Explainer: Jared Kushner and His Security Clearance

Security Clearance

Image via EdLedford.com

You can’t open a newspaper without reading about the President of the United States (POTUS) and his children and their families, specifically Jared Kushner, who serves as a special advisor the POTUS.

Shortly after the November 2016 election I first started discussing the appointment of Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump and their roles as special advisors to the POTUS. I opined then that both are eligible for a U.S. national security clearance, as they met the basic eligibility requirements: They are a U.S. citizen, over 18 years of age and the White House, as the Cognizant Security Agency (CSA) has determined there is a need for a security clearance in order to perform their duties as advisor to the POTUS. 

The Kushner SF-86

Based on White House and congressional statements, we know that Kushner filed his SF-86 (Questionnaire for National Security Clearances – approximately 127 pages) and as predicted in November 2016, the length of the SF-86 and the addenda on foreign travel, foreign business, and foreign contacts was apparently eye-boggling. The background check, as of early-March 2018 has not yet been concluded.

And yes, Kushner met with the investigators to provide amplification and clarity on a number of items on his SF-86. Opinion on the thoroughness or incompleteness has made its way into the partisan dialogs, but what hasn’t happened is the DOJ filing a criminal complaint indicating willful misrepresentation on the SF-86 or subsequent interviews, which is indicative of everything (to this point) be copasetic with respect to the SF-86 submission.

The DOJ has no patience for those who dissemble or falsify information on their SF-86, as evidenced by the indictment of the Issac Lanier Avant, former Chief of Staff for Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and who had previously served as Staff Director and Deputy Staff Director for the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Who does the White House background checks?

The FBI conducts the background checks on behalf of the White House and the White House adjudicates the ultimate issuance of the security clearance to individuals, to include the issuance of interim clearances. Based on the recent adjustments to White House processes as directed by White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, it appears that interim clearances up through and including Top Secret/SCI were issued to key personnel, pending their final background investigation and adjudication. Kelly ,in his February 16 memorandum to staff and the FBI, rolled back the interim clearances for Top Secret and SCI and put a clock on the period of time an interim SECRET clearance would be permitted. Exceptions, under the direction of the Chief of Staff would be allowed.

Why is it taking so long?

The FBI Director Wray, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence noted that as the FBI conducts their background investigations, interim reports are shared with the CSA. In addition, it has been leaked to the press by unidentified FBI special agents that the Kushner SF-86 needed a number of clarifications, that his business dealings abroad were numerous and his number of foreign contacts substantial.

Is it possible that Kushner’s business dealings and circle of contacts are simply so complex that a firm handle on the potential for foreign influence over Kushner or his various business holdings is difficult to assess? Absolutely, and if such is the case, the FBI background investigators should duly note such and allow the CSA (the White House) to make their determination on whether or not to allow Kushner’s security clearance to become permanent.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).