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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 70930

Reported Deaths: 2043
CountyConfirmedDeaths
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DeSoto379632
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Washington173945
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Kemper24114
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Stone2256
Sharkey2097
Jefferson1977
Benton1571
Choctaw1384
Franklin1372
Issaquena272
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 102196

Reported Deaths: 1825
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13578262
Mobile10747221
Montgomery6999153
Madison555035
Tuscaloosa435080
Unassigned406169
Baldwin374429
Shelby338137
Marshall320738
Lee273647
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Calhoun185319
Elmore178339
Walker156265
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Colbert123218
Lauderdale121320
Autauga119622
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Talladega108714
Jackson10794
Tallapoosa87879
Dale85629
Chambers84838
Blount8355
Chilton8309
Clarke82710
Coffee7816
Butler77536
Covington75521
Pike7167
Marion59226
Barbour5866
Lowndes57524
Marengo57217
Bullock49311
Hale48726
Bibb4575
Winston45611
Washington45313
Perry4484
Wilcox44510
Monroe4256
Pickens41310
Randolph40411
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Sumter37019
Lawrence3603
Macon34414
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