How Can a White Supremacist Have a Security Clearance?
It's more complicated than one might think.
A PBS Frontline-ProPublica report out this morning makes a declaration and asks a question: “He is a Member of a Violent White Supremacist Group; So Why is He Working for a Defense Contractor with a Security Clearance?”
There likely isn’t such a thing as a “typical” violent white extremist in America in 2018. Still, Michael Miselis — a University of California, Los Angeles doctoral student with a U.S. government security clearance to work on sensitive research for a prominent defense contractor — makes for a pretty unusual case.
For months, ProPublica and FRONTLINE have been working to identify the white supremacists at the center of violent demonstrations across the country, including the infamous Unite the Right rally last August in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Rise Above Movement, a Southern California group that expresses contempt for Muslims, Jews, and immigrants, became a focus of that effort. ProPublica and FRONTLINE were able to quickly identify a number of the group’s leaders, and find evidence that put them in the middle of violence in Charlottesville and Berkeley, California, among other places.
But one seeming member of RAM was harder to nail down. In video shot in Charlottesville, a bearded, husky man is seen in a red Make America Great Again hat with his hands wrapped in tape that came in handy for the brawling that occurred that day. During one encounter, the unidentified man in the red hat pushed an African-American protester to the ground and began pounding on him, video of the episode shows; moments later, a known RAM member choked and bloodied a pair of female counter-protesters. The possible RAM member also had turned up in video shot during hours of combat at a Trump rally in Berkeley, as well. Wearing protective goggles to ward off pepper spray, the man fought alongside RAM members, wrestling one protester to the ground and punching others.
Ultimately, ProPublica and FRONTLINE determined the man in the violent footage was Miselis, a 29-year-old pursuing a Ph.D. in UCLA’s aerospace engineering program. Miselis was identified using video footage and social media posts, and reporters confirmed his identity in an encounter with him outside his home. In interviews, a number of California law enforcement officials said Miselis was a member of RAM.
In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Miselis works as a systems engineer for Northrop Grumman, the giant defense contractor with a plant in Redondo Beach, California.
When approached by ProPublica and FRONTLINE in front of his home in Lawndale, a small city south of Los Angeles, Miselis said he “didn’t know anything” about what happened in Charlottesville.
“I think you got the wrong guy,” he said before driving off in his car.
Miselis did not respond to questions about his involvement with RAM. He did not answer additional questions sent by email.
First off, while both PBS and ProPublica are first-rate news organizations, I’m a little uncomfortable with their putting out a report that a non-public figure is a member of a white supremacist group without substantial proof. Miselis denies that he was at Charlottesville and seems to deny being part of RAM. Apparently, journalists and law enforcement officials believe otherwise.
It’s obvious why Northrop Grumman would want someone “pursuing a Ph.D. in UCLA’s aerospace engineering program” on their team. So, the question is How can he have a security clearance? It’s not clear from the report whether it’s merely SECRET or extends to TOP SECRET or even SENSITIVE COMPARTMENTED INFORMATION material. Regardless, it’s actually not at all clear that a member of RAM would be ineligible.
The most recent update of the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines I can locate, dated June 2017, lists thirteen areas of consideration:
GUIDELINE A: ALLEGIANCE TO THE UNITED STATES
GUIDELINE B: FOREIGN INFLUENCE
GUIDELINE C: FOREIGN PREFERENCE
GUIDELINE D: SEXUAL BEHAVIOR
GUIDELINE E: PERSONAL CONDUCT
GUIDELINE F: FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
GUIDELINE G: ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
GUIDELINE H: DRUG INVOLVEMENT AND SUBSTANCE MISUSE
GUIDELINE I: PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITIONS
GUIDELINE J: CRIMINAL CONDUCT
GUIDELINE K: HANDLING PROTECTED INFORMATION
GUIDELINE L: OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES
GUIDELINE M: USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
While RAM members may well be in violation of Guidelines E, I, and J they wouldn’t inherently be. While you’d think being a member of a white supremacist group would violate the personal conduct guideline, it doesn’t obviously, since the criteria there mostly have to do with candor in filling out the clearance materials and trustworthiness to safeguard information. The conduct in which Miselis is alleged to have engaged at Charlottesville is criminal but there’s no reason to think that he’s been charged with a crime. And, while many of these people have disqualifying psychological conditions, I wouldn’t think participating in RAM protests would flag it.
The only issue that I see, then, is a rather vague catch-all in the personal conduct guideline: “engaging in activities which, if known, could affect the person’s
personal, professional, or community standing.” Presumably, being a known white supremacist would have that effect.
Relatedly, given that Northrop Grumman almost certainly employs African-Americans and Hispanics in its Redondo Beach office, one would think that non-clearance human resources policies would make the employment of a known white supremacist untenable.
Update July 8, 2018 (Doug Mataconis): Miselis has been dismissed by Northrop Grumman.