In what would appear to be a bit of regurgitation coming out of Washington, we see the media lighting up the discussion on the limitations of access afforded to presidential advisor, Jared Kushner, who also happens to be the President’s son-in-law. In this iteration of the Kushner clearance newscycle we are revisiting the allegation the CIA balked at allowing Kushner access to Special Compartmented Information (SCI).

Kushner cleared for Top Secret

In March 2018, we wrote that processing of Kushner’s security clearance adjudication was taking an inordinately long period of time for an individual who was being fast tracked through the system. We opined then that the “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?”  We continued how the White House would, as the CSA (Cognizant Security Authority), “make their determination on whether or not to allow Kushner’s security clearance to become permanent.”

In May 2018, we learned that Kushner’s Top-Secret security clearance had been finalized with the CSA authorizing Kushner access to Top Secret information. The process took 488 days, was still within the norms that many Facility Security Officers are experiencing given the number of background investigations in the government-wide backlog.

SCI and CIA’s reluctance

Separately, the Washington Post reported, again in May 2018, that Kushner had been approved for his Top Secret clearance, but that it did not include clearance to SCI materials.

The reality is no one’s Top Secret clearance in and of itself provides them access to SCI materials. Special and Compartmented are keywords with meaning. One must have a need to know and access to the SCI is carefully controlled. Normally it requires a program read-in, an acknowledgement of the penalties which will arrive at one’s doorstep should they reveal the “secret” being protected by the SCI program.

At that time the CIA reportedly opted not to read Kushner into their SCI compartments. With everyone concerned declining to comment, the Washington Post was left to speculation as to the why, citing the claims of foreign entities that they had Kushner in the bag (China, Israel, Mexico and United Arab Emirate identified by name). The foreign influence potential is not a figment of one’s imagination, it is a constant in every instance and if the classifying authority decides that an individual should not have access to a specific piece of intelligence due to a potential foreign influence, they may deny the individual access. Normally it is case-by-case instances and not a blanket denial.

2019 regurgitation of Kushner’s clearance adjudication

In late-January 2019, NBC News revisited the story of Kushner’s clearance adjudication and also takes a swipe at the CIA’s pushback on SCI compartmentation. They note that “anonymous” sources advised their reporters that individuals in the White House personnel security office had provided the director of that office with their advice on the May 2018 adjudication of Kushner. NBC tells us that advice was to not provide Kushner a permanent Top Secret clearance.

As we noted in our own piece in March 2018, Kushner’s depth of foreign interaction raised a number of “foreign influence” questions, and media reports of his being in the pocket of various countries would drive most toward a recommendation of “this is just too murky to proceed.” Apparently, that is what occurred, and the director of the personnel security office, also a career civil servant, having assumed his GS-15 position in May 2017, reviewed the materials from his subordinates and as the ultimate CSA granted Kushner’s Top Secret clearance.

NBC continues revisiting the SCI question, highlighting how the CIA controls that access, though many would beg to differ, as SCI and HCS (HUMINT Control System) designations can be found across multiple organizations under the umbrella of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to include the Pentagon, National Security Agency and the CIA. Generally speaking, access to either SCI or HCS requires a Single Scope Background Investigation, which normally would include a polygraph within the intelligence community.  Absent details from the NBC sleuths it is difficult to understand the breadth of the denial. What is clear is that Kushner is still on the job, functioning as the advisor to the president.

Should Kushner have been cleared?

Without access to the plethora of data obtained by the FBI during the background investigation and visibility into the depth of information revealed on Kushner’s SF-86 and during the many subsequent interviews by the investigators with Kushner to understand his complex foreign business interests and entanglements, we would be making nothing more than a wild guess.

For now, the SCA at the White House has adjudicated Kushner as being trustworthy at the Top Secret level and apparently (thought no evidence has been provided) members of the intelligence community who control the SCI/HCS compartmented information have withheld their permission for Kushner to read into some of  their programs.

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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).