Requesting Dual Citizenship While Possessing a Security Clearance Is a Dumb Idea
Michelle Bachmann is raising eyebrows with a rather odd request for dual citizenship with Switzerland. Under Swiss law, Bachmann was automatically eligible for citizenship upon marrying her husband (the son of Swiss citizens) in 1978. According to news reports, it was just several months ago that Bachmann decided to register her citizenship with Swiss authorities.
Bachmann has since issued a statement saying she sent a letter to Swiss authorities requesting the withdrawal of her Swiss citizenship.
It’s a sticky situation for a former presidential candidate and member of congress, especially one with a high-profile appointment on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which gives Bachmann oversight over intelligence agencies including the CIA and NSA.
Dual citizenship alone isn’t grounds for security-clearance denial, but possessing a foreign passport, having overseas financial dealings, or obtaining citizenship benefits from a foreign country are all potentially disqualifying conditions. Certainly if Bachmann had obtained Swiss citizenship and then taken advantage of any of its benefits that would have been seen as a possible reason for a security clearance suspension. (Although I’m sure we could make a good argument that a member of congress could mitigate the benefits with their allegiance to the United States…maybe). For the average security-cleared professional, it would definitely be a dumb and potentially job jeopardizing move to request foreign citizenship while possessing a security clearance.
I would guess Bachmann was simply the victim of bad advice or poor planning – perhaps her children expressed a desire to explore their Swiss roots through citizenship, which prompted the family to reach out to the Swiss consulate. At least that’s what we can hope. For now, we can rest assured that Swiss spies are not infiltrating the House Intelligence Committee.
Note: Members of Congress do not undergo a security-clearance investigation the same way security-cleared workers do. Their access to sensitive information is based on their election to public office, not an SF-86. While some have argued that members of congress should be required to undergo a formal investigation, no movement has happened on that proposal. House members are required to take an oath of secrecy, and Intelligence Committee members have a separate secrecy oath, as well. It’s unclear if dual citizenship would be an issue considered by the House and Senate Security Offices, the same way it would in a personnel background investigation. Read this article on congressional security clearances for more information.