As Congress rushed to finish business Thursday, both houses unanimously passed a law designed to modify the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012. Rather than solve a national security problem created in the act, however, yesterday’s action merely kicked the national security can down the road for another 30 days.
The STOCK Act, signed into law by President Obama with much fanfare back in April, is pointed to as one of the few bi-partisan accomplishments of the 112th Congress. But as is often the case with laws passed by Congress in recent years, one component wasn’t fully thought through.
As John Bellinger, a former State Department official in the George W. Bush Administration, writes, the act “was intended toprevent members of Congress from trading in securities based on non-publicinformation gained in their official positions.” Politico reported yesterday that “[u]nder the law, lawmakers, spouses and dependents will have to file a ‘periodic transaction report’ of the sale or purchase of any property, stocks, bonds, or other financial instruments worth more than $1,000.”
So far, so good.
But Bellinger objects to a last-minute amendment made to the STOCK Act that, he argues, has serious national security implications:
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.
Under the original terms of the STOCK Act, this provision was set to go into effect on August 31. The law passed yesterday, S. 3510, “an act to prevent harm to the national security or endangering the military officers and civilian employees to whom internet publication of certain information applies, and or other purposes,” merely delayed the STOCK act’s implementation date another 30 days, until September 30.
National security experts, disappointed that Congress failed to solve the problem before effectively shutting down for the month of August, are hopeful that the potentially harmful national security effects of Section 11 will be solved with a new law that provides an across-the-board exemption to executive branch national security professionals. Congress will have to act quickly when it returns in September to enact such legislation prior to the new implementation date at the end of September.
Yesterday’s revision of the STOCK Act also ensured that the spouses and children of members of the House of Representatives, as well as spouses and children of Senators, would have to file financial disclosure forms. There had been some differences of interpretation of that requirement, which the amendment cleared up.
President Obama is expected to sign S. 3510.
Michael Patrick Leahy is a Breitbart News contributor, Editor of Broadside Books’ Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, and author of Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement.