First lady Michelle Obama (L) and Jill Biden arrive on the West Front of the US Capitol on January 2...

Here’s What To Know About First Ladies And Official Security Clearance

First ladies might not have official status, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the loop.

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As one of the most trusted occupants of the White House, you’d think the first lady of the United States would be entrusted with some of Washington’s juiciest secrets. Sure, while the FLOTUS herself may have an inside perspective on the day-to-day hustle and bustle in the Oval Office, there’s still a lot that goes on behind closed doors. So, do first ladies have official security clearance? And if so, what level? Here’s what you should know.

Because the first lady doesn’t hold an elected position, she doesn’t get official privileges for a lot of things — in fact, she doesn’t even get paid a salary for all the work she does (and trust me, she does a lot). However, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a few perks. Back in 2016, presidential historian Tim Naftali wrote for CNN, “it might be a surprise to some readers that historically, [the] FLOTUS has had access to classified materials without ever having to get a security clearance.”

The reason, of course, boils down to her closeness to the president. While normally federal employees need to go through a rigorous background check in order to be granted a security clearance, the the president has almost unlimited authority over the “use and distribution” over the country’s biggest secrets, per Naftali, which means a first lady can have access to them if her spouse believes it’s appropriate. Plus, it’s pretty difficult to keep secrets from someone you wake up next to every morning.

For example, during President John F. Kennedy’s time in office in the 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy regularly received the intelligence community’s highly classified “Weekly Intelligence Summary,” due to her interest in situations like the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Apparently, she found it kind of depressing, and in 1963 asked to be removed from the proverbial mailing list, per Naftali.) So while the first lady may not hold an elected position, that doesn’t mean she’s not in on all the secrets.

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As first ladies’ responsibilities have expanded over time, it’s hard to imagine how they wouldn’t be closely involved with Washington’s classified inner workings. After all, a few first ladies have been critical influences for significant policy decisions: Hillary Clinton spearheaded a task force on National Health Care Reform in 1993, Michelle Obama launched the Let Girls Learn initiative in 2015, and Jill Biden is leading the way on education reform in President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan in 2021.

So the old saying still applies: When it comes to secrets in marriage, there shouldn’t be any — even if you’re the president and first lady of the United States.