Flynn and his Clearances


Driving the dog to the vet today and listening to what passes for journalism on MSNBC I heard the woman anchor (blond news babe) insist that Mike Flynn's continued possession of a high level of clearance for access to US classified information was merely a formality and a courtesy.  Well, pilgrims, that ain't so.

Vetting a person for a high level job is one thing…

  • That involves a special investigation into the person's finances, associations, writings, possible criminal activity, political loyalties, etc.  The FBI, the IRS, word of mouth, are all possibilities to be involved in this.  The judgements involved about the person are essentially political.

On the other hand …

  • The process of granting clearance for access to classified information is quite different.  Normally an agency that wishes to employ a person whether military or civilian who will need access to US classified information will request that such a person be investigated by counter-intelligence  agencies.  Depending on the level of access to be granted an investigation of varying scope is done.  This investigation results in an adjudication of whether or not to grant the clearance.  That decision is made by mysterious creatures in the counter-intelligence agencies called adjudicators and the decision is made on the basis of soundness of character and demonstrated reliability from a security point of view,  The politics of the subject person in this process is irrelevant.  Once granted the security clearance resides IN THE INDIVIDUAL and is to some extent portable between agencies.  In the course of his official life Flynn would have had clearances granted seriatim from the US Army, DIA, The Office  of the Director of National Intelligence (where he was Clapper's Deputy for a while) and then after he was retired from the US Army from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in a program that maintains security clearances in a special register for cleared contractors.  That register is referred to by any group that wants to give temporary employment to Defense Department contractors.

So, the answer to the WH statement concerning the renewal of Flynn's clearance last year is quite simple.  The chance that the Obama WH was aware of the renewal of Flynn's security clearances is really quite small.   On the other hand it was altogether the responsibility of the Trump transition team to vett Flynn thoroughly before appointing him National Security Adviser.  On another hand, statements made this afternoon on CNN by various people that the renewal of Flynn's clearances in 2016 was a meaningless formality given by DIA to a retired officer (who had been fired from the job) are just inane and these statements display a total lack of understanding of how the clearance process actually works.  pl 

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28 Responses to Flynn and his Clearances

  1. JJackson says:

    How does the process work in a case like this? If any individual is granted clearances – having been adjudged sufficiently secure – but subsequent action show the individual to be less than sound. There must be some kind of revue procedure with the ability to revoke clearances either for misdeeds or because a change in role makes them moot.

  2. turcopolier says:

    Each security clearance granting agency has in an internal security office that investigates irregular behavior and/or misdeeds on the part of cleared individuals. Clearances can be revoked by any of these agencies. Following that step a referral for criminal investigation can be made to the FBI. The USG has an absolute right to decide if a disclosure is willfully damaging to the US and/or actually seriously damaging. Often a decision is made not to prosecute because the material involved is no longer important. pl

  3. Kooshy says:

    Colonel I remember a while back you wrote it was a mistake for him to take money from Russia and go to Russia for that dinner. Don’t you think in light of all bad news he is having, his carrier is over, as a lobbyist or board job, one wonders what was his carrier worth 500k 1 mil?

  4. turcopolier says:

    Yes, of course his career is over. pl

  5. Bobo says:

    Flynn’s deception regarding his meetings/telecoms with the Russian Ambassador and discussions with others in the Trump Administration leaves one a little confused.
    This is an individual who rose to a very high position in our military and captured the admiration of a Presidential candidate. One would think his practice of deception would have revealed itself much earlier in his career and have been corrected or actually limited that career. His running off to Russian events and reception of Russian funds without first seeking permission from the DOD or filing as a foreign agent again is confusing.
    Was this guy just a stooge for Trump or was this guy morally corrupt long ago. Confusing.

  6. kooshy says:

    Colonel he is only 58 YO,

  7. Haralambos says:

    I watched the Senate hearings today on Flynn and was surprised to see and hear James Clapper there, given his controversial history of testimony before Congress:
    Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was much more impressive to me:
    I will look forward to your thoughts, Colonel, as well as others’ comments.

  8. Allen Thomson says:

    > Often a decision is made not to prosecute because the material involved is no longer important.
    Or because the fallout from a prosecution would itself do unacceptable damage. The practice of “graymail” has long depended on that.
    Or, also, just because the DOJ may not prosecute because it doesn’t think it has a case that is likely enough to persuade a jury to warrant the considerable costs of prosecution.
    IIRC, the DOJ receives something like 50 criminal referrals from the agencies every year and prosecutes at most low single-digits of them. Curiously, the Obama Administration was more zealous about such prosecutions than others.

  9. McGee says:

    Hi Pat,
    Your description of ‘mysterious creatures in the counter-intelligence agencies called adjudicators” was spot-on as ever! Back in the day at USAREUR it was two elderly female GS types in an attic office in the G2 shop in Heidelberg. Nobody knew exactly what their qualifications and backgrounds were, or how and why they did or did not grant clearances. When we weren’t sure whether an investigation would have a particular result, the office joke was that it was now “up to the old ladies”!

  10. ked says:

    Is there significant chance that Flynn’s clearance wasn’t pulled because active surveillance on him was on-going? Doing so would’ve alerted the Russians that their operation had been blown. His only remaining value to the FBI was as bait for a counter-intel op. He seems like a way over-his-head patsy to me in any case.

  11. Henshaw says:

    What about the most important issue in this post – is the dog ok?

  12. Annem says:

    First, I hope your dog is OK.
    If Flynn failed to disclose his involvement with the Russians and Turks if they were taking place at the time he renewed his clearance in 2016, it means that he falsified information on the renewal form. That, too, is a crime, especially if the info is important. He was to have documented any foreign travel for non-USG purposes, who funded it, etc. He was also supposed to list all income in addition to USG pension, including for speaking fees or publications, etc. We know he never registered as a foreign agent until he was discovered, so he likely did not include these on his clearance renewal submission.

  13. Bill Herschel says:

    Only very slightly off-topic.
    I am becoming more and more convinced that WW III has already been fought. It was the “Korean War”.
    Large scale land war between a coalition of mostly white anglo-saxon troops including a huge contingent from the U.S. and hundreds of thousands Chinese troops.
    An air war between the U.S. and Russia.
    Lengthy debate within the U.S. government about the use of nuclear weapons.
    What is important is the outcome. The Chinese and the Russians gave as good as they got. Russia’s air force was the equal of the American air force, some would say better. The Chinese army won victories and fought to a stalemate that has not been resolved.
    Though the United States has been at war essentially continuously since that time, it has restricted its opponents to much lesser foes.
    Today, the U.S. and its various surrogates appear to be reluctant to take on Russian or Chinese troops in the areas where they are in close proximity, especially Ukraine and Syria and certainly Korea.
    Flynn is no surprise in the Administration of a 71 year old who has experienced all this and who stated again and again that continual war was a big mistake and that Russia would make a far better ally than a foe.
    Are illegal immigrants a bigger threat to the U.S. than Russia? Ask someone in Brentwood Long Island.

  14. turcopolier says:

    Lola, our 14 year old Norwich Terrier bitch, has a neuralgia problem in her shoulders and neck. she has been receiving “cold laser” treatments which do a great deal for her. We have two other Norwich bitches, Ginny and Gidget who are five and six years old respectively. Flynn does not seem to have any sense of the obligations of the law with regard to security clearances, financial disclosure, etc. He seems to have thought himself above all that. As you know a renewal of a security clearance at TS collateral or above requires an extended scope Background Investigation involving a multi page questionnaire and a personal interview administered normally by a contracter company. The interview itself and the supporting interviews of others are very detailed procedures in which all answers are sworn testimony. Flynn must be a strange man. pl

  15. J says:

    I don’t trust anything that Ms. Yates says, she was fired by Trump, and her grandstanding is nothing more than sour grapes on Yates’s part.
    Clapper too frequently says one thing and does another.

  16. Ghostship says:

    “Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was much more impressive to me”
    Was she a loyal member of the Washington Borg? Flynn’s disloyalty to the God-given right of the Borg to decide the futures of other countries might have influenced her:
    Amazingly, Flynn actually took issue with the way interviewer Mehdi Hasan posed the question—Flynn seemed to want to make it clear that the policies that led to the rise of ISIL were not merely the result of ignorance or looking the other way, but the result of conscious decision making:
    Hasan: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?
    Flynn: I think the administration.
    Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?
    Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.
    Hasan: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
    Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.
    Hasan himself expresses surprise at Flynn’s frankness during this portion of the interview. While holding up a paper copy of the 2012 DIA report declassified through FOIA, Hasan reads aloud key passages such as, “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

  17. Ghostship says:

    “would’ve alerted the Russians that their operation”
    What operation? To get him to make a couple of appearances on RT? Hardly a secret operation, more a commercial operation so how could it be “blown”.
    “It took more than two weeks for the Trump administration to react after Sally Yates warned White House counsel Don McGahn than Flynn could be targeted for extortion by Russia:”
    How would the Russians have extorted Flynn? Why would they? My best guess – this is nothing more than a suitable hammer to hit the Trump adminstration with, and Sally Yates has ample motive to use it given the disloyalty to the Obama administration that Flynn demonstrated by pointing out he believed it wilfully allowed ISIS to prosper. If Flynn’s claim is resurrected, the liberal interventionists will have a ready response.

  18. Hank says:

    COL Lang would not Flynn’s clearance been a TS/SCI w/Poly which I understand is required for access to certain types of intelligence.

  19. turcopolier says:

    As a retired officer seeking to renew his clearance for employment purposes Flynn would not have been cleared for TS/SCI SAPs that require a polygraph. pl

  20. Green Zone Café says:

    Flynn’s got no worries, pension is at least $135,000 a year.

  21. turcopolier says:

    Yes. it is astonishing what retired pay has gotten to be. pl

  22. Green Zone Cafe,
    ‘Flynn’s got no worries, pension is at least $135,000 a year.’
    That is precisely the problem.
    As with many things, the ‘multiculturalism’ of Kipling is useful.
    One of his greatest stories, ‘The Bridge-Builders’, which tells of a bridge built over the Ganges, a sacred river, into which Kipling put so many of the complexities of what he had learnt about British and Indian culture, has at its centre notions of honour – and the way in which hopes of distinction, of glory, and also fear of disgrace, are necessarily interwoven and cross cultures.
    From the notes on the ‘Kipling Society’ site:
    ‘The bridge is nearing completion when it is threatened by a major flood. After taking all possible precautions to save his bridge, the Chief Engineer, Findlayson [note the Scottish name – DH], is swept down the river at night in a small boat, onto an island, with his Lascar foreman, who gives him opium to stave off the cold. Under the influence of the drug, he has a vision of the gods of India.’
    (See .)
    Unfortunately, the notes partly miss the point – perhaps a residue of kind of cultural prejudice quite alien to Kipling is responsible.
    In fact, it is the lascar, Peroo, who has sailed the ‘Black Water’, and thus crossed a fundamental caste ‘taboo’, who is the pivotal consciousness of the story. It is his vision of the Hindu gods, involved with his dilemmas, into which Findlayson is drawn – and which the Scot cannot remember, when the flood has subsided, and the opium wears off.
    (And indeed, that Peroo is a ‘dreamer of dreams’ is evident in the fact that he regards Findlayson’s bridge, built on stone piers, as a bit old-fashioned and impractical, commenting: ‘I like sus-sus-pen-sheen bridges that fly from bank to bank with one big step, like a gang-plank. Then no water can hurt.’)
    What however the story makes crystal clear is that the whole enterprise of the ‘Bridge-Builders’ is held together by the fact that, for all their differences, the notions of honour of Peroo and Findlayson are interrelated and complement each other.
    Describing the race to buttress the vulnerable bridge in time, Kipling writes:
    ‘The concrete blocks on the fleet of stone-boats were dropped overside, where there was any depth of water, to guard the piers, and the empty boats themselves were poled under the bridge down-stream. It was here that Peroo’s pipe shrilled loudest, for the first stroke of the big gong had brought the dinghy back at racing speed, and Peroo and his people were stripped to the waist, working for the honour and credit which are better than life.’
    You cannot run an effective army if people care more about their pensions than the fear of disgrace.
    Indeed as Kipling could have told you – and I can also tell you, speaking from experience – you can’t even run newspapers or television current affairs programmes that way. And you certainly cannot run effective intelligence organisations, with people like Clapper or Brennan – or Dearlove, Scarlett, Hannigan, Sawyers, or Younger – in charge.

  23. Joe100 says:

    Interesting report on McMaster – also some context on Flynn’s relationship w/Trump. If accurate, this suggest that McMaster’s days may be numbered as his personality/manner does not appear to fit well w/Trump..

  24. Stumpy says:

    Then in light of the recent sloppy mishandling of classified information do we not have an enormous loophole in our government that does not require a security clearance to become commander in chief? I am only being half-facetious. In my neighborhood we are accustomed to the routine of FBI types coming through to inquire about our neighbors, for events as trivial as a son/daughter enlisting into the armed services. For all the Mannings and Assanges in the world, maybe a basic psych profile on people who have the ability to unleash hell on a hillside might be useful.

  25. turcopolier says:

    Personnel security clearances are a function of the Executive Branch acting on the EO that I cited. Elected officials, i.e., the president, the VP, members of Congress and federal judges do not have security clearances. They have access to classified material by virtue of their constitutional offices. The staff assistants of members of Congress and federal courts employee staffs have security clearances but not the judges or members of Congress, members of the armed forces are Executive Branch peole and for that reason are cleared for security. pl

  26. ked says:

    I’ll fwd your inquiry to the FBI director.

  27. Stumpy says:

    Thank you, Colonel. As the news of Comey’s dismissal came over the air today, I would like to refine my comment. Much as the opposition would like to frame the firing as a move to get out from under the Russian election meddling story, the central theme seemed to be the lack of action on the mishandling of classified information by Hillary Clinton and her staff. To possibly answer my own question, is it fair to say that the elected officials, by virtue of their public trust, are held to a much more lenient standard that cleared personnel who are subject to a stricter surveillance protocol? Thus Huma Abedin skates while Flynn gets the hook?

  28. Granting of a personnel security clearance does not the game end. You must then be able to meet the NEED TO KNOW test.

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