Guest Opinions

The lessons of Aldrich Ames

From left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley at the White House on March 27, 2019. President Donald Trump personally ordered his former chief of staff, John Kelly, to grant a security clearance last year to Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser.
From left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley at the White House on March 27, 2019. President Donald Trump personally ordered his former chief of staff, John Kelly, to grant a security clearance last year to Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser. New York Times

In the Fall of 1985, the KGB rolled up all of the CIA’s assets in the Soviet Union in one fell swoop. Ten agents were executed and countless others imprisoned. This was the direct result of Aldrich Ames’s treachery.

At the time of his arrest in 1994, Ames had compromised more highly-classified CIA assets than any other officer in history. Beyond the lives destroyed, the damage Ames did to U.S. national security and the security of our allies was and remains incalculable.

In my more than 40 years of military and government service, I have worked in a wide range of intelligence areas requiring different levels of clearance. When I retired from government service, I held a top secret/sensitive compartmented information (SCI) clearance. Before being granted my clearances, every facet of my life was interrogated, my neighbors were questioned, and I was subjected to polygraph examinations, repeated at intervals.

Such careful vetting is required in accordance with Executive Order 12968, “in order to protect our citizens, our democratic institutions, and our participation within the community of nations. The unauthorized disclosure of information classified in the national interest can cause irreparable damage to the national security and loss of human life.”

Multiple news outlets, including the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Washington Post, reported that President Trump pressured his then Chief of Staff, John Kelly to facilitate getting the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a top secret clearance. He did this despite the recommendations of personnel security experts. Trump has denied he intervened.

As outlined in a PBS interview with Bloomberg’s Caleb Melby, Kushner fell afoul of three areas of EO 12968:

• He has substantial business, financial, or property interest in a foreign country, or in foreign-owned or foreign-operated business;

• He failed to report (multiple times) association with foreign nationals;

• Representatives or nationals from a foreign country are or may be acting to increase his vulnerability to possible future exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion.

Whenever there is any doubt about the advisability of granting a clearance to any individual, according to EO 12968, the doubt is to be resolved in favor of national security.

Reportedly, John Kelly, and then Chief Counsel, Don McGahn, felt so uncomfortable with Kushner’s clearance being granted that they each wrote memos for the record on the matter. The House Oversight Committee has requested information on the White House’s security clearance process. To date, the White House has not complied. Unfortunately, those memos, whether they turn up or not, won’t keep America safe. In order for that to happen, we need a president who learns from past mistakes and follows the guidelines designed to avoid future ones.

Aldrich Ames is serving a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. He first obtained his job with the CIA through his father, who worked in the CIA Directorate of Operations.

Richard Badalamente served in the U.S. Air Force, worked at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and at the International Atomic Energy Agency. He is currently a writer living in Kennewick.

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