Jared Kushner just joined a really big club

Jared Kushner just joined a really big club: the more than 3.6 million Americans with "secret" security ...

Posted: Feb 28, 2018 3:47 PM
Updated: Feb 28, 2018 3:47 PM

Jared Kushner just joined a really big club: the more than 3.6 million Americans with "secret" security clearances. That's nearly the population of the city of Los Angeles.

When the news broke Tuesday that Kushner's interim security clearance had been downgraded from "top secret" to "secret," his lawyer Abbe Lowell claimed that it would "...not affect Mr. Kushner's ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the President."

This is baloney, served with generous helpings of bunkum and balderdash.

To operate effectively with adversaries such as the Chinese and even nominal allies such as the Saudis, Kushner requires, at a minimum, a top secret clearance, often referred to as a TS clearance, according to nine former senior national security officials and former military officers, all of whom had access to highly classified intelligence and whom I consulted for this story.

Let's start with how the White House National Security Council (NSC) operates, where US policy on national security and foreign policy is formulated. A former government official who worked at the NSC for six years explains, "The NSC operates at the TS level as a baseline."

A former senior NSC official confirms that meetings at the NSC "are by default TS."

Then let's add the fact that those with top secret clearances -- pretty much anybody doing any work of any significance in national security -- will not discuss what he or she knows with those holding clearances only at the secret level.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Amerine, who served in US Special Forces and worked at the Pentagon on highly classified programs, told me that those "with only a secret clearance are regarded much the same as someone without a clearance at all. Those who routinely access top secret information in policy discussions have the discipline to carry out the best practice of simply not discussing anything with those who only have a secret-level clearance." (Disclosure: I know Amerine from the CNN film, "Legion of Brothers," which I produced and in which he appeared.)

For any serious discussion of US national security, a secret clearance isn't much more than a useless piece of paper. A former senior Department of Defense official says that at the Pentagon, "when we had people being on-boarded and they only had secret clearances, they had to sit in separate spaces until they had the requisite clearances, and it severely limited their ability to function."

At the White House, even jobs that at first blush wouldn't appear to need a top secret clearance require one, according to Heather Hurlburt, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton: "I had to have a top secret clearance to be a presidential speechwriter... Why? To read the information behind the rationales for events and messages and participate intelligently in meetings where they were developed. Without access to that analysis I'd have been as useful as a typing monkey." (Hurlburt is a colleague of mine at the non-partisan think tank, New America.)

President Trump could, of course, give his son-in-law access to the top secret material he is now being denied -- given that the President has the ability to declassify whatever he wants to whomever he wants -- but, for the moment, Trump has said he would let his chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, make the call about Kushner's clearance. And last week, Kelly made the call to downgrade it.

Without a top secret clearance, Kushner won't be able to attend most NSC meetings, colleagues will be leery about discussing much of substance with him, and the former avid consumer of intelligence will only have access to the kind of relatively low-level intelligence that some three and half million other Americans with secret clearances also have.

With only a secret clearance, Kushner might as well leave the White House tomorrow -- at least when it comes to national security matters -- because he will be receiving scant relevant intelligence for his work, he won't be able to attend key meetings, nor will he receive the crown jewel of the intelligence community, the President's Daily Briefs.

Without a top secret clearance, Kushner will be no more well informed than a careful newspaper reader since materials at the secret level are often smart diplomatic analyses, not real intelligence of the kind that top national security officials need for decision-making.

This may be OK for, say, dealing with a domestic issue such as the opioid crisis, one of the many jobs in Kushner's immense portfolio, but it's not going to cut it for the national security and foreign policy portfolios that his father-in-law has handed him, including dealing with the Middle East and China.

That said, Kushner still has unique access to the President that no other person in his position would normally have, and that remains true whatever the level of his clearance.

As long as that access is there, Kushner will still be a player when he deals with foreign leaders. One of the leaders Kushner is close to is the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is scheduled to visit Washington next month.

It will be interesting to see if Kushner is front and center during Prince Salman's visit, given the loss of his top secret clearance.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 449492

Reported Deaths: 6047
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin933031483
Ramsey40134741
Dakota33159344
Anoka31061365
Washington20220230
Stearns17922188
St. Louis13730242
Scott1199496
Wright11656104
Olmsted1054775
Sherburne822065
Carver696436
Clay653981
Rice610769
Kandiyohi554871
Blue Earth543233
Crow Wing484877
Otter Tail457967
Chisago453336
Benton421086
Winona390046
Douglas375766
Nobles371746
Mower367829
Goodhue349259
Polk328958
McLeod325745
Morrison312145
Beltrami311048
Lyon302538
Becker286239
Itasca285243
Isanti282941
Carlton280943
Steele27489
Pine267013
Freeborn247923
Todd232230
Nicollet225436
Brown215534
Mille Lacs214545
Le Sueur210715
Cass207723
Meeker200033
Waseca190116
Wabasha17243
Martin170826
Roseau165717
Hubbard149538
Redwood139827
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Houston137213
Dodge13544
Chippewa131632
Cottonwood127718
Fillmore12435
Wadena120117
Rock110312
Sibley10857
Aitkin108333
Faribault106716
Watonwan10678
Pennington99715
Kanabec98018
Pipestone94723
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Murray8935
Jackson86010
Swift83518
Pope7415
Marshall70315
Stevens7018
Clearwater68514
Lac qui Parle65716
Lake64915
Wilkin6269
Koochiching59710
Lincoln4871
Big Stone4603
Unassigned43668
Grant4298
Norman4248
Mahnomen4107
Kittson37220
Red Lake3174
Traverse2523
Lake of the Woods1951
Cook1150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 307088

Reported Deaths: 4340
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46016457
Linn17864278
Scott15566166
Black Hawk13875238
Woodbury13040177
Johnson1216051
Dubuque11434153
Pottawattamie9047113
Dallas896572
Story871235
Webster470172
Cerro Gordo467871
Sioux456157
Clinton451863
Warren449038
Marshall428662
Buena Vista393829
Muscatine392278
Des Moines383641
Plymouth351468
Wapello346598
Jasper324059
Lee318131
Marion305752
Jones272649
Henry264831
Carroll255934
Bremer246848
Crawford232324
Washington220332
Boone219517
Benton210150
Mahaska195037
Jackson193031
Tama188758
Dickinson186227
Kossuth174844
Delaware174536
Clay169820
Wright165224
Fayette163623
Hamilton160730
Buchanan160423
Winneshiek156919
Harrison156762
Hardin155529
Cedar154219
Clayton151548
Butler149224
Page144915
Floyd139836
Cherokee139227
Mills136916
Lyon135732
Poweshiek133924
Hancock130724
Allamakee129628
Iowa126022
Calhoun12299
Grundy121626
Jefferson121325
Madison12129
Winnebago119729
Mitchell116235
Louisa115430
Cass113942
Chickasaw112212
Sac111115
Emmet110831
Appanoose110740
Union109222
Humboldt105819
Guthrie103424
Shelby103427
Franklin102718
Unassigned9410
Palo Alto90910
Montgomery86423
Keokuk85626
Howard84419
Monroe81319
Clarke7987
Pocahontas77711
Ida74730
Davis69421
Greene6947
Adair69020
Lucas6589
Monona64616
Osceola6419
Worth6133
Taylor5949
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Van Buren49713
Decatur4934
Ringgold44311
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