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Did Reporting on Snowden Docs Deny a White House Advisor His Security Clearance?

Barely a month into the job, former FTC chief technologist and security researcher Ashkan Soltani is leaving his post.
January 30, 2016, 8:40pm
Researcher Ashkan Soltani giving a talk. Image: Data Days/Flickr

Barely a month after his appointment, security reseasrcher and former FTC chief technologist Ashkan Soltani is leaving his post as a White House senior advisor, apparently unable to get security clearance from the US government.

Government officials have not commented on the nature of Soltani's departure, or why he was not cleared—a White House spokesperson merely told The Guardian's Danny Yardon that "his detail has ended"—but many have speculated it is due to his work reporting on documents leaked by former NSA intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

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Ashkan's WaPo Snowden stories forced Yahoo to turn on HTTPS & revealed spying on Google data center links. I suspect NSA hasnt forgiven him.

Christopher SoghoianJanuary 30, 2016

If this is related to his technical consulting for WaPo on Snowden articles, incredibly shortsighted. Julian SanchezJanuary 30, 2016

I've seen the best minds of my generation, kicked out of the White House because they couldn't pass security clearance…

EvaJanuary 30, 2016

Federal government can be so stupid at times. Would bet this is all about his great reporting on Snowden docs. Dan GillmorJanuary 30, 2016

If we're going to get into the business of denying clearances to Jonathan ZdziarskiJanuary 30, 2016

Soltani announced the "bittersweet end" to his stint with the White House on his Twitter account Friday evening, just weeks after the US government's chief technology officer Megan Smith welcomed him to her team. Soltani previously worked on consumer protection issues as chief technologist with the FTC before taking the job with the White House.

However, he also worked with the Washington Post in 2013 on the paper's analysis of the Snowden documents. The paper's series later won a Pulitzer Prize. Nevertheless, after joining the FTC, government officials spoke out against Soltani in light of his Snowden work.

"I don't think anyone who justified or exploited Snowden's breach of confidentiality obligations should be trusted to serve in government," former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker told FedScoop after Soltani was appointed as chief technologist.

Bittersweet end to my stint in government — I'm disappointed to announce my departure from ashkan soltaniJanuary 29, 2016

Soltani told The Guardian he will likely leave government work and return to the West Coast.

"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," he said in a tweet. "There was also no allegation that it was based on my integrity or the quality of my work."