Archive for the ‘Security clearance’ category

A letter from H.R. McMaster said Susan Rice will keep her top-secret security clearance

August 3, 2017

A letter from H.R. McMaster said Susan Rice will keep her top-secret security clearance, CircaSara A. Carter, August 3, 2017

Almost one month after it was disclosed that former President Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice was unmasking members of President Trump’s team and other Americans, Trump’s own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, sent an official letter giving her unfettered and continuing access to classified information and waiving her “need-to-know” requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure, Circa has confirmed.

The undated and unclassified letter from McMaster was sent in the mail to Rice’s home during the last week of April. Trump was not aware of the letter or McMaster’s decision, according to two Senior West Wing officials and an intelligence official, who spoke to Circa on condition that they not be named.

This is the letter from McMaster to Rice. Names, phone numbers and personal addresses have been blurred.

“I hereby waive the requirement that you must have a ‘need-to-know’ to access any classified information contained in items you ‘originated, reviewed, signed or received while serving,’ as National Security Adviser,” the letter said. The letter also states that the “NSC will continue to work with you to ensure the appropriate security clearance documentation remains on file to allow you access to classified information.”

Circa revealed in March that during President Obama’s tenure, top aides — including Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch — routinely reviewed intelligence reports received from the National Security Agency’s incidental intercepts of Americans abroad. They were doing so by taking advantage of rules Obama relaxed starting in 2011 to help the government better fight terrorism, espionage by foreign enemies and hacking threats, according to documents obtained by Circa.

In June, the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Rice as part of the committee’s larger investigation into the unmasking of Americans under the Obama administration. Rice maintains that she never accessed the information inappropriately and has agreed to testify before the committee.

Under the law, and under certain conditions, it is common practice for some senior government officials to be given the unfettered access to classified information, and their “need to know” is waived under “Executive Order 13526 Section 4.4 Access by Historical Researchers and Certain Former Government Personnel.” But the White House officials told Circa that under the current congressional investigation, and given President Trump’s ongoing concern that members of his team were unmasked, Rice’s clearance should have been limited to congressional testimony only or revoked until the end of the investigation. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports, but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and that they did nothing improper. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power also has legal authority to unmask officials.

In a June tweet, Trump called the revelation that Rice and other Obama senior officials were unmasking members of his team the “big story… the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ that took place during the Obama administration.”

“Basically, this letter which was signed in the last week of April undercuts the president’s assertion that Susan Rice’s unmasking activity was inappropriate. In essence, anybody who committed a violation as she did would not be given access to classified information,” said a senior West Wing official, who was shown the document by Circa and verified its authenticity. “In fact, they would have their security clearance and right to ‘need-to-know’ stripped.”

“The point is, is that it lowers the bar for her,” the Senior West Wing official said.

“This memo McMaster sent to Rice makes it so that she doesn’t have to prove a continuing ‘need-to-know’ to have access to classified information and in effect is a White House pardon of Susan Rice and could be used by other Obama officials who conducted targeted unmasking of the campaign as a defense,” the official added.

The White House has not responded to requests for comment.

An intelligence official told Circa “that the NSA decision to provide this level of access to the subject of several ongoing investigations and to waive her ‘need-to-know’ requirement raises serious legal, moral and ethical concerns.”

According to information obtained by Circa, dozens of times in 2016, those intelligence reports identified Americans who were directly intercepted talking to foreign sources or who were the subject of conversations between two or more monitored foreign figures.

Sometimes Americans’ names were officially unmasked; other times they were so specifically described in the reports that their identities were readily discernible. Among those cleared to request and consume unmasked NSA-based intelligence reports about U.S. citizens were Rice, his Brennan and Lynch.

Shortly after Circa released the redacted documents disclosing the change in rules, it was revealed that Power had also extensively requested permission to unmask American names in incidental foreign intercepts.

Ishmael Jones: A Modest Proposal

June 17, 2017

Ishmael Jones: A Modest Proposal, Power LineScott Johnson, June 17, 2017

The solution is to cancel these security clearances. It is an administrative task which is easy to do.

People who don’t work at intelligence agencies shouldn’t have clearances. It’s not a free speech issue. Leakers aren’t protected by the First Amendment.

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The pseudonymous Ishmael Jones is a former CIA case officer and author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture. He forwards the column below in the context of the proliferation of leaks attributed by reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post to “current and former officials.” What is happening here? Mr. Jones explains in this column and offers a modest proposal to mitigate the problem. He advises that the CIA has approved the column for publication:

Leaks of national security secrets with the intent to harm the Trump administration continue to bedevil our nation. Journalists often describe the sources of the leaks as “current and former officials.” There’s an important solution, and one that the Trump administration may not yet be aware of: Remove the “former officials” from the equation.

Nearly all intelligence officials who are fired, retired, pushed out, or resign from the intelligence agencies keep their security clearances. I do not know the specifics of any individual’s clearances but it is nearly certain that opponents of the current administration such as John Brennan, an aggressive Trump critic; James Clapper, who warns that Trump causes an “internal assault on our institutions”; Michael Morell, author of “I Ran the CIA. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton”; and recently fired leaker James Comey retain top-level security clearances.

Security clearances are a deep state guild or union card allowing the holders to swan about intelligence facilities, chatting, gossiping, and gathering intelligence that they can leak to journalists.

The traitor Edward Snowden was pushed out of the CIA. But because he kept his security clearances, he was able to get back inside as a contractor and exfiltrate massive amounts of intelligence.

Hillary definitely retains her security clearances. Huma Abedin probably retains hers as well. Surely Carlos Danger has none – but please check.

CNN journalist Phil Mudd believes House Intelligence Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy “ought to have his ass kicked” for questioning former CIA chief John Brennan. Mr. Mudd is a former CIA employee and likely holds high level security clearances.

President Trump knows how to fire people, but he’s never had the experience of firing people who walk back in the door the next day.

The solution is to cancel these security clearances. It is an administrative task which is easy to do.

People who don’t work at intelligence agencies shouldn’t have clearances. It’s not a free speech issue. Leakers aren’t protected by the First Amendment.

The origin of the policy allowing these people to keep their clearances is that it is often necessary to bring back former employees who have valuable skills and specialties. But most of these guys got to their high rank by outsitting their competition. They don’t speak foreign languages or hold other essential skills.

These aren’t retired firemen who drop by the firehouse to see their friends. Some former intel officials are using their security clearances for malicious and self-interested purposes.

The ability to safeguard our national security secrets protects us from our enemies. A healthy step in stopping intelligence leaks and blocking bureaucratic opposition to our new President will be to carefully evaluate who’s got access to America’s sensitive secrets and take corrective action.

White House Clearance Process Increasingly Politicized

May 2, 2017

White House Clearance Process Increasingly Politicized, Washington Free Beacon, May 1, 2017

Ben Rhodes, Michael Flynn / Getty Images

“The CIA did not want to deal with him,” Codevilla stated. “Hence, it used the power to grant security clearances to tell the president to choose someone acceptable to the agency, though not so much to him.”

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Security clearances granting access to state secrets have become increasingly politicized in a bid by opponents to block senior advisers to President Trump from joining the closed White House community of those with access secret intelligence.

In February, intelligence agencies denied a high-level security clearance to Robin Townley, an African affairs specialist and close aide to then-White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The denial of the Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance, the high-level security clearance known as TS/SCI, was widely viewed as a bureaucratic power play by opponents of both Flynn and Townley inside intelligence agencies.

Angelo Codevilla, an intelligence expert, said the denial of clearances was engineered by the CIA and came despite Townley’s holding of the high level clearance for many years when he worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The clearance denial drove Townley out of the White House National Security Council staff.

The apparent motivation was political, as Townley was known inside government as a critic of the current intelligence structure. Townley, like Flynn, advocated for intelligence reforms designed to improve what many critics regard as an outdated system of intelligence agencies.

“The CIA did not want to deal with him,” Codevilla stated. “Hence, it used the power to grant security clearances to tell the president to choose someone acceptable to the agency, though not so much to him.”

Flynn also is under scrutiny from the Pentagon inspector general over foreign payments he received after retiring as an Army three-star general and whether they were reported on security clearance forms.

Several months before Townley’s clearance denial, Democrats on Capitol Hill complained about plans to give high-level security clearances to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Both were granted interim TS/SCI clearances and currently are presidential advisers.

The blocking of security clearances under Trump contrasts with the handling of clearances during the Obama administration when a key liberal adviser with a questionable security background was given a high-level clearance.

Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications under Obama, was denied an interim TS/SCI clearance by the FBI in October 2008, according to an email obtained from John Podesta last year.

The email stated that Rhodes was the only White House official out of 187 prospective White House aides to be denied the interim TS/SCI clearance.

Yet, despite the denial, Rhodes would later be granted access to some of the most secret U.S. intelligence information and emerge as one Obama’s closest aides who boasted of a “mind-meld” with the president on various issues.

Rhodes became one of the most active originators and shapers of key American foreign and national security policies under Obama.

He engineered what he dubbed the “echo chamber” of pliable news reporters and think tank experts who could be relied on to spread White House propaganda, including false and misleading information, to the American public on the Iran nuclear deal in a bid to win congressional backing for the accord.

Two House Republicans asked the FBI in January to investigate how Rhodes was granted access to secrets for eight years after the initial denial of an interim clearance in 2008.

Regarding Ivanka Trump and Kushner, two House Democrats, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) complained on Twitter in November that granting clearances to the couple would be improper and a conflict of interest because they were in business and lacked government experience.

High-level security clearances are granted to White House officials so they can participate in various activities, including policy development work, meetings with the president and senior advisers, working groups, and intelligence briefings.

Most internal meetings are classified and thus a security clearance is required for access. Denying a clearance to an official can be tantamount to firing.

In the White House complex, junior clerical staff members often are granted TS/SCI clearance.

Most jobs inside the White House complex, which includes the executive mansion and the adjacent Eisenhower executive office building, where the National Security Council and other key posts are located, require the TS/SCI clearance. Other clearance levels include Secret and Confidential.

The process for gaining a clearance includes filling out Form SF-86 that requires disclosing details of past employment and finances.

Chinese hackers were able to gain access to millions of the secret and highly sensitive forms during the hack disclosed last year of the Office of Personnel Management. The stolen SF-86s were among some 22 million documents on federal employees stolen and could greatly assist Chinese intelligence agent recruitment and cyber espionage operations.

Ground for clearance denial can include illegal drug use, contacts with foreign governments, or a history of bankruptcy.

The TS/SCI clearance grants a holder access to special intelligence, such as information obtained from foreign recruited agents and electronic communications intelligence.

The clearance also can include signing extensive non-disclosure agreements.

The CIA’s affront to Trump

February 16, 2017

The CIA’s affront to Trump, Washington Times, Angelo M. Codevilla, February 16, 2017

(It is absurd for the CIA to have control over whom President Trump can appoint to the National Security Council by refusing — for no stated or apparent reason — to grant the required security clearance. — DM)

ciatrumpstrumpCIA Bullies Trump Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The CIA has denied a security clearance to Trump National Security Council (NSC) official Robin Townley without any allegation, much less evidence of disloyalty to the United States. Quite simply, it is because the CIA disapproves of Mr. Townley’s attitude toward the agency, and this is unprecedented. President Trump appointed Mr. Townley to coordinate Africa policy at the NSC. The CIA did not want to deal with him. Hence, it used the power to grant security clearances to tell the president to choose someone acceptable to the agency, though not so much to him. This opens a larger issue: Since no one can take part in the formulation or execution of foreign or defense policy without a high-level security clearance, vetoing the president’s people by denying them clearances trumps the president.

Hence, if Mr. Trump does not fire forthwith the persons who thus took for themselves the prerogative that the American people had entrusted to him at the ballot box, chances are 100 percent that they will use that prerogative ever more frequently with regard to anyone else whom they regard as standing in the way of their preferred policies, as a threat to their reputation, or simply as partisan opponents. If Mr. Trump lets this happen, he will have undermined nothing less than the self-evident heart of the Constitution’s Article II: The president is the executive branch. All of its employees draw their powers from him and answer to him, not the other way around.

Using security clearances for parochial purposes — usually petty ones — while neglecting security, never mind counterintelligence, is an old story at the CIA which I got to know too well during eight years overseeing the agency as the designee of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s budget chairman. Because I did my quality control job vigorously, and because I placed on the budget cut list some of the many outside contracts that seemed corrupt, the agency made repeated attempts to withdraw my top-level, cross-cutting security clearances. After I left the Senate staff for Stanford, when the Naval Postgraduate School asked me to teach a highly classified course on signals intelligence, the school’s security office asked the CIA for my clearances. The bureaucrats there said they had never heard of me. I had to call Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey, who ended up phoning them in personally to a startled Navy chief.

The CIA uses pretense about security to insulate itself from criticism, to protect its own, and to intrude into policymaking. Security against foreign intelligence ranks low in its priorities. For near a decade, its bureaucrats refused to look into obvious evidence that their own Aldrich Ames had sold out America’s entire agent network in the Soviet Union. Moreover, according to its inspector general, they continued to pass reports from that network to the president because they happened to agree with the direction in which these KGB-produced reports were pushing U.S. policy. The CIA also uses secrecy to avoid responsibility. It crafts the conclusions of its reports specifically to be leaked to The New York Times and The Washington Post, while making sure that the thin or nonexistent facts behind those conclusions never see the light of day.

The CIA’s denial of a clearance to a presidential appointee minus good cause, however, breaks new ground and shows truly revolutionary boldness. Traditionally, bureaucrats have used sticks and carrots to convince political appointees to play along lest they suffer unpleasantness. Thus, presidents have ended up having to choose between suffering appointees who have “gone native” or replacing them. Now, the CIA’s denial of Mr. Townley’s clearance removes all subtlety by demanding that Mr. Trump appoint only “natives.” If Mr. Trump indulges that demand for self-emasculation, the message will go out to all agencies: They need pay no attention to what political appointees tell them, and they need fear no retribution for this or for pressuring appointees in any way they want. The message to the people who Mr. Trump has appointed or who are considering working for Mr. Trump is just as clear: You have no choice but to make yourself acceptable to the bureaucrats because, if you don’t, they will hurt you and the president will not help you. This cannot help but skew the pool of potential members of the Trump administration.

We cannot know nor does it matter why Donald Trump seems to be deferring to bureaucrats who have gone out of their way to delegitimize him. But we can be certain about the kind of dynamic engendered by deference in the face of assaults.

Lawyers Reviewed Classified Clinton Communications Without Clearance

October 17, 2016

Lawyers Reviewed Classified Clinton Communications Without Clearance, Washington Free Beacon, , October 17, 2016

clinton-1Hillary Clinton / AP

Lawyers without security clearances viewed emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal server that included classified communications, according to files released by the FBI.

The revelation comes in a batch of interview summaries released by the bureau on Monday in connection with its investigation into Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct government business during her time as secretary of state.

Attorneys representing Clinton and Cheryl Mills, her chief of staff at the State Department, admitted to investigators during a meeting on August 17, 2015 that emails from Clinton’s private server “had been viewed by attorneys who did not have a security clearance at the time they reviewed the material.”

The meeting involved Katherine Turner, a partner at law firm Williams & Connolly, as well as another attorney from the firm and legal counsel for Mills from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, whose names have been redacted. They met with FBI officials to discuss handing over six laptops used to review Clinton’s communications, which were “known to contain Top Secret classified information.”

During the August 17 meeting, Turner “acknowledged that these laptops contain Top Secret email communications” but said that attorneys who viewed them “were not aware that they were classified at the time” because the messages did not contain classification markings.

“Both [Mills’ counsel] and TURNER admitted that the emails contained on these laptops had been viewed by attorneys who did not have a security clearance at the time they reviewed the material,” the FBI documents state. “TURNER said the emails did not contain classification markers and thus they were not aware that they were classified at the time.”

FBI Director James Comey told a House panel in July that Clinton granted individuals without security clearances access to classified information, though he could not confirm that those individuals, particularly her lawyers, had read the classified material.

At the time, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign insisted that “the lawyers who sorted through Clinton’s emails had Top Secret-level clearance.”

Both David Kendall, Clinton’s personal attorney at Williams & Connolly, and Turner, his partner, had previously received top secret security clearances from the U.S. government. The files released Monday indicate that other lawyers without proper clearances also viewed Clinton’s emails.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Of the six laptops, one was in possession of Mills’ lawyer, whose name was redacted and who “admitted that the computer in his possession has been connected to the Internet on numerous occasions subsequent to being loaded with the classified email communications,” the FBI documents state.

This particular laptop was used by Heather Samuelson, a lawyer and 2008 Clinton campaign staffer, who worked under Mills to review Clinton’s 60,000 emails and delete half of them deemed personal.

The remaining work-related communications were eventually turned over to the FBI.

The FBI announced in July that it would not recommend charges in the case, though Comey faulted Clinton and her aides for being “extremely careless” in their handling of classified information.

Clinton has repeatedly stated that she never sent or received classified information on her personal system. However, the FBI found 113 emails on Clinton’s server that contained classified material at the time they were sent or received, including some communications that were top secret.

The bureau on Monday released nearly three dozen summaries of interviews in connection with its investigation into Clinton’s use of private email at the State Department. The FBI, which has previously published declassified documents related to the investigation, released the summaries under pressure from congressional lawmakers.

Clinton’s personal email use was first revealed by the New York Times in March 2015 and quickly became a flashpoint of the 2016 presidential election.