Here’s a bit of “inside Washington” trivia to pass around the office today – do members of congress have security clearances?
The topic of security clearance for elected officials has long been a complex one. Members of congress – even those in sensitive committee positions – do not receive or obtain security clearances in the same way that a member of the public would go about obtaining a security clearance based on job or military requirement.
Through the process of election and selection to a seat in the House of Representatives or Senate comes with it a certain public seal of access to information of a sensitive nature. (Few voters likely think about this when they vote, but it’s a key reason trustworthiness often plays a major role in politicking). Both the House and Senate do have security offices and staff – with the responsibility for overseeing access to classified information, among other things.
According to the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence: “There are no written rules, agreed to by both branches, governing what intelligence will be shared with the Hill or how it will be handled. The current system is entirely the product of experience, shaped by the needs and concerns of both branches over the last 20 years.”
House members, beginning with the 104th Congress, do have to take a secrecy oath. Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence – the committee with oversight over intelligence agencies including the CIA and NSA – have a separate oath, commensurate with their unique access to sensitive information. Again, these oaths take the way of a public pledge, vice the arduous security-clearance process, complete with SF86, undertaken by the average security-cleared professional…
To broaden our perspective, how about the vetting process Congress goes through so they can run for office? It is extensive. That’s why the hew and cry about the President’s birthplace was such a joke. He had gone through the vetting process. It is too bad that schools no longer teach civics. It is critically important to know how our federal government actually works.