Hamilton: Need-to-know: The only reason for a security clearance
The main-stream media are spreading a lot of confusion about how one obtains and loses a security clearance. But let’s say your employer — the U.S. government or a private defense contractor — thinks you “need-to-know” certain classified information.
At taxpayer expense, a background investigation (BI) of your past must be conducted. You fill out an excruciatingly long document that details virtually everything about you from birth to the present. Next, specifically-trained government agents must interview your former school teachers, college professors, employers, neighbors, et. al., to determine if they might have some derogatory information bearing on your suitability to have access to our nation’s secrets. A key question is whether or not you have ever advocated the overthrown of the U.S. government? Or, have you ever shown support for Communism or for some other form of fascist dictatorship?
This entire process is controlled by Executive Order 12968 signed by President Clinton, as amended by Executive Order 13467 signed by President Obama. Any action taken by President Trump with regard to the granting or the suspension of security clearances must conform to those two executive orders and with Article II of the U.S. Constitution which grants to a sitting U.S. President total discretion and authority in this particular area. An incumbent president can grant or suspend anyone’s security clearance at will.
Assuming you pass the background check, you will be awarded a clearance appropriate to your job: Confidential (C), Secret (S), and Top Secret (TS) or even higher. Information gained from electronic intercepts and data that can only be discussed in a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) may require an enhanced and updated BI that might even include one or more polygraph examinations.
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Your background investigation must be updated every five years and even more often if you are granted higher levels of clearance such as SI (Special Intelligence) for electronic intercepts or SRD (Secret Restricted Data) containing details about our nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
But wait. There’s more. Irrespective of your level of clearance, before you can have access to classified information, you must have a “need-to-know.” If you have no need-to-know, then you cannot be given access to classified information.
Certain high-level appointed or elected government officials who leave office have been allowed to retain their last security clearance. Some use this sinecure to land jobs as pundits on MSNBC, CNN and the like. But, since they no longer have a “need-to-know,” the wannabe pundits are hired merely to “suggest” that they know something the rest of us do not know.
Some, however, use their ex-officio security clearances to land high paying jobs with defense contractors. An expert on, say, air-defense systems, might actually be useful to a defense contractor. In that case, retention of a security clearance would be warranted. But, in most cases, the ex-officio security clearance is used as tool to lobby former colleagues in government and to lobby members of Congress to buy whatever hardware the defense contractor is selling.
So, are ex-officio security clearances just another money-making, cash-cow scheme arising from the good old boy swamp network or actually of benefit to our national security? We report. You decide.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame. In 2015, he was named an Outstanding Alumnus of the University of Nebraska. Dr. Hamilton is the author of The Wit and Wisdom of William Hamilton: the Sage of Sheepdog Hill, Pegasus Imprimis Press (2017). “Central View,” can also be seen at: http://www.central-view.com.
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