Missing Security Clearances; Major Security Threats

Like Rob Porter, the erstwhile White House Staff Secretary whose history of domestic abuse was overlooked by the Trump administration, an alarming number of top White House staffers still lack permanent security clearances.

As I previously wrote: Dozens of members of this administration still don't have security clearance after more than a year, and they aren't honest enough to get that clearance, but the White House has nonetheless decided to trust them with the highest levels of classified information, even when they are under investigation for foreign collusion, as is the president himself.

At NBC News, Carol E. Lee, Mike Memoli, Kristen Welker, and Rich Gardella report on the abundance of top-level staffers without clearance, and the numbers are truly staggering:
More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president's daughter, son-in-law, and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.

Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to [Donald] Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance.

...The documents also show that 10 months into Trump's administration, at least 85 political appointees in the White House, vice president's office, and National Security Council were working without permanent security clearances. About 50 appointees were operating with interim security clearances while serving in offices closely linked to the West Wing, such as the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the White House executive residence.

White House officials who are listed as not having permanent security clearances as recently as this past November include Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser; Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser; Dan Scavino, the president's director of social media; and Christopher Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives, according to the documents.
This is very troubling, particularly given Donald Trump's morbid indiscretion. That there are people working even in the White House residence for the most observably indiscreet president the United States has ever known constitutes an enormous security risk.

And while one might understandably argue that it hardly seems worth worrying about when the president himself seems to be a wholly owned subsidiary of a foreign adversary, the problem is that Trump's indifference to protecting state secrets (which underwrites his indifference to security protocols) combined with the breathtaking 34% turnover rate at the White House creates a scenario in which a whole host of unsavory specimens has had — and continues to have — access to highly sensitive information that might be interesting to multiple governments, mercenaries, hostile political organizations, and other sinister actors.

Since its earliest days, the Trump White House has been mired in visible chaos, unprofessionalism, and incompetence — thus advertising to anyone hoping to exploit any weakness in the United States federal government that all comers are welcome, as long as you swear fealty to Trump. It's a low bar for access, combined with high opportunity for treason.

And, as Sarah Kendzior observes in her latest piece, the revolving door of employment in the Trump White House has included "many ethically questionable former staffers" whose own behavior makes them susceptible to blackmail, and thus "leaves U.S. national security in chronic jeopardy."
While departures of incompetent or immoral staffers have often inspired public relief, they are actually cause for alarm. That revolving door leads into a bustling marketplace of state secrets, one whose temptations should not be shrugged off given that basic standards of loyalty to country have been put into question by this administration's actions.

Among the departed White House staffers are former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who has admitted guilt in the Kremlin interference probe; white nationalist (and fellow domestic abuser) Steve Bannon, who has vowed to destroy the United States; and extremist Seb Gorka, who has ties to neo-Nazi organizations and is being investigated by police in Hungary. (Gorka, like Porter, worked as a Trump advisor despite being denied clearance as a result of his 2016 arrest in the U.S. for bringing a weapon through an airport.)

Men who have already colluded with a foreign power, committed acts of violence, or threatened to destroy the U.S. now know some of the country's secrets, and it's easy to imagine the damage they could do in the era of WikiLeaks and illicit foreign deals.

...We do not know what the departed Trump staffers have been doing since they left office, but we know that several behaved as if they were above the law—even, in some cases, working to subvert American democracy. Armed with classified information, these men are now walking national security threats, and it's reasonable to assume that Trump–loose-lipped, disloyal, and primarily interested in making money and dodging prosecution—may someday be too. Much as it has shattered norms inside the White House, expect the Trump administration to shatter them outside as well.
The fact is that Trump has as much respect for national security protocol as he does for the rule of law. That is to say: None.

Which means that the security clearance concern in his White House will never be fixed. It reflects and indulges his own indiscretion, and he has no desire to adhere to established norms, which would require him to restrain his own impulses. An insecure braggart is never going to release, and is probably temperamentally incapable of yielding, his chokehold on sharing important information access to which proves his importance, itself only demonstrable if he spills that information.

That's the fundamental problem: Trump wants to talk. And he does. He talks and talks — and sometimes he discloses things publicly, and sometimes he's bragging to the Russians, and sometimes it's just that he's surrounding himself with nefarious characters who have a taste for authoritarianism and occupationally-impressed sycophants who aren't trustworthy enough to enjoy access to national secrets by any conceivable measure, but have that access nonetheless because Trump needs to feel like a big man, since even being President of the United States of America isn't enough to fill the expansive void of self-worth permanently lodged in his gut.

The only solution to this problem, as ever, is removing Trump from office, as swiftly as possible.

Unfortunately, the only people with the power to do that obviously necessary thing remain manifestly unwilling to do it.

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