News reports indicate that Porter was granted an “interim security clearance.” That certification is, indeed, quite common in the early days of an administration. Likewise, almost any new government employee who comes in contact with classified information – Secret, Top-Secret, and Top-Secret/Code Word intelligence – goes through this “interim” phase.
If an employee receives an interim security clearance, he or she is allowed by law to serve in positions designated “National Security/ Non-Critical Sensitive” or “National Security/Critical Sensitive.” They cannot, however, be given a “Special Sensitive” job, which requires a different level of clearance: Top Secret/Special Compartmentalized Information – also known as TS/SCI or TS/CodeWord.
Only employees with TS/SCI or CodeWord clearance can see our government’s most important secrets. Typically, the staff secretary is one of those very few people. One of the most important.
What does that mean?
It means that the most highly classified secrets in the U.S. government are limited to a very finite group of people. U.S. human intelligence sources may be embedded deep in the government offices in Beijing, or Tehran, or Moscow or Pyongyang – capitals that the Trump administration has identified as America’s prime competitors. If we have sources in those places, they are likely transmitting secrets back through secure channels to Washington. They would typically be given code words — say, Panda, Minaret, Ballerina and Kimchi.
Within each of those channels, only a handful of people has access to top secret information. Those pieces of information are the high holy data of intelligence. Like the Host in a Catholic mass, they are the flesh and word of our all-knowing government — literally, the lives and intelligence of our deepest and most sensitive sources. Each channel is “compartmentalized.” That is, there are very few people who have access to both the Panda channel and the Ballerina channel.
Only a very, very select group of people has access to all of those channels, and the information that flows through them. That intelligence gets pulled into a daily intelligence summary that goes to the Oval Office – the President’s Daily Briefing [WHICH TRUMP DOES NOT BOTHER TO READ] – and to a select small group of people. Agents and sources in the field are willing to put their lives at risk only if they believe that the information will be limited to a very limited group of people – among the most trustworthy in the world.
Who in the White House has access to this information?
In the White House, other than the president, it likely to only be the national security adviser, his or her deputy, their chief of staff and the NSC’s staff secretary. It would also include the White House chief of staff, perhaps one deputy, and the staff secretary — the job Porter held. Press reports also indicate that Jared Kushner had access to that information.
The staff secretary is the person who manages the paper flow to the Oval Office. It is hard to imagine that person does not have TS/SCI level clearance, as that would require the NSC staff to navigate around the staff secretary, rather than through him/her.Jared Kushner gets to President's Daily Briefing even though he has no security clearance and his shady business dealings make him a prime target for foreign influence.