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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.

by Kari Paul
Jan 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.

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.

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."

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