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All about security clearances.

February 15, 2018

This is obviously relevant to the Rob Porter story, but more importantly it is about understanding how security clearances are supposed to work.

The average person’s first question, upon hearing that Mr. Porter did not have a finalized  security clearance is likely to be “Why would you keep someone on staff that didn’t have or couldn’t get  a final clearance?”

To answer that question, it helps to know how the process is supposed to work.

Fortunately, the framework for that is available online at the State Department website, as is the 156 page Form 86 questionnaire each applicant for clearance must submit.

The first clue that something might be wrong seems to be when the person doesn’t receive a final clearance within 90 days., but instead is granted an interim clearance.

The aforementioned process also includes references to how and why exceptions to the normal timeline or classifications are handled.

After reading through the questionnaire, specifically Sections 21 and 22, referring (in order) to mental health issues and police records, as well as Section 17, marital and relationship status, there doesn’t appear to be any place to enter whether you have ever been accused of domestic abuse, unless such accusations resulted in verified medical treatment or a legal judgment.

That implies that such accusations would be uncovered by interviewing the person’s contacts, and the interviewee must sign to allow the agency (which to be clear is the Office of Personnel Management, NOT the FBI or Justice Department) to conduct a full investigation.

The FBI or some other alphabet agency  should have been contributing such information as fell within their scope to the State Department, not directly to President Trump or the Chief of Staff.

So what went wrong?

The long and short of it appears to be that Mr. Porter’s clearance process or lack thereof was not independently tracked by anyone on the White House staff, or if it was, no steps were taken to find out why the clearance was taking so long to process.

Normally that would have been left to someone like a Chief of Staff (initially Reince Priebus) or at the very least an executive secretary to the CoS or the President.

A contributing factor could be that the State Department may have left in place the interim clearance, instead of simply revoking it after the initial 90-day period.  Revocation should have automatically triggered an alarm in the White House, since Mr. Porter would have been barred from entering the premises.

Enter Trey Gowdy and the Senate Oversight Committee.

One thing we  (us, the people) need to do is separate the charge of domestic abuse from the process.

To the extent that you can believe anything the media reports, there are purportedly other personnel who  have not received final security clearances, and apparently this isn’t a condition that is unique to the Trump White House.

That’s should be more troubling even than the charge of domestic abuse.

For those of us who have dealt with background checks in the private sector that’s just incomprehensible.

One of the first things any competent HR professional or department head normally does after requesting a background check is to enter a follow up date on their calendar. If that date pops up and there is no completed file, someone is going to be asking why, even if the subject has been employed on a probationary status in the meantime.

There seems to be no doubt that Mr. Porter should not have been working in the White House in any capacity, given his security clearance status. That’s going to be up to Senator Gowdy to investigate, and the White House and probably the State Department to explain.

Hopefully we will get answers before Chairman Gowdy’s term of office is over.  In fact it might behoove each of us to put a reminder on our own calendar and apply a little pressure of our own to make sure that happens.

From → op-ed

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