Could a US President be denied security clearance?

Yesterday, a coworker suggested that, since having “eyes only” security clearance is necessary for being POTUS, anyone who can’t get such clearance (by virtue of being a convicted felon, for example) would be ineligible to become POTUS. I said there’s no way that could be constitutional. The constitution specifies the minimum qualifications for being POTUS and it’s way beyond a government agency’s power to set additional qualifications. My coworker conceded that maybe if D.I.S. refused to grant security clearance to a candidate, this wouldn’t stop the election, but it would still mean that, if the candidate were elected, it would illegal to give him/her any classified information during a briefing. I said this is also unconstitutional because the POTUS is the commander in chief and can’t do that job without receiving classified information. IMHO, D.I.S. would have no choice to grant the POTUS “eyes only” security clearance regardless of whether they think he/she deserved it.

What’s the straight dope on this?

No, the President can’t be denied security clearance. The various security agencies work for him, not the other way around.

Various senior government officials have access to classified information by virtue of their office, not because they pass a background check. This includes the President. His election to office is the functional equivalent of a background check by a hundred million-plus voters. Presidents do not have security clearances at all, period, end of story.

And there’s no such thing as an “eyes only” security clearance. Perhaps your friend is confused as to whether James Bond films are documentaries.

And while we’re at it, all security clearance, on every level, is on a need-to-know basis. The biggest difference between the different levels of security is just in how many people need to know.

I’d quibble with that. A security clearance PLUS a need-to-know equals access to a classified document, program, or whatever. A security clearance is not proof of a need to know.

Well, yes, that’s what need-to-know means.


:confused: “DIS”? Dept. Internal Security? A US official division of something?

D.I.S. is the agency that resides across the hall from D.A.T.

Next door to the Department of Emergency Management.

Sorry, I used the old name. D.I.S. = Defense Investigative Service, now known as The Defense Security Service (DSS). They changed the name in 1999.

In theory, we could elect Jonathan Pollard President and he’d have top clearance.

This does demonstrate one of the problems with democracy though, the fact that by necessity elected officials are held to lower standards than those they oversee. That’s a problem that should probably be addressed somehow.

Nonsense, they’re just held to different standards. A low-level analyst has to get a security clearance. A POTUS has to get 60MM+ fellow citizens to vouch (vote) for him.

Democrats have made it quite clear that they just don’t care how much of a security risk Clinton is, so we are actually talking about a lower standard here.

Is it really that simple? By no more than being President and C-in-C, can the Pres just walk on to any Aircraft Carrier or Submarine? Can he go into any military research lab? Any code room?

And with no additional protocol and checking and briefing? I can see, perhaps, that there might be ways for him to obtain the necessary clearance, but I have trouble figuring that it comes, automatically, as a universal pass, to every Federal facility in the U.S…or world!

Yes its that simple.

Trump wants to fly into area 51 on January 21, Air force one will fly him right there, and he gets to see the big enchilada.


Moderator Warning

adaher, you’ve been here long enough to know that political jabs are not permitted in General Questions. This is an official warning. Don’t do this again.

General Questions Moderator

Bill Hicks used to joke that when a new President is elected, the various bigwigs of the three letter agencies take him to a private cinema in the WH and show him a film of the Kennedy assassination* from an angle he’s never seen before*, one that looks suspiciously like it was taken from the grassy knoll :).

Now, obviously that’s somewhat unlikely to say the least, but I do wonder if the other way around is true, that is to say if a new Prez can ask to see files about every shady thing past administrations have done or ordered, unfiltered - the raw files, memos, minutes, orders and so on. For no reason other than curiosity.

I would think he’d have to be able to see whatever he wanted, otherwise we have parts of our government that are not accountable to elected officials.

Well, for instance, there are parts of our government that are only known to select groups of Congressmen, and not the whole Congress. There are secrets only the Intelligence Committees get to know.

(And I’m sure that Federal Judges are even more isolated…and probably wouldn’t even be interested!)