Lapses in security clearances simply unacceptable

Published on Monday, 26 February 2018 22:13
Written by The Washington Post

Given former White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s alleged history of spousal abuse, it was outrageous that he remained on the White House payroll for more than a year, much less that he was permitted access to classified material under an interim security clearance.

The dysfunction that enabled Porter’s access went much wider.

Dozens of White House staffers, including senior officials such as White House Counsel Donald McGahn and special adviser Jared Kushner, have been operating on interim security clearances, too, meaning they have had access to highly classified information without having been definitively vetted.

Now White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has taken responsibility for cleaning up this mess. “The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted - especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information,” Kelly wrote in a memo to colleagues Feb. 16. “We should - and in the future, must - do better.”

Problem solved? Not exactly. It’s true that even before Kelly’s memo, the ranks of top-level staff operating under interim clearances had been trimmed, from 130-plus as of November to a few dozen, according to the latest press reports. Still, that’s a lot; moreover, while McGahn is one of those to have obtained a final clearance, it applies only to top-secret information, not to even higher-level “Sensitive Compartmented Information.” His clearance for that is still an interim one.

That is simply not an acceptable situation for an official in his position. Among other risks, it means McGahn finds himself dealing with subordinates who have higher-level clearances than he does. In hindsight, it raises questions as to whether his own lack of a final clearance made him hesitant to deal with Porter sooner.

As for Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and envoy to the Middle East, final clearance may have been delayed by the complexity of his business activities domestic and foreign, or because of the fact that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may be investigating him - or some combination of the two. So far, despite his lack of a final clearance, Kushner has had access to the most sensitive material, including the president’s daily intelligence briefing.

There are reports that Kelly is negotiating some sort of compromise. President Trump said Friday that his chief of staff will make the final call regarding his daughter’s husband’s status.

That can’t be allowed to become a formula for endless internal struggle.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Monday, 26 February 2018 22:13. Updated: Monday, 26 February 2018 22:15.