Around this time 42 years ago, I was in the home stretch of Army basic training. There had been weeks of schizophrenic weather in Missouri – wintry blasts alternating with warm fronts and storms. After an adolescence spent in the tropics and Alaska, I found heartland thunderstorms pretty scary.
But now the clime had turned glorious. It seemed that the omnipotent drill sergeants had ordered perfect weather for a triumphant graduation. The runs and push-ups that tormented us earlier that spring became faintly pleasant. I looked forward to rushing out of the barracks in the morning and feeling the gentle Ozark breeze in my face.
And then it was over. Hurried goodbyes to buddies, awkward congratulations from drill sergeants, and then we flew or bused to our Army schools to learn our jobs. Mine was the Military Police School in steamy Ft. McClellan, Alabama. When I got there, I only knew one guy from my basic training. We were quickly separated and I rarely saw him after that.
MP school went by quickly that summer. Some of it was self-paced material, and I graduated while it was still hot. But departing from MP school wasn’t as efficient as departure from basic training. I got stuck there after graduation, “painting rocks” as the cliche goes.
I’m not sure I ever actually painted a rock, but I mowed a lot of grass, ran a lot of errands, hid out, and provided some foul-tempered assistance to long lines of newly arrived privates who were picking up laundry and finding their bunks.
My first actual MP duty station was the Panama Canal Zone which, in those days, required a Secret security clearance. That’s the middle level of clearance, above a Confidential but below a Top Secret. They’d had about eight months to investigate my background since I filled out the application, but they weren’t finished.
The Security Clearance Application
There were questions about marijuana, seditious in-laws, and the big one: “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party USA or any other organization that seeks or advocates the overthrow of the United States government by violence or other unlawful means?” No.
Then came the question whether I had ever belonged to an organization on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations? Well, kind of. The Attorney General had abolished that list a few years earlier, but they were still asking us the question.
I was briefly a teenage member of the Industrial Workers of the World, which made the list. It was frequently smeared as a Communist union, and it was indisputably radical, but purists would observe that it was a bitter rival of Communists rather than an ally.
As you can imagine, that required extra sheets on the application for my security clearance, explaining the arcane doctrine of classical anarchists to unseen clerks who weren’t likely interested. Their eyes probably glazed over as quickly as my mom’s.
She was concerned about my extremism years earlier, but an uncle reassured her with the Churchill quote about young radicals and old conservatives. Apparently the Army was reassured as well, and in due time I got my security clearance “orders” and flew out to my Canal Zone duty.
Years later, when I became an interrogator, I had to start all over again and give an account of my life on a new clearance application. It was a nuisance, but I was glad somebody was minding the store, glad we were methodically checking people out before entrusting secrets to them.
But times have changed. You would expect the system to tighten up after the 9-11 terrorism. Guidelines issued by former President Barack Obama, though, now allow dual citizens – people who have two national loyalties – to obtain the highest security clearances. They’re not even required to surrender their foreign passports first. People with serious tax delinquencies are not banned from the highest security clearances, as long as they enter into a payment plan. And most astonishing of all, bad lie detector results no longer prevent a person from getting a high security clearance.
The system was already limping before President Obama’s order. Edward Snowden used his security clearance and his job with a government contractor to copy between 50,000 and 200,000 National Security Agency documents, and 900,000 Department of Defense files, and distribute his selections to journalists for publication.
Russian and Chinese intelligence services were able to use this document windfall as a sort of Rosetta Stone to break the codes of the U.S. and Great Britain, and their NATO allies. The British withdrew agents from the field as they were compromised by the Snowden disclosures. A New York Times article based on Snowden documents exposed and doomed intelligence operations against al-Qaeda.
Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress in 2014 that Snowden’s stolen documents disclosed “our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures.” Like British double agent Kim Philby before him, Snowden has taken up residence in Moscow.
President Obama sent mixed signals about this kind of behavior. He denounced Snowden, but he pardoned Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two weeks before he was to be sentenced for lying to investigators about leaking details of our attempts to prevent the Iranians from developing an atomic bomb. How typical was Cartwright of the politicized careerists who survived the Obama military purge a decade ago? We’ll probably never know.
Bradley “Chelsea” Manning
Over the objections of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Obama commuted the sentence of intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who had served seven years of a 35-year sentence for espionage. Manning, an enlisted Army man, was convicted of 21 charges at Court Martial, and confessed to 10 others.
Manning was able to betray his country because he had a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance. I don’t know of any higher clearance. I am astounded that he was ever considered suitable for such a clearance.
Manning was on the verge of discharge from the Army during basic training for screaming defiantly at drill sergeants. In my day, that would have been the occasion for an “attitude adjustment.” But in the politically cautious 2007 environment, Manning was carried through graduation and sent along to MOS (job) training as an intelligence analyst.
During that training, Manning sent three YouTube messages to friends describing the inside of the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. He was reprimanded, but not dropped from the course or re-assigned to less sensitive duties. The ensuing betrayal was surprising only in its scope. He stole and distributed 251,287 U.S. diplomatic cables and 482,832 Army reports, mostly through WikiLeaks.
When Manning compounded his treason with pathology and announced he wanted to take female hormones, this became a selling point to Obamists for commuting his sentence. For the Obama staff, Manning’s homosexuality was redemptive.
LGBT Indifference to Espionage
CNN reported that Obama “came under intense pressure from LGBT groups (that have been stalwart supporters throughout his political career) to show eleventh-hour compassion towards Manning” before Trump entered office.
These are the same Obamists who claim to be aghast that Trump shows minimal deference to their politicized inside-the-beltway intelligence establishment. This is the same Obama who was outraged by WikiLeaks’ disclosures of scandalous Democratic National Committee emails.
His clemency for Manning was a slap in the face to lunch-pail intelligence officers in the field and to allies who trusted us, whose security and strategic positions were harmed by Manning’s petulant espionage. And it was a cautionary tale about Sodomites.
By that term, I do not just mean active homosexuals, but also their allies and enablers, as in the historical Biblical account of Sodom. We cannot rely on their loyalty. They are a tribe unto themselves.
I acknowledge that homosexuals have served honorably, even heroically, in our armed forces. I feel compassion for those who are struggling with same-sex attractions, and for those who may believe that identifying with their urges is a neat antidote to guilt. But some things are too important to be entrusted to people who don’t share our consensus of values, who don’t agree [with] what’s most important. Top Secret security clearances should be out of the question.