A Florida congresswoman is proposing legislation that would require individuals to report if they were members of QAnon, attended the Capitol Hill rally, or other ‘Stop the Steal’ events. A summary of the ‘Security Clearance Improvement Act of 2021’ posted to Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s website outlines what it would like to see changed in the security clearance application process, and how it would like to see both current clearance holders and applicants vetted in the future.
“[T]he bill would require applicants to be asked during the security clearance process—whether as part of the SF-86 questionnaire, the interview portion, or both—whether they participated in the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, or a similar “Stop the Steal” event, and the precise role they played in that event. Even if it does not constitute a criminal offense, attendance at an event designed to overturn the results of a presidential election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power raises serious questions about an applicant’s suitability for a security clearance.”
Like most legislative bullets written by a 22-year old with more passion than policy experience, the Security Clearance Improvement Act is unlikely to make it past its life as a PDF on a congressional website – the changes proposed in Murphy’s bill would need to be born out of executive order. Congress can certainly sway those decisions – but it can’t overhaul the adjudicative guidelines. Congress’ key role in the security clearance process is one of accountability. That’s why we see legislation that sets policy priorities and establishes security clearance timelines, but not legislation that delivers the parameters of who can and cannot have access to classified information.
QAnon and Your Security Clearance
The proposed legislation may well find some legs somewhere on Congress, just not in its current form. The question of whether it’s needed is also in play. Several security clearance holders have already been called out for participating in the Capitol Hill riots and as we’ve noted, anyone who is accused of criminal conduct in any fashion is not likely to keep their security clearance. The matter of vetting out anyone who is a part of QAnon also poses issues. As either an idea or an online thread, it is difficult to vet out every individual who is a ‘part’ of such a group until they take a specific action in violation of another adjudicative guideline. The current security clearance application process already asks individuals if they have been a part of any organization that has sought to overthrow the government. QAnon is widely considered a conspiracy theory, but is rarely considered a political organization with the potential of overthrowing the government.
But while a walk down a QAnon rabbit trail may not sink your security clearance chances, that doesn’t mean all online activities are without risk. Social media is not currently a part of the security clearance process, but policy does allow it. And the government has previously cautioned security clearance holders against visiting sites such as Wikileaks, where classified information is posted. Key aspects of QAnon center around publishing deep state Secrets (including classified ones). It would not be unheard of for security clearance holders in the future to be asked about online forum participation in groups such as QAnon as a part of the security clearance process. It would be wise to be able to put that into the bucket of useful indiscretion or academic research. Any serious QAnon loyalties could prove to be a clearance killer – no new legislation required.