Former FTC CTO Ashkan Soltani Denied Security Clearance, Perhaps Because He Helped In Reporting On Snowden Docs
from the bad-news dept
Ashkan Soltani is a well known privacy expert who (among other things) worked with Barton Gellman at the Washington Post to analyze the Snowden documents for story worthy information — an effort that won that series a Pulitzer Prize. Soltani has been hugely instrumental in reporting on other privacy-related issues as well, including being a part of the team that also a Pulitzer Prize finalist for the Wall Street Journal’s excellent What They Know series on digital privacy issues. Basically he has a long history of doing great journalism around privacy. For most of the last year, he was also the Chief Technology Officer at the FTC. Back in December, it was announced that he had moved over to work for the federal government CTO, Megan Smith, in the White House as a senior advisor. The CTO’s office has been collecting some fairly amazing tech talent recently.
However, now, just a few weeks after Soltani took the job in the White House, he’s announced that he’s left the job because he’s been denied the security clearance necessary to do his job:
— ashkan soltani (@ashk4n) January 29, 2016
I am disappointed to announce my departure as Senior Advisor to the White House Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith.
Smith hired me in December from the Federal Trade Commission, where I had served as Chief Technologist since late 2014. My mandate was to help Smith and her team work through hard questions on consumer privacy, the ethics of big data, and the recruitment of skilled technologists to government.
Those are vital issues, which have occupied me in and out of government, and I will continue to contribute what I can in other venues.
Last week the White House Office of Personnel Security notified me that I would not receive the security clearance necessary to continue to work at the White House. I’m told this is something that happens from time to time and I won’t speculate on the reasons. I do want to say that I am proud of my work, I passed the mandatory drug screening some time ago, and the FBI background check was still underway. There was no allegation that it was based on my integrity or the quality of my work.
I was honored to serve at the FTC and in the White House. I wish the CTO and her amazing team success in the important work ahead.
Soltani says he won’t speculate, but from the rest of his statement it’s not hard to guess what the real reason is: his work with the Snowden documents in 2013. Back when Soltani first went to the FTC in late 2014, you had folks like former CIA and NSA boss Michael Hayden whine about his work on the Snowden documents and suggest it makes it inappropriate for him to hold a government job.
“I’m not trying to demonize this fella, but he’s been working through criminally exposed documents and making decisions about making those documents public,” said Michael Hayden, a former NSA director who also served as CIA director from 2006 to 2009. In a telephone interview with FedScoop, Hayden said he wasn’t surprised by the lack of concern about Soltani’s participation in the Post’s Snowden stories. “I have no good answer for that.”
And then you had former NSA General Counsel (and proud Techdirt hater), Stewart Baker arguing that Soltani should be barred from government work for his work on the Snowden docs:
Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, said, while he’s not familiar with the role Soltani would play at the FTC, there are still problems with his appointment. “I don’t think anyone who justified or exploited Snowden’s breach of confidentiality obligations should be trusted to serve in government,” Baker said.
So it doesn’t take too much reading between the lines to suggest that those in charge of handing out security clearance decided to “punish” Soltani by denying him clearance.
Of course, beyond being generally screwed up, it also is a bit ironic since Soltani’s role was supposed to be about convincing techies to work in government. Want to know how not to do that? It’s by pettily “punishing” Soltani for his journalism work.