Updated on Feb 21, 2020. Posted on Feb 21, 2020

    Dominic Cummings Doesn’t Appear To Have The Level Of Security Clearance That Someone In His Role Usually Has

    Recent photographs of Cummings suggest that Boris Johnson’s top adviser appears to not have “Developed Vetting”.

    by ,
    Peter Summers / Getty Images

    Recent photos of Boris Johnson's chief aide Dominic Cummings appear to show he doesn't have the advanced level of security clearance known as “Developed Vetting” (DV) — which has frequently been awarded to individuals working in a similar role in the past.

    The photographs raise questions over exactly which meetings and documents the embattled adviser has been able to access during his time in Downing Street.

    Senior government officials who have frequent access to materials and information classified as “top secret” will normally undergo a DV security clearance process.

    Most senior advisers to former prime ministers at a level of seniority comparable to Cummings, including Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s director of strategy and communications, and Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s chief of staff, had DV.

    A rare exception was Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former press chief. He was only granted midlevel clearance, avoiding the more rigorous DV security checks. He resigned in 2011, less than a year into the job and in 2014 was sentenced to 18 months in jail for conspiracy to hack phones while he was in charge of the News of the World newspaper.

    There is no suggestion that Cummings has broken any rules.

    Officials that currently hold DV have green badges. But photos of Cummings published by Getty Images on Jan. 23 show Johnson’s top adviser wearing a yellow badge. The same badge is also visible in a video clip posted by Sky News following a doorstep earlier this week.

    A yellow badge indicates a lower level of clearance, called “Security Check” (SC).

    The main differences between SC and DV is in the classification of the materials, meetings, and other assets that the holders of each clearance level can access.

    The process of obtaining DV is more lengthy, far-reaching, and intrusive, encompassing in-depth reviews of personal finances and interviews with candidates and associates. Both SC and DV cleared officials will have access to sensitive information and certain levels of classified material originating from foreign countries.

    Government guidelines outlining its security clearance and vetting policies state that SC is needed for jobs involving “regular and uncontrolled access to sensitive information that is classified as SECRET” as well as “occasional, supervised access to TOP SECRET assets."

    DV is described as the most detailed and comprehensive form of security clearance. The guidelines say it is required for sensitive jobs and tasks that involve "frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET assets” and any access to “TOP SECRET” restricted codeword material.

    Picture of Dominic Cummings with yellow pass.
    Peter Summers / Getty Images

    In the seven months since Cummings took up his post in Number 10, the government has been gripped by several highly sensitive discussions, including on Iran, Russia, and whether to allow the Chinese technology company Huawei to be involved in providing the UK’s 5G network.

    The US and several MPs have warned that the tech giant could be used by China to spy. US intelligence has accused Huawei of being funded by Chinese state security and, according to a report in the Times, shared its claims with the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, which includes the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Huawei denies the allegations.

    It is not known how deeply involved Cummings was in these discussions and there is no suggestion he has broken any rules. In government workplaces like Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, systems would be in place to limit the access of senior officials with a lower level of clearance to some materials and meetings, or parts of meetings where highly classified items are on the agenda.

    Responding to questions about Cummings security clearance and his level of access to meetings and materials, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individuals' security clearance."

    Cummings has come under fire in recent weeks over a series of high-profile internal rows that culminated in chancellor Sajid Javid leaving his post, with senior ministers calling on Johnson to “rein in” his chief aide as other aides sought counselling for stress.

    This week, Andrew Sabisky, a government contractor hired by Cummings, resigned after it emerged that he had made a series of controversial remarks about eugenics. Cummings had strongly defended his appointment. It is not known what level of security clearance Sabisky had or the specific details of his job in government.

    There are three different types of national security vetting clearance: Counter Terrorist Check (CTC) as well as SC and DV.

    The level of clearance needed for a particular job is decided by the relevant government department and will depend on the particular role and responsibilities of the post in question. Government guidelines explain that each level of clearance is designed to provide an appropriate level of assurance in respect of a range of potential risks.

    Alberto Nardelli is an Investigative Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. Contact Alberto Nardelli at alberto.nardelli@buzzfeed.com.

    Contact Alberto Nardelli at alberto.nardelli@buzzfeed.com.

    Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Alex Wickham at alex.wickham@buzzfeed.com.

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