Conduct Unbecoming

So the latest scandal in the Obama administration (almost simultaneously with the GSA insanity, and isn’t it hilarious that history professor and political prognosticator Allan Lichtman thought as recently as this past November that this administration had no significant scandals?) is Secret Service agents behaving badly in Cartagena, resulting in the loss of their security clearances. The article doesn’t explain why, so some might think that this is a punishment. Without their clearances, after all, they won’t be able to perform their duties, and are essentially out of a job.

But the reason that their clearances have been pulled is that they can no longer be relied upon to keep secrets. Their behavior had compromised their ability to do so and potentially opened them up to blackmail. Of course, ironically, now that everyone knows what they were doing, this is no longer an issue. Interestingly, for years during the Cold War, homosexuals were denied security clearances for exactly this reason (in addition to then-notions of moral turpitude), though eventually the ban was lifted in the Clinton administration (presumably as long as they were out of the closet, and thus not susceptible to having a secret revealed).

But the incident raises interesting questions about the standards for providing clearances, and how stringent we are in enforcing them. For instance, consider presidents.

Arguably, had they not been elected president, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama would have been able to obtain even the most basic secret clearance, based on their life history.

In Bill Clinton’s case, even ignoring his trip to Moscow in his youth, he would have had a tough time getting one. CFR Title 32, Part 147, describes the adjudicative guidelines for allowing access to classified information. Section 147.6 relates to sexual behavior:

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

  1. Sexual behavior of a criminal nature, whether or not the individual has been prosecuted;
  2. Compulsive or addictive sexual behavior when the person is unable to stop a pattern or self-destructive or high-risk behavior or that which is symptomatic of a personality disorder;
  3. Sexual behavior that causes an individual to be vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, or duress;
  4. Sexual behavior of a public nature and/or that which reflects lack of discretion or judgment.

Note that the Secret Service agents had their clearances pulled over items (3) and (4). And anyone who took even a cursory look at Bill Clinton’s history, let alone a deep background investigation, would know that there’s no way he would have gotten a clearance were he a normal citizen and not a crafty politician. Juanita Broaddrick and many others would have put paid to number one, Gennifer Flowers and Dolly Kyle Browning both testified to number two, and numbers three and four were amply demonstrated in the Lewinsky affair. What if Linda Tripp had sold the tapes to China or Iran instead of giving them to Ken Starr? That is a question that few seemed willing to ask at the time. In all of these affairs, the president, the most powerful person in the world, opened himself up to blackmail.