No, Tulsi Gabbard does NOT have a cool security clearance because of her fancy committee assignment

In the short time that Tulsi Gabbard has outed herself as a useful Russian Asset, the Tulsi and Bernie-stans on the internet (from here on out, affectionately referred to as ‘The Stans’) have come with a defense that they think is bulletproof. They also think it’s awesome that the defense is unrelated to her military uniform. After all, it’s a hard argument to make that the uniform alone is sufficient shielding against the overwhelming evidence that Gabbard is, in fact, wittingly or not, a Russian asset.

This brand new defense they have is different. And it’s awesome. It has to do with her role as a member of Congress, and specifically, a plump committee assignment. And it comes from an impeccable source: a thread in the Reddit community ‘r/WayOfTheBern’ that declares, in bold letters, “To get her Top Secret gov clearance with Special Access, Tulsi Gabbard has been thoroughly vetted.” As evidence, we are presented with a screenshot of what looks like a Facebook comment. Here it is:

The comment points to Gabbard’s position on the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (that much is true) and proclaims that the assignment automatically means she has been “thoroughly investigated by the Defense Intelligence Agency” and obtained a “Top Secret government clearence”, a clearance that has to be updated every five years.

Wow, that settles it! What a relief! Tulsi Gabbard is investigated and cleared by the DIA, and holds a security clearance that can assure us all that she is not a foreign agent. Phew!

Only one problem. This is not, as a matter of fact, true.

This is how the Central Intelligence Agency describes intelligence sharing with Congress (emphasis added):

All Members of Congress have access to intelligence by virtue of their elected positions. They do not receive security clearances per se. [...]

Classified intelligence reports (1) are routinely provided only to the committees that have responsibilities in the national security area. (2) Members of these committees receive preference from the Intelligence Community in satisfying their requests on an individual basis. Among the national security committees, the intelligence committees and their Members are accorded preferential treatment…

There is actually no law explicitly governing intelligence sharing either with Congress as a body or with members of Congress, and the practices of sharing intelligence with Congress is established mostly by executive branch precedence, executive orders and procedures. One could convincingly argue, though, that Congress’s plenary power of oversight over the Executive entitles the First branch to all the intel they want.

So is The Stan making up their claims out of whole cloth? They may well be, but if we wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, we could observe this: While members of Congress - and especially related committee members - are granted access to intelligence information by the virtue of their elected offices, members of their staff do not enjoy the same privilege. Staff members who need access to restricted information are required to obtain security clearances, and they do have to submit to a background check to get it. The background check is conducted by the FBI, however, not the DIA. The Armed Services Committee requires staff attending its meeting to obtain Top Security clearance.

So I hate to break up the party, but Gabbard, like every other member of Congress, does not have, and is not required to get, a security clearance to serve on any committee, no matter impressive-sounding its name. So no, she has not been “thoroughly vetted” as part of her seat in a given subcommittee.

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