The State Department is ending its controversial policy of issuing assignment restrictions for diplomats as a condition of security clearance, according to an internal memo obtained by POLITICO.
While the restrictions applied to people of all backgrounds, they were primarily used to prevent foreign intelligence agencies from targeting or harassing diplomats working on issues in countries they had immigrated from or had family or financial relationships with. Democratic lawmakers had criticized the practice, saying it was discriminatory and hurt American understanding of the world, especially China.
“Today, I’m pleased to share that after a rigorous review, I have decided that, moving forward, the Department will end its practice of issuing new assignment restrictions as a condition placed on a security clearance,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote to employees on Wednesday. “In my first year as Secretary, more than half of these restrictions were lifted, opening up new possible assignments for hundreds of our people.”
He also said that State Department employees who currently have assignment restrictions would get access to a review and appeals process similar to the processes for when security clearances are denied or revoked. But he cautioned that not all restrictions will be lifted.
“Our careful review has found national security interests in other assignment-related processes – such as assignment preclusions, which relate to situations in which a foreign country may consider an employee to be one of their own nationals, and assignment reviews, or pass-throughs, which concern assignments to posts rated critical for human intelligence threats – which will be maintained,” he wrote in the email.
In 2021, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) introduced a bill to reform such restrictions, calling them “discriminatory” and that the restriction policy “disproportionately impacts federal employees who can’t trace their heritage to the Mayflower and directly undermines the department’s goal of promoting diversity and inclusion.”
The bill cited State Department data that about 1,800 employees were subject to assignment restrictions. The top four countries with such restrictions were China (196), Russia (184), Taiwan (84) and Israel (70).
The State Department said it did not immediately have an additional comment.