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Conduct Unbecoming

Had they not been elected president, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama would have been able to obtain even the most basic secret clearance.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

April 17, 2012 - 12:00 am
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Section 147.10 would have been problematic for the former president as well:

Improper or illegal involvement with drugs raises questions regarding an individual’s willingness or ability to protect classified information. Drug abuse or dependence may impair social or occupational functioning, increasing the risk of an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

…Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:

(1) Any drug abuse;

(2) Illegal drug possession, including cultivation, processing, manufacture, purchase, sale, or distribution…

Even ignoring his “I didn’t inhale” defense during the campaign, there were many credible rumors of extensive use of cocaine by Bill Clinton, his half-brother Roger, and many Clinton associates (including White House employees) that again would probably have surfaced in a serious FBI check, and almost certainly resulted in a rejection of his clearance application.

The current president has a different problem. Ignoring his admitted drug use in his youth, which would not in itself be disqualifying, Section 147.3 discusses the issue of allegiance to the United States:

Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include: (1) Involvement in any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism, sedition, or other act whose aim is to overthrow the Government of the United States or alter the form of government by unconstitutional means;

(2) Association or sympathy with persons who are attempting to commit, or who are committing, any of the above acts…

Emphasis mine.

Barack Obama was a “red diaper baby” — both of his parents were communists, as was his mentor in his youth, Frank Marshall Davis. That in itself would not be disqualifying — one cannot choose one’s parents, after all, and youthful associations are often outgrown. What is troubling is that, as Obama admitted himself, he later “chose his friends carefully,” seeking out, among others, the Marxist professors in college. As Stanley Kurtz has amply documented, his entire life was one of deliberate radical associations, perhaps the most notorious being leftist terrorist Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, who found the Manson butchery admirable, and the Maoist Mike Klonsky, not to mention Reverend Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright. No normal citizen applying for a clearance would get one with these kinds of associations. Of course, a person with such associations would not likely even apply for a job that required one, absent perhaps a desire to commit espionage.

The Founders probably never expected a president to have as much power as a modern president does — they actually circumscribed the duties quite strictly (e.g., only Congress could declare war).  Also, they envisioned the president being selected by the states, that the process would not be as dependent on individual voters as it has become today, and that the press would live up to its own constitutional responsibilities to act as some sort of filter. Thus they likely expected, perhaps naively, that the Electoral College would only select for the office actual gentlemen, bestowed with some minimal amount of probity, rather than scoundrels. Accordingly, the only constitutional qualifications they placed on presidential eligibility were being a natural-born citizen, at least thirty-five years of age, and able to fog a mirror. Given how much power has accreted to the office over the past two centuries, it is both amazing and ironic that an ability to get a basic security clearance is not a job requirement.

Several employees of the current president just lost their clearances (and likely their jobs) for behavior that was mild compared to that of one of his predecessors, who got one not by dint of a background check, but simply by electoral acclaim (much of which might not have occurred had the media itself done a proper background check in both cases, instead of covering up for them).

Perhaps it’s time to at least think about upgrading the Constitution with regard to this issue.

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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