War Stories

Kushner Has No Business in the White House

His security downgrade proves it.

Jared Kushner looks into a room through a partially closed door.
Jared Kushner. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

There are many reasons why Jared Kushner has no business holding a senior policy job in the White House, but the downgrading of his security clearance last week, from “top secret” to “secret,” is the clincher.

Here’s the secret about documents marked secret: They don’t contain any real secrets. When lowly congressional aides apply for a top secret clearance, they are given an interim secret clearance, no questions asked. As far as anyone knows, the aides might be Chinese spies or ISIS sympathizers, but it wouldn’t matter because any documents they might pass along to their handlers wouldn’t harm national security in the slightest.

For some examples of what the government stamps secret let’s look at a document from Edward Snowden’s cache of stolen files, Presidential Policy Directive 20, “U.S. Cyber Operations Policy,” signed by President Obama in October 2012. PPD-20 is marked “top secret/no forn,” which means, besides being top secret, it cannot be distribution to foreigners. But, as with many classified documents, each paragraph has its own label. Some are labeled TS (top secret), some C (confidential), some U (unclassified). So let’s look at some paragraphs marked S (secret):

The United States Government has mature capabilities and effective processes for cyber collection.

You don’t even need a subscription to Wired to know that.

The information revealed to other countries in the course of seeking consent [to conduct cyber operations] shall be consistent with operational security requirements and the protection of intelligence sources, methods, and activities.

What those specific operations are, as well as their attendant security requirements, sources, methods, and activities—all that is the stuff of TS/SCI (top secret/sensitive compartmented information). That is the kind of information Kushner can no longer see.

Deputies and agency heads conducting [cyber operations] covered under this directive shall report annually on the use and effectiveness of operations of the previous year to the President through the National Security Adviser.

This paragraph conveys the interesting bit of information that the U.S. conducts enough cyberoperations over the course of a year to report on their effects to the president, though this should surprise no one. And again, Kushner’s downgrading means he can no longer read those reports or sit in on the meetings where they’re discussed.

During the absurd flap over Hillary Clinton’s emails, it was revealed that one of the eight missives that should have been classified top secret was an account of a discussion with the president of Malawi. Apparently, all discussions with foreign leaders are almost always top secret. In other words, Kushner will no longer have access to discussions with foreign leaders.

In short, the duties that Trump assigned to his 37-year-old son-in-law at the start of his term—a preposterously massive portfolio that included Middle East peace talks, trade with China, the opioid epidemic, and the reform of the federal government—are, for the most part, now out of his reach, even if he otherwise had the time and talent to tackle them.

Last week, when discussions of Kushner’s security clearance first grew contentious, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff—who would later be the one to strip Kushner of his top secret clearance—released a statement saying, “As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio, including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico.”

This was either total rubbish or a rare display of Kelly’s mordant humor; it may have been his way of noting that the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort is kaput, that our relationship with Mexico isn’t far from dead, and that the young princeling—who has long chafed against the retired general’s assertions of authority—will henceforth have no meaningful portfolio.