Monday, August 20, 2018

Thoughts About Security Clearances

The latest buffoonery coming out of the Trump White House is one that few people fully understand: Donald Trump's petulant stripping of security clearances from former intelligence and security officials who have criticized him ... including taking them from those who actually no longer have security clearances.

Because of the excessive spin and bloviation on this topic, I thought I'd share a few observations with you based on my career as a military intelligence officer and as a civilian contractor supporting the Air Force after my retirement from active duty.

First of all, former senior members of the intelligence and security communities - particularly those who were career officials rather than political appointees - represent a wealth of knowledge and experience on which their successors can draw. Maintaining their clearances allows them to be tapped (often on short notice) for advice or historical perspectives on planned actions. Here's a personal story: after I retired from the Air Force in 1996 I worked as a contractor on the Air Staff, where one of my early tasks was to develop a planning framework for cyber security for the Air Force. I spent months working on the project, and when it was far enough along, my Air Force customer wanted it presented to a "greybeard* panel" (more colorfully known as a "murder board") of former senior intelligence officials. The board consisted of a half-dozen retired intelligence generals and admirals, including two former directors of the National Security Agency. I presented my proposals to them and answered very detailed and probing questions for a long and agonizing day, at the end of which they endorsed many of my ideas, shot down others, and made a number of excellent suggestions for improvements. They were able to do this because they had the professional knowledge and experience and the retained clearances that allowed them to continue to contribute to the nation's defense. Trump apologists seem to believe that a high-level clearance can be granted on the fly for brief periods of time if necessary. This reflects an abysmal misunderstanding of how classified material is protected and how access to it is granted.

The White House has accused former intelligence and security officials of "monetizing" their clearances - of using them to make huge salaries in the commercial world. Well, consider this: it's very expensive to get a security clearance. It involves months of investigations, interviews, and parsing of virtually every aspect of the candidate's life, and a careful consideration of the risks and benefits of granting access to classified information. A company that wants to bid on a classified contract needs people with clearances, and - understandably - prefers to hire people who already have them, rather than hiring new people and paying the government tens of thousands of dollars to conduct new clearance investigations. The government, for its part, wants to hire people who are ready to go, without the need to wait for clearance investigations and adjudications to be completed. I'd have thought an administration that's as intensely pro-business as this one would love to save companies money by recognizing the savings represented by hiring people who've already been cleared.

Third, the idea that criticism of Donald Trump and his policies has something to do with the possession of a security clearance is ridiculous. No one needs a top secret clearance or other special accesses to see the damage this administration is doing to the nation. Mr Trump is not at all concerned about security clearances per se ... he's simply concerned that the stature and experience of these persons gives authority to their criticisms, and yanking clearances is a petulant and convenient way to hit back at them when he can't argue on merit.

That's my take on this. I expect that those who worship at the festooned altar of Donald Trump won't accept this view, but I'm past caring about it. I no longer have a clearance, but I don't need one to recognize ignorance and poor leadership.

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


* I suppose if there had been any women on it, it would have been a "greybeard and bluehair panel."


John Hill said...

It's a good thing you no longer have a clearance, because if you did it would now be taken away from you!

eViL pOp TaRt said...

It seems to me that those revocations of security clearances is more for mean-spirited retaliations than because of some legitimate reason. In shoirt, the President is acting like a meretricious ass!

Mike said...

tRump is petty little prick.

allenwoodhaven said...

So glad to see your take on this. I think you described the issue accurately and thoroughly. You'd have convinced me if I wasn't already in agreement. Unfortunately, Trumpsters don't always have an open mind. It's hard to reason with those stuck in being unreasoning. I know someone who voted for Trump but now only calls him "Knucklehead". I wonder how long it will take for a critical mass of Trump voters to finally have buyer's remorse. If they willing to use reason it it would have happened long ago, perhaps before he was elected.

Evil Pop Tart - meretricious is a great word! Had to look it up and now have it to use. Thanks!

Deena said...

I guess that's the only way the trumpster can strike at those people.