ANYONE WHO has ever filled out the U.S. government’s Standard Form 86, “Questionnaire for National Security Positions,” can attest that it is intrusive, requiring answers to 136 pages of probing questions about finances, medical history and family. People submit to this because they want to serve the country, often in positions handling classified information.
The use of an SF86 to score points during a congressional campaign is outrageous and worrisome. Abigail Spanberger, the Democratic candidate challenging Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), filled out the SF86 while applying for positions at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, and at the CIA. She worked for a time at the postal agency while waiting for her CIA clearance. Then she served as a covert CIA case officer overseas for eight years.
Ms. Spanberger says in an Aug. 28 letter that the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), obtained and circulated a copy of her SF86 “for political purposes.” The CLF has been trying to call attention to the fact that she worked at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia, saying it “produced a number of well-known terrorists.”
Ms. Spanberger said she has nothing to hide: She had a temporary job at the school teaching English. And she is right to be angry about the release. She claims there is “clear evidence” the CLF shared her form with a news organization. The CLF said the form was obtained “through legal channels” from America Rising, a political action committee that produces opposition research on Democrats. But its account is questionable.
According to the CLF, America Rising obtained Ms. Spanberger’s SF86 with a July 9 Freedom of Information Act request to the National Archives, which gave the request to the Postal Service. A document the CLF posted on its website shows the Postal Service released the entire personnel file of Ms. Spanberger — including the sensitive SF86 — on July 30. Oddly, however, it lacks any mention of FOIA.
Something is rotten here. The CLF should have known better than to weaponize confidential personnel records used in national security vetting. The process of collecting, maintaining and disclosing information on the forms is protected by the Privacy Act; the document simply should not have been made public. It is inexplicable that the Postal Service granted such a FOIA request; on Thursday, a spokesman attributed it to “human error.” Those who fill out the SF86 are assured on its second page that “the information will be protected from unauthorized disclosure.” In the case of Ms. Spanberger, this pledge was grossly violated.
When China managed to steal millions of these forms in a cyberattack a few years ago, it was alarming. The use of Ms. Spanberger’s form is equally so. It sends a terrible message to people who hold, and who want to apply for, national security positions. Mr. Ryan should investigate what happened and punish those who exploited the national security personnel process for cheap political advantage.