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Soltani exits White House after clearance denial

Ashkan Soltani is stepping down from his post as senior adviser to White House CTO Megan Smith after failing to obtain a security clearance.

Soltani, formerly chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission and a journalist of considerable renown, announced the news on Twitter in the evening on Jan. 29.

"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," Soltani said in a letter attached to his tweet. "I'm told this is something that happens from time to time, and I won't speculate on the reasons," he said.

Soltani's friends and colleagues outside government were less constrained about speculating on possible motives.

Soltani was a key member of the Washington Post team that published stories based on intelligence community documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. He earned bylines on stories about how the NSA taps directly into cables at data centers run by Google and other Internet giants, and how most of the data captured via NSA dragnet programs do not pertain to intended surveillance targets.

Barton Gellman, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter who led the Post's Snowden coverage tweeted, "Looks like the natsec bureaucracy choked on a clearance for [Soltani]. Big loss of talent & integrity at the WH."

Christopher Soghoian, a technologist and security expert with the American Civil Liberties Union noted that, "Ashkan's WaPo Snowden stories forced Yahoo to turn on HTTPS & revealed spying on Google data center links. I suspect NSA hasnt forgiven him."

Cryptographer and privacy activist Matt Blaze, who teaches computer science at the University of Pennsylvania called it, "A loss for the American people."

Soltani had been brought to the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House to work on data privacy and technology ethics issues of the sort he had specialized in while at the FTC.        

"I was honored to serve at the FTC and the White House. I wish the CTO and her amazing team success in the important work ahead," Soltani wrote.

A spokesperson at OSTP told FCW in an email that Soltani had been on detail to the White House from the FTC, and the detail was at an end, and could not comment further on a personnel matter.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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