Word is that President Trump intervened to grant his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a “top secret” security clearance. So what? That’s the president’s prerogative, and Kushner needs this clearance to perform all the magic he’s apparently capable of, such as reinventing government, negotiating with Mexico, solving the opioid epidemic, and bringing peace to the Middle East.
Top Secret security clearances are quite common in America: more than one million people have them, and at least another three million have secret/confidential ones. Of course, not all TS clearances are created equal. They all require background investigations, but some are “special,” and some are SCI, which stands for compartmentalized information. In other words, just because you have a TS clearance doesn’t mean you can access all TS information. You have to have “a need to know.” You have to be “read in” to certain programs. And some programs are so secret that only a few people have access to them.
One would assume Kushner needs access to top secret intelligence in his job as a “peace envoy” for the Middle East. Lacking such a clearance, Kushner would have to be fired, but as Trump’s son-in-law and as a special friend to the Israelis and Saudis, Jared is not about to be fired. Trump apparently lied about intervening to approve Jared’s clearance (“The president was equally forthright a month ago when he unequivocally denied that he intervened in any way to get a permanent security clearance for his son-in-law,” notes The Guardian), but Trump lies a lot. It’s a little like breathing for him.
What’s the real issue here? For me, as I wrote about back in 2015, it’s how the government uses classification schemes to keep secrets from us, the American people. Apparently, either we or they can’t handle the truth. To cite myself:
Our government uses security classification not so much to keep us safe, but to keep the national security state safe — safe from the eyes of the American people.
As The Guardian reported in 2013:
“A committee established by Congress, the Public Interest Declassification Board, warned in December that rampant over-classification is ‘imped[ing] informed government decisions and an informed public’ and, worse, ‘enabl[ing] corruption and malfeasance’. In one instance it documented, a government agency was found to be classifying one petabyte of new data every 18 months, the equivalent of 20m filing cabinets filled with text.”
Nowadays, seemingly everything is classified. And if it’s classified, if it’s secret, we can’t know about it. Because we can’t be trusted with it. That’s a fine idea for an autocracy or dictatorship, but not so fine for a democracy.
Government of the people, by the people, for the people? Impossible when nearly everything of any importance is classified.
America, Trump or Jared’s loose lips aren’t the problem. The problem is a government shrouded in secrecy.