Secrecy News

Security Clearances and Presidential Authority

“Security clearances are not mandated for the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, or other constitutional officers,” a recent Congressional Research Service report explains. “The criteria for election or appointment to these positions are specified in the U.S. Constitution, and except by constitutional amendment, no additional criteria (e.g., holding a security clearance) may be required.”

In fact, the security clearance system itself is an expression of presidential authority. Its scope and operation are defined in an executive order (EO 12968), and its terms can be modified by the President at will.

And if the President wished to grant access to classified information to a family member, for example, there would be no legal barrier to doing so. See “Trump Will Have Wide Latitude to Let Family Into Government’s Secret Circles” by Mark Landler, New York Times, November 16.

*

Americans with relatives in China have a vanishingly small chance of getting a security clearance, according to a new analysis by attorney Sheldon I. Cohen.

“Every year American citizens with family ties in China apply for security clearances, but for them the chances of getting a security clearance are remote. Winning the lottery has better odds. After an applicant spends the time, effort, and frequently the money to hire legal counsel, the result is virtually always the same — clearance denied.”

Given current realities, Cohen wrote, the government might as well “just issue a blanket policy statement that applicants with family ties in China will not be granted a security clearance. That would save not only the applicants, but also the American taxpayers the money wasted on hearings which virtually always have a predictable outcome.” See If You Have A Family Member in China — Chances of Getting a Security Clearance Are Remote by Sheldon I. Cohen, Fall 2016.