White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner speaks to members of the White House press following his appearance before a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Washington on July 24, 2017.
Joshua Roberts—Reuters
By Emily Brandwin
March 4, 2019
IDEAS
A former improv comedian, Emily Brandwin worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as an Operations Officer and Disguise Officer. She is now a media commentator, podcast host and public speaker.

“Seriously … SERIOUSLY,” I muttered as I stared at the words scrolling across my TV. I wiped mascara residue from my morning eyes, took a big gulp of a warm Diet Coke and read the scroll again: “Trump Ordered Kushner’s Security Clearance.” “You’ve. Got. To. Be. F’ing Kidding. Me,” I yelled at the TV, this time in my full outdoor voice.

A Top Secret (TS) clearance matters; people who have this clearance can be trusted to ensure the safety and security of our country’s most vital intelligence. Leaking this intelligence puts people’s lives in peril, it compromises our allies’ security and most importantly it puts our national security in grave danger. Just because you’re born into privilege doesn’t mean you get the privilege of a security clearance.

It may appear routine, but getting a TS clearance is an arduous process. Imagine Marie Kondoing your entire home and then every home on your block, while hung-over with Metallica blaring in the background. That’s the security clearance process. It’s long, it’s onerous, stressful, challenging, consuming and exhausting. It needs to be that way. The clearance gives you access to highly classified intelligence necessary to do your job. It took me a year and a half of hoop jumping, endless form filling, interviews, a polygraph, background investigation and a session with a CIA psychologist to secure my TS clearance.

“Have you ever stolen anything,” the polygrapher asked, his eyes fixed on my face like someone spotting carbs for the first time after they quit Atkins. I felt tears puddle in the corner of my eyes and whispered “yes.” And like a fire hose with its valve released, the truth poured out of me in one frantic breath, “When-I worked-at-Sweet-D’Lite-I-used-to–take-fat-free-frozen-yogurt-home–to-my-dad-because-he-has-high cholesterol-and-I-wanted-him-to-have-a-low-fat-snack.”

“Grand theft, $10,000 worth?” he sternly asked with a not so subtle eye roll.

“I dunno, I worked there for three years, you do the math,” I muttered. Apparently, my fro-yo crimes were not considered a national security threat, because I passed. That was just one step.

Next, I took an aptitude test comprised of hundreds of questions with no definitive right or wrong answer: “Would you rather die in a fire or by drowning?” or “Would you rather kill your mother or father?” After I completed the test, an Agency psychologist ran a quick analysis of my responses and then I met with him. I can’t be certain, but I believe the building was erected around him.

“Sit down,” he instructed. I sat nervously in a well-worn tan cracked pleather chair, interlacing my fingers to avoid suspicious fidgeting. “It says here, you’re into S & M.” “Uhh…sorry come again,” I said shocked. In my haste to complete the test, I must have accidentally filled in the bondage bubble. I found this bondage charge especially problematic since I was a virgin at the time. “Sir, I couldn’t even climb ropes in gym class, let alone use them recreationally,” I meekly said. Peering down over his Schumeresque specs, “interesting, very interesting.” Either he realized I was telling the truth or the Agency didn’t mind if I dallied in the sadomasochistic arts.

Next there’s the Standard Form-86 (SF-86), where an applicant discloses foreign contacts. This is the form according to the Washington Post (among other sources) that Kushner allegedly had to resubmit multiple times for failing to disclose all of his foreign contacts. (When asked, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the White House doesn’t comment on security clearances.) Why is the SF-86 important? This form highlights possible conflicts of interest or influence a foreign entity could have over a person. The U.S. government needs to ensure that a person doesn’t have conflicting loyalties and thus no possibility for coercion by a hostile government.

In any non-Trump administration, Kushner’s alleged interactions with multiple foreign government officials would have immediately disqualified him from holding a clearance. Do not pass go. Thank you for playing. The end. With Kushner’s compromised relationship with Russia, I wouldn’t trust him with my Sephora loyalty card, let alone with America’s most sensitive intelligence.

Over the years our government has entrusted millions of Americans with clearances at the Secret and Top Secret level. A TS clearance requires even more stringent vetting and the disclosure of this intelligence could pose grave danger to the U.S. Kushner has a Top Secret clearance and close ties to our adversaries; this is a dangerous problem for our country. As a former Operations Officer, I’m horrified to think about Kushner having access to sources and methods. We promise assets that we’ll keep their intelligence and their identity secret. Any breach can have deadly consequences for the asset, their family and our national security.

And this is where it gets personal. According to the New York Times, Trump allegedly ordered officials to give Kushner his TS clearance. (The White House had no comment on Kushner’s clearance.) Over the years, millions of hard-working Americans like myself went through the security clearance process. We waited in line. We opened up our lives to scrutiny. We were vulnerable. We were patriotic. We were honest. And in the end we were deemed worthy of the privilege to hold a security clearance.

Kushner’s clearance isn’t just a slap in the face to public servants it’s grievous. If Trump avoided fighting in Vietnam claiming a fraudulent injury, that’s on his conscience. If Trump wants to devalue his assets to save money on his never released taxes, that’s avaricious and dishonest. But if Trump gave his deeply compromised son-in-law a Top Secret security clearance, that’s gravely dangerous for our country.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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