In March, Congress passed the Stop Insider Trading in Congressional Knowledge Act (the STOCK Act), which was intended to prevent members of Congress from trading in securities based on non-public information gained in their official positions. Unfortunately, an amendment added to the bill, Section 11, poses grave risks to the national security and to the personal safety of executive branch officials and their families.
Section 11 of the STOCK Act requires that the SF-278 financial disclosure forms of 28,000 senior executive officials (including senior military officers) be posted no later than August 31 on the websites of their home departments and agencies. Thereafter, the Office of Government Ethics is required to create a public database of all of these financial disclosure forms that would be searchable and sortable by anyone on the OGE website.
What a bonanza for domestic and foreign criminal groups, terrorist organizations, and foreign intelligence services intent on harming U.S. national security officials! With the anonymous click of a button, they can know which executive branch officials have the most assets or the greatest debts. (The financial disclosure forms also require officials to list the assets of their spouses and dependent children, even including college funds!) This legislation will provide a prioritized list of which national security officials are most vulnerable for foreign intelligence services to influence. And it will endanger the families of military and foreign service officers and other officials posted in dangerous countries, who will now have targets posted on them for kidnapping. What’s more, the financial disclosure forms contain information about the checking and savings accounts, as well as the signatures, of all senior executive officials. A juicy target for hackers and identity thieves!
Congress and the White House share the blame for this misguided and dangerous provision. Congress should not have passed it without considering its consequences, and President Obama — anxious to beat up on Congress in an election year — should not have signed it over the objections of numerous departments and agencies. Both Congress and the White House are likely to blame each other if an unprotected child of a military officer or diplomat is kidnapped and harmed by a foreign criminal group after the financial disclosure form of a wealthy parent is made public.
Last week, 14 senior former national security officials, including myself, sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to act quickly to amend the STOCK Act to create an exemption for senior officials with security clearances or where needed to protect the safety of the official and the official’s family. Our letter closed:
If the financial disclosure forms of senior executive officials are actually posted on the Internet in
August, there will be irreparable damage to U.S. national security interests, and many senior executives
and their families may be placed in danger. This issue is too important to be trapped in partisan politics.
We urge Congress to act swiftly, before the Congress goes on its summer recess on August 6.