White House denies clearance to tech researcher with links to Snowden

White House denies clearance to tech researcher with links to Snowden
Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and security researcher Ashkan Soltani says he has been denied security clearance for his new job with White House
By Danny Yadron in San Francisco
Jan 29 2016

The White House has denied a security clearance to a member of its technology team who previously helped report on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Ashkan Soltani, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and recent staffer at the Federal Trade Commission, recently began working with the White House on privacy, data ethics and technical outreach. The partnership raised eyebrows when it was announced in December because of Soltani’s previous work with the Washington Post, where he helped analyze and protect a cache of National Security Agency documents leaked by Snowden.

His departure raises questions about the US government’s ability to partner with the broader tech community, where people come from a more diverse background than traditional government staffers. 

It also suggests that nearly three years later, the Snowden episode remains a highly charged issue inside the Obama administration. Recently some current and former administration officials said the former NSA contractor sparked a “necessary debate” on surveillance, even if they disagreed with his tactics.

It remains unclear exactly why the White House parted ways with Soltani. In December, Megan Smith, White House chief technology officer and a former Google executive, welcomed him to her team with an effusive post on Twitter that referenced Soltani’s account handle, @Ashk4n.

Soltani since then has been on loan from the FTC to the White House. He was in the process of getting approved for a clearance to work in one of America’s most secured office buildings. Soltani said he passed his drug test and the Federal Bureau of Investigation hadn’t yet finished his background check, meaning it would have been too early for the bureau to weigh in on his employment.

“This is something that happens from time to time, and I won’t speculate on the reasons,” Soltani said in a statement provided to the Guardian. “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 also no allegation that it was based on my integrity or the quality of my work.”

A White House official said: “Ashkan Soltani was on a detail to the Office of Science and Technology Policy from the Federal Trade Commission, and his detail has ended.”


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