Kushner may not even be able to review the latest intelligence impacting the very work he’s supposed to be doing, basically sidelining him from his broad portfolio as Trump’s go-to fixer.

And Thursday this week, news reports surfaced that the FBI is reviewing a deal that Ivanka Trump did in Canada that may hold up her security clearance.

When Donald Trump was running for President, his major criticism of Hillary Clinton was that she had mishandled secret documents by using a private email server for her email. Although there was no evidence that her server was hacked by any foreign adversaries or enemy, Trump maintained that she mishandled secret material by not following proper protocols.

Trump warned voters that electing Clinton would be bad for the country because she would be under investigation and that would be a distraction for her and her new administration.

Fast forward to this week and, maybe Trump was right; well, sort of.

He was right that the new President would be under investigation, causing a distraction to the administration. He was right that proper security protocols were not being followed. He was right that the FBI would be all over the White House investigating improper conduct.

But, Trump never imagined the turmoil would involve him and his administration. It is Trump, not Clinton, that is at the center of a special counsel’s investigation that is nearing closer and closer to the Oval Office.

Whatever Trump may say about fake news and media bias, he can’t deny that he and his staff have handed these valid criticisms to his critics.

Some of his closest past and current aides had meetings and interactions with foreigners that have raised legitimate concerns for intelligence agencies. His son-in-law has failed to properly report his financial information that has held up the FBI’s background check. Ivanka Trump has continued to negotiate business deals while maintaining her role as a close White House advisor, raising concerns of conflicts of interest.

The woman that serves as the official White House Calligrapher has a top secret clearance because she knows the President’s schedule and is near dignitaries at officials events. Her role would seem much less sensitive than the President’s close advisors, but she has passed the necessary background checks that Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and several other West Wing staffers have not yet passed.

Our national security is at risk when people without proper clearances have access to sensitive information. If the White House calligrapher is held to that standard, so should all others that could purposely or inadvertently mishandle top secret material.

For now, General Kelly has shown that his commitment to security trumped the cavalier attitude of the new administration and its revolving door of advisors.

Our enemies look to exploit vulnerabilities in our intelligence apparatus. We cannot afford to make their jobs any easier.

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