Could Activities Abroad Affect Your Security Clearance?

“Outside Activities” can create a security concern when there is involvement that poses a conflict of interest with an individual’s security responsibilities and creates an increased risk of unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

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Guideline L of the Adjudicative Guidelines states that “Outside Activities” can create a security concern when there is involvement in certain types of activities that pose a conflict of interest with an individual’s security responsibilities and could create an increased risk of unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Examples of potentially disqualifying conditions for a security clearance under Guideline L are:

37(a) any employment or service, whether compensated or volunteer, with:

(1)    the government of a foreign country;

(2)    any foreign national, organization, or other entity;

(3)    a representative of any foreign interest;

(4)    any foreign, domestic, or international organization or person engaged in analysis, discussion, or publication of material on intelligence, defense, foreign affairs, or protected technology;

37(b) failure to report or fully disclose an outside activity when this is required.

Mitigating Security Concerns

There are only 2 conditions that can mitigate security concerns under Guideline L. They are:

38(a)   evaluation of the outside employment or activity by the appropriate security or counterintelligence office indicates that it does not pose a conflict with an individual’s security responsibilities or with the national security interests of the United States;

38(b)   the individual terminates the employment or discontinued the activity upon being notified that it was in conflict with his or her security responsibilities. 

Although merely being a member of an organization of the type described above in paragraph 37(a)(4) wouldn’t be considered a disqualifying condition; employment with or service to such an organization could be. Service could encompass such things as holding a leadership position or contributing written material including blogging. For federal employees, requesting permission from their security office to assume a leadership position in organizations like the World Affairs Council or the Association of Former Intelligence Officers shouldn’t present any problems. Obtaining permission would depend on the exact nature of the organization and the services to be performed. For federal contractor personnel, just requesting permission from the appropriate federal security office can be somewhat daunting, especially if their company has classified contracts with more than one government agency.

Outside activities that present a security concern are usually those involving a foreign business, organization, or government. Without a favorable security evaluation of the outside activity by the appropriate federal agency, the applicant is left with the problem of deciding whether to preemptively eliminate the potential security concern by terminating the activity and suffer a loss of income or other personal benefit before being told if the activity actually represents a disqualifying condition.

If the importance of receiving a clearance as quickly as possible outweighs the importance of the activity, the applicant should sever all ties with the activity before submitting his/her Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86—SF86) and provide detailed information about this in the appropriate comment section of the SF86. The applicant can also include a “statement of intent” in the comment section of the SF86, promising:

  1. Not to travel to the foreign country,
  2. To discontinue any contact with representatives of the former activity,
  3. To report all future contact by anyone associated with the former activity and/or citizens of the foreign country.

If the personal benefit from the activity is significant, the applicant can wait to see whether the adjudicative authority determines that the activity is a disqualifying condition. If the applicant receives a “Statement of Reasons” (SOR) stating intent to deny/revoke security clearance because the activity is a disqualifying condition, there should be enough time to sever the relationship with the activity and document this action in time to submit it with a rebuttal to the SOR. If there isn’t enough time to do this:

  • Applicants, whose cases are adjudicated by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) or the Department of Energy (DoE), can state their intentions in the SOR rebuttal, sever the relationship, document it, and present it to an Administrative Judge or hearing officer before a final clearance determination is made. This presentation can be made either at the hearing or in response to a “File Of Relevant Materials” (FORM) when a hearing is not requested.
  • Applicants, whose cases are adjudicated by a federal agency other than DOHA or DoE, can state their intentions in the SOR rebuttal and complete the necessary actions before they appeal their clearance denial.

In either of these 2 situations, it is possible that a clearance could be granted with a “condition” following a review of the SOR rebuttal and eliminate the need for hearing or appeal. The “condition” would probably require the applicant to sever all involvement with the activity by a certain date and refrain from any future activity of a similar nature.

There were 2 DOHA cases involving Outside Activities in 2010. In one case (ISCR Case No. 09-05655) the Outside Activities issue was based on the applicant’s intentional omission of information on his SF86 regarding part-time involvement as an officer of a subchapter “S” corporation. Outside Activities should never have been cited as an issue in this case, because no foreign or other entity of the type described at Guideline L was involved, there was no conflict of interest, and the applicant’s SF86 omission was adequately covered by Guideline E (Personal Conduct) that was also cited in the case. The other case (ISCR Case No. 09-02708) involved multiple issues, and the applicant was denied a clearance based on Foreign Influence and Personal Conduct issues, but not the Outside Activities issue. This case was appealed, and the DOHA Appeal Board affirmed the clearance denial. The applicant had previously held a high-ranking position with the Egyptian security service. After immigrating to the U.S. he had sporadic business dealings with a lawyer in Egypt, provided services to a Middle Eastern newspaper, and provided pro bono legal services to Egyptian embassy personnel in the U.S. He mitigated the Outside Activities issue because he had not practiced law since 2005, had not traveled to Egypt since 2007, and stated his intention not to provide any further services to the Middle Eastern newspaper.

There were also 2 DOHA cases involving Outside Activities in 2009. In one case (ISCR Case No. 08-00312) the applicant was granted a security clearance, because sometime after receiving a “written interrogatory” from DOHA but before his DOHA hearing, he severed all relationship with a Chinese company,agreed in writing not to travel to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and agreed to report any contact by a Chinese national. In the other case (ISCR Case No. 07-06767) the applicant’s security clearance was denied. The applicant owned or had substantial interest in a number of companies in Israel and had extensive business dealings with the government of Israel. The applicant did not sever his relationship with the Israeli government or companies, and there was no evaluation by a U.S. Government security or counterintelligence office indicating that Applicant’s activities did not pose a conflict with his anticipated security responsibilities or with the national interests of the United States. This case was appealed and the DOHA Appeal Board affirmed the clearance denial.

The July 2008 version of the SF86 required that “all full-time and part-time work, paid or unpaid” be listed at Section 13 (Employment Activities). The new March 2010 version of the SF86 has eliminated the requirement to list unpaid work. It asks only to “List all of your employment activities, including unemployment and self-employment.” This doesn’t mean that unpaid work for an organization defined at paragraph 37(a) of the Adjudicative Guidelines will no longer be a security concern. It only means there will be less likelihood that Outside Activities will surface during a security clearance investigation. It will probably also result in some people using a narrower interpretation of the word “employment.”

William H. Henderson is a retired federal security investigator, author of Security Clearance Manual, and regular contributor to ClearanceJobsBlog.com and ClearanceJobs.com. Copyright © 2011 Last Post Publishing. All rights reserved.