Elissa Slotkin has a sinking suspicion that her private life may be exposed by her political adversaries.
Slotkin is a former CIA analyst and senior Pentagon official running for Congress in Michigan as a Democrat. To hold her positions, she needed to obtain a security clearance—and to obtain a security clearance, she had to fill out a highly sensitive form listing her most sensitive personal history. And now, she fears, it may be only a matter of time before that form is revealed.
That’s because Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operations officer running for Congress in Virginia, has seen her security clearance application released to her GOP political opponents, as The New York Times revealed Tuesday night. That application, known bureaucratically as an SF-86 form, is a trove of highly revealing and potentially weaponizable personal information—leaving Slotkin and others with biographical similarities to Spanberger wondering if the disclosure of such documentation on national security officials, until now exceptionally closely held by the government, is about to become a new normal in U.S. right-wing politics.
Slotkin told The Daily Beast that she doesn’t know if her own clearance application has been obtained by a political foe. She hasn’t seen any evidence thus far that the highly sensitive information within it has featured in any political opposition to her campaign. But she has to wonder.
“Obviously I was very disappointed and surprised they had obtained and then leaked a copy of someone’s SF-86, so you have to assume they’re willing to do the same thing with any other candidate that has a security clearance,” Slotkin said.
“These are the kinds of techniques we have to assume our foreign adversaries use, and have used, like with the Chinese breach in the  OPM hack, and it’s just deeply concerning that an American political organization would absorb and adopt those techniques in our own American democracy,” she added.
Slotkin, in a tweeted statement, noted that the same GOP-aligned super PAC that obtained Spanberger’s information is “active” in her own congressional district. “I appeal to GOP officials to disavow these tactics & respect the privacy of those who have served their country,” she continued.
Information contained in an SF-86 is highly personal and revealing—by design. The point of the application is to stop people who might be blackmail targets or malefactors from obtaining access to classified material. It includes an applicant’s Social Security number; lists of friends, family, and associates; dealings with foreign nationals; and can include legal, criminal,or financial troubles, history with alcohol or drugs, and other potentially embarrassing information.
Millions of government officials, both clearance holders and not, held their breath and feared the worst after the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) revealed in June 2015 that at least four million current and former government officials had their personnel records compromised in a massive hack. That hack, quickly attributed to China, shook intelligence officials particularly deeply, as OPM was a repository of information revealing identities of covert operatives. Thus far, however, there has been no indication that hacked OPM files made their way to domestic political markets.
But the revelation that political operatives used Spanberger’s personnel records indicates that, at least in some cases, material from OPM hack doesn’t need to.
According to BuzzFeed, internal documents validate the claim of a GOP-tied research firm, America Rising, that they received Spanberger’s unredacted clearance application through a Freedom of Information Act request—an extraordinary development, as SF-86s are statutorily exempt from disclosure. Frequent FOIA filers are intimately familiar with what’s known as the B(6) exemption to FOIA, which prevents “personnel and medical and similar files” from public release.
Government agencies typically interpret B(6) broadly, and to disclose an SF-86 without blacking out the most sensitive material it contains is likely unprecedented. Disclosing it at all is a potential violation of the Privacy Act.
The U.S. Postal Service provided Spanberger’s information to America Rising, according to BuzzFeed. In response to extensive questions from The Daily Beast, David A. Partenheimer, a spokesperson for the Postal Service, said, “We’re looking into the matter.”
The GOP-aligned super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, still has on its website a picture purporting to be from a Postal Service FOIA employee, Pamela Gabriel, that appears to contain the critical final four digits of Spanberger’s Social Security number.
Last night, after the Times revealed the release of Spanberger’s clearance form, The Daily Beast filed a FOIA request with the Postal Service for its records documenting the Spanberger disclosure.
“Based on extensive personal experience handling FOIA matters, I can state with confidence I have never heard of an individual’s Standard Form 86 ever being properly and lawfully released to a third party via FOIA absent a privacy waiver or demonstration of an overriding public interest (and I struggle to imagine either is applicable in this situation),” wrote Bradley Moss, a national-security-focused attorney who filed the FOIA on The Daily Beast’s behalf.
Slotkin and Spanberger are far from the only potential or current federal officeholders at risk from the release of their clearance applications. Candidates with military backgrounds, particularly with service experience that required intelligence access, are also jeopardized. That includes candidates such as Kentucky Democratic House aspirant Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, and Arizona Republican Senate nominee Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel. At least 34 non-incumbent veterans are running for House or Senate seats, according to The Daily Beast’s tally.
McGrath, a security clearance holder for 20 years, said that there was no indication her own SF-86 has been compromised but said it was “un-American” to use such information against a political opponent.
“If this was deliberately leaked, it’s a despicable act by a political party that loves to tout its national security credentials, but then goes after those who worked to provide it,” McGrath said. “What does this say to every person who ever filled out the form to be able to serve their country—telling every detail of their life—and then eventually using that against them with dirty political attack ads. This is also why so many decent regular people don’t want to run for political office and run the risk that one side is comfortable in the politics of personal destruction to keep their power.”
Slotkin said that she and other clearance-holding House Democratic candidates had received notice of the Spanberger SF-86 release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“For Paul Ryan’s Super PAC to obtain and illegally distribute this highly-sensitive and unredacted national security document of a former CIA officer is shocking and un-American,” said DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly in a statement.
“It is unprecedented for the USPS to provide this unredacted SF86 form to Abigail Spanberger’s political opponents, and the fact that CLF continues to publicly distribute her Social Security number and medical history calls into question the entire organization’s credibility and patriotism. Speaker Paul Ryan and every single House Republican should condemn this organization’s influence in their campaigns.”
A DCCC aide told The Daily Beast that the DCCC had not ever acquired a Republican candidate’s security clearance information and would not use it even if it had.
—with additional reporting by Scott Bixby