Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2 things that I cannot understand

1. Interim security clearance.

The whole concept of security clearances is a dog’s breakfast. To be any good at all, this system has to be close to 100% effective. That security clearances are nowhere near that effective is proven by the names Bradley Manning, Aldrich Ames, Klaus Fuchs etc.

However that may be, the concept of the interim security clearance is like giving Willie Sutton the keys to the bank vault. You'll remember Willie Sutton. He was the Depression era robber who, when asked why he robbed banks, said, "That's where the money is.”

Rob Porter’s interim clearance is akin to a bank manager’s saying to Willie Sutton: "Well Mr. Sutton, you dress well and appear to have good manners. I'm sure you are a fine fellow. We do not just give the keys to our vault to anyone but I feel confident in leaving these with you. I know you won't betray me.”

2. Temporary protected status that is permanent.

Again, the concept itself is something of a dog’s breakfast, at least as it relates to Haiti.

When a big earthquake hit that country Haitians who happened to be in the United States, just visiting, were told they could stay.

Why they would want to stay is a question. Most people, when their property is at risk, cannot wait to get back to it to protect or perhaps to rebuild it. We have seen, following fires in California and floods in Texas, that sheriff’s deputies had to be stationed outside the destroyed areas to keep people from going back too soon.

You would think that the Haitians would want to go back to protect their property.

Some years ago I was talking with a friend who had been a missionary in Bolivia, and he was saying that a wealthy acquaintance of his who collected antique airplanes had asked him if, while he was traveling about the back roads of Bolivia, he would keep an eye open for any 1930s era Aeronca or similar plane that perhaps had been left in a barn and was untouched. My friend the missionary said that his wealthy friend did not understand what it means to be poor.

“If anyone had left an airplane in a barn, the local people would've dismantled it and used the pieces to put roofs on their houses."

It has been many years since Haitians who have temporary protected status in the United States have been back to their homes, presumably; but if they do go back they are not likely to find anything.

I suppose that's an argument for allowing them to continue to stay in the United States, but it looks more like a misstep by our government, setting up these people to lose their property to squatters or local government authorities or whoever will end up in possession of it down there.


It is not obvious why being a wife beater would mean an applicant could not get a security clearance. Thinking over all of the incidents, going back to the Dreyfus affair, when people were exposed for having revealed government secrets, I cannot recall any where wifebeating was an issue.

Wifebeating is bad but it is not the sort of thing that signals that a person will likely or possibly steal secrets. Money, sexual entitlements, ideology, carelessness, resentment about not getting promoted -– these are all things that have led men and women to betray their country's secrets.

Wifebeating is a character defect that probably disqualifies anyone from a position that requires judgment, but that is not my understanding of what a security clearance is about. It is not about judgment but about the likelihood that someone would willingly or under the duress of blackmail spill the beans.

UPDATE Wednesday

Politico now reports that another White House staffer has been told he cannot get a security clearance.

 George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, told POLITICO that he was informed by the White House counsel’s office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.

This confirms for me that the security clearance review system is nonsense.

It has failed spectacularly in the past as in the case of Aldrich Ames. There is no reason to believe that previous marijuana use is a predictor of future leaking of secrets. I think it is time to dust off Voltaire's old battle cry and apply it to the process of security clearances: Ecrasez l'infame!

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