(Edit: This question was written during the 2016 election, but I'm seeing it's getting lots of views due to current events, I can't speak to it's applicability to current events, just leaving this note for readers about the political events surrounding the question when it was asked)

So some friends and I got to talking about the candidate security briefings and how Trump and Hillary would become Privy to classified information. It was noted that Hillary hasn't held office since 2013, so she's probably a little bit behind the times on what she knew from 2013. The question was raised, do any elected officials retain their security clearance after their term? For Example, can Bill Clinton still get access to current top secret intelligence legally?

*While this question is primarily about US offices, I'd be interested to know if elected officials in other countries retain clearance.

**I am not interested in any political opinions about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, what they're going to do with intelligence briefings, or how anybody thinks they may have illegally obtained or disclosed intelligence. This is a standing policy question only.

  • 2
    It is worth noting that just having an appropriate security clearance does not by itself entitle you to see documents at that classification level. You also have to have a need-to-know and the document is necessary to complete government duties. So a person with Top Secret clearance is NOT allowed to see every Top Secret document.
    – JohnFx
    Aug 15, 2022 at 21:00

1 Answer 1


No, Bill Clinton does not have the Need to Know to be granted access to Top Secret information.

The Background Check that is usually performed for those granted access to classified material is replaced by candidacy and election process for the President.

After they leave office, there is no longer a need to know. Though the section 4.4 (a) (3) of Executive Order 13526 provides the possibility of a waiver on this requirement, it is not an assured thing.

If Bill Clinton doesn't need to know, or hasn't been waived, it would be illegal to provide him access to classified material.

  • 2
    Not only that, but I doubt their clearances last throughout their entire life anyway. Servicemembers need to be recleared every so often, for example, because the clearance is given an expiration date. I assume the same is true of anyone, but I don't have a source for that.
    – Geobits
    Aug 17, 2016 at 19:22
  • @Geobits Not Clearance: eligibility. To your point, that is dependent on the doctrine governing senior politicians; Eligibility may be permanent at that level. Being cautious of what claims I make in an open forum. Aug 17, 2016 at 19:35
  • When did Bill Clinton go through the extensive background check? To my knowledge his first federal job was President.
    – cpast
    Aug 17, 2016 at 20:11
  • Also, -1. EO13526 explicitly says that former presidents and VPs are not always subject to a need-to-know requirement; agencies are allowed to waive this if access is consistent with the interest of the national security and steps are taken to protect the information.
    – cpast
    Aug 17, 2016 at 20:27
  • 2
    The president is the ultimate classification authority and does not require any background check to access classified information.
    – Viktor
    Aug 17, 2016 at 23:30

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .