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White House senior adviser Jared Kushner sits behind U.S. United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley before the start of a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East at the United Nations in New York, U.S., February 20, 2018.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RC1A60E82F00
Unpacked

Security clearances at the White House

Editor's Note:

In Unpacked, Brookings experts provide analysis of Trump administration policies and news. Don’t miss any of our Unpacked videos, subscribe to our Brookings Creative Lab YouTube channel.

THE ISSUE: More than a year into office, the Trump administration reportedly still has dozens of officials working under interim security clearances. In some cases, individuals with interim clearances had access to the nation’s highest level of intelligence information under President Trump, posing a grave threat to national security.

The risk of  having dozens of interim security clearances still in place is that somebody will accumulate a large amount of exposure to the highest level of classified information and then their clearance will be reduced or removed.

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  • It’s extremely unusual to be in a situation where a year into functioning under a new president, the White House still has dozens of individuals with interim security clearances.
  • An interim clearance functions just like a permanent clearance. If the level of your interim clearance is Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), the highest level, then you get to see the highest level information.
  • It’s unusual for interim clearances to drag on for months and potentially dangerous to have people with an open-ended interim clearance seeing Top Secret/SCI intelligence.
  • What has gone wrong with the White House security clearance process for officials like the now-departed Staff Secretary Rob Porter is, like many other things in the Trump administration, a lack of regular order.
  • The risk presented by being this far into an administration and having dozens of interim security clearances still in place is that somebody will accumulate a large amount of exposure to the highest level of classified information and then their clearance will be reduced or removed.
  • You can’t make people forget what they’ve already learned. We cannot run a country that way.
  • The United States holds the most important secrets in the world and we need to have a high degree of confidence that those secrets are going to be protected by people who have proper, fully adjudicated clearances.
  • As is alas so often the case with the Trump administration, the White House didn’t get around to doing the right thing until the bad news hit the papers.
  • John Kelly, the chief of staff, has said he’s going to regularize the security clearance process. What he’s doing–and it should have been done long ago–is establish a set of standards. He’s going to take away interim clearances in many cases. He’s already done that in one very high-profile instance by downgrading the clearance of the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
  • It’s about time that some order was imposed on this chaotic process. I only hope that our nation’s secrets have not been endangered by the failure to establish this normal order sooner.

THE SOURCES:

President Trump and the power to pardon

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