Could Elon Musk’s dreams of starting a space colony on Mars soon be up in smoke?
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The Department of Defense is weighing whether to suspend or revoke the tech entrepreneur’s security clearance for his SpaceX private venture that launches spy satellites for the federal government following an incident last year where he smoked a marijuana cigarette during an appearance on a comedian’s podcast, FOX Business has learned.
Smoking pot is a prohibited activity for people who have federal government security clearances and have access to classified information. Musk gained such clearance because SpaceX has government contracts from the U.S. Air Force and other federal agencies to launch rockets and spy satellites into outer space. Musk has said the ultimate goal of SpaceX is to colonize Mars.
But Musk has clearly thrown his lofty ambitions into disarray thanks to his bizarre performance last September during a podcast hosted by comedian Joe Rogan, where he sipped whiskey, brandished a Samurai sword, and then took a long toke on a joint. As first reported by FOX Business, the government immediately began reviewing the matter with the U.S. Air Force launching an inquiry for possible violations of Musk’s security clearance that prohibits the use of illegal drugs.
Marijuana remains a prohibited substance, according to federal guidelines, even as some states have decriminalized pot usage.
FOX Business has now learned that the Air Force has since referred Musk’s case to the Defense Department for a formal inquiry, which will be completed in the coming weeks, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Musk has also resubmitted new paperwork with the federal government for a security clearance, suggesting he is updating information to reflect his marijuana use, government officials say.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Musk could have his clearance suspended or even revoked, these people say. The Defense Department is focused on whether the SpaceX CEO’s behavior “comports with the type of person who has access to classified information,” a Pentagon official tells FOX Business.
In the event Musk loses his security clearance, another SpaceX executive would need to apply for federal security clearance in order for the outfit to continue its government work. Musk could remain as CEO, a Pentagon official told FOX Business.
A spokeswoman at the Defense Department said in a statement: “For privacy and security reasons, we do not publicly discuss individual clearance status.”
Sources close to the matter believe the investigation will conclude in the next couple of weeks and the probe could also result in no sanctions against Musk, the official said. SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
SpaceX continues to do work with the government, so at least for now, the inquiry hasn’t affected its operations. But Musk has had an increasingly tempestuous relationship with federal law enforcement agencies in his management of Tesla, which might spill over to his other ventures.
Musk, the CEO of the publicly traded electric-vehicle maker Tesla, has run afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for stating in a tweet that he had a deal to take the company private at a hefty premium when no such deal existed. The SEC both fined him and forced him to relinquish his role as Tesla’s chairman as part of the settlement where he neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.
More recently, the SEC said Musk has violated the terms of the settlement because he issued tweets without approval from a monitor – a move that could result in a fine or even forcing him out as CEO of Tesla.
Even before these incidents, there was no love lost between Musk and the government agency, which he referred to as the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission,” because he believes SEC investigators are aiding short sellers in their bet that Tesla’s stock is overvalued.
The Rogan podcast took place just as the SEC was investigating Musk’s “going-private” tweet and just weeks before the two sides reached a settlement. Musk’s behavior concerned some shareholders because it seemed to confirm that critics believe the Telsa CEO is too erratic to be in charge of a public company.
When Rogan began puffing on the joint, he turned to Musk and said “You probably can’t because of stockholders.”
Musk didn’t seem fazed. “I mean, it’s legal right?” Musk said before he inhaled.