from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2016, Issue No. 95
November 18, 2016

Secrecy News Blog:


The complexities and some of the potential pitfalls of the presidential transition period are described in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

"A variety of events, decisions, and activities contribute to what some may characterize as the unfolding drama of a presidential transition. Interparty transitions in particular might be contentious."

The report addresses the use of executive orders, record preservation and clemency actions by the outgoing Administration, as well as cybersecurity, budget preparation, political appointments, and so forth. See Presidential Transitions: Issues Involving Outgoing and Incoming Administrations, updated November 16, 2016:

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Counting Electoral Votes: An Overview of Procedures at the Joint Session, Including Objections by Members of Congress, updated November 15, 2016:

The Congressional Review Act: Frequently Asked Questions, updated November 17, 2016:

Infrastructure Finance and Debt to Support Surface Transportation Investment, updated November 17, 2016:

Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States: Data Sources and Estimates, updated November 16, 2016:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) Transitional Reinsurance Program, November 16, 2016:

CRISPR: A Revolutionary Tool for Editing the Code of Life?, CRS Insight, November 17, 2016:

Certain U.S. Laws for Foreign Workers Draw Fire from India in the WTO, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 16, 2016:

Justice Department's Role in Cyber Incident Response, CRS Insight, November 15, 2016:

Naval Station Guantanamo Bay: History and Legal Issues Regarding Its Lease Agreements, updated November 17, 2016:

Iran Sanctions, updated November 16, 2016:

Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, updated November 16, 2016:


"Security clearances are not mandated for the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, or other constitutional officers," a recent Congressional Research Service report explains. "The criteria for election or appointment to these positions are specified in the U.S. Constitution, and except by constitutional amendment, no additional criteria (e.g., holding a security clearance) may be required."

In fact, the security clearance system itself is an expression of presidential authority. Its scope and operation are defined in an executive order (EO 12968), and its terms can be modified by the President at will.

And if the President wished to grant access to classified information to a family member, for example, there would be no legal barrier to doing so. See "Trump Will Have Wide Latitude to Let Family Into Government's Secret Circles" by Mark Landler, New York Times, November 16.

* * *

Americans with relatives in China have a vanishingly small chance of getting a security clearance, according to a new analysis by attorney Sheldon I. Cohen.

"Every year American citizens with family ties in China apply for security clearances, but for them the chances of getting a security clearance are remote. Winning the lottery has better odds. After an applicant spends the time, effort, and frequently the money to hire legal counsel, the result is virtually always the same -- clearance denied."

Given current realities, Cohen wrote, the government might as well "just issue a blanket policy statement that applicants with family ties in China will not be granted a security clearance. That would save not only the applicants, but also the American taxpayers the money wasted on hearings which virtually always have a predictable outcome." See If You Have A Family Member in China -- Chances of Getting a Security Clearance Are Remote by Sheldon I. Cohen, Fall 2016.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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