Foreign Influence and Security Clearances

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AFFECTED PERSONS

The “Foreign Influence” criterion under the “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information” affects many security clearance applicants, particularly those who are naturalized U.S. citizens or whose parents immigrated to the U.S. Others who marry (or reside with) a foreign national, who have foreign financial/business interests, or who maintain close and continuing contact with foreigners are also affected. There are two other related criteria—Foreign Preference and Outside Activities—that sometimes affect these same applicants.*

SECURITY CONCERN

Foreign Influence has been a significant concern when considering people for security clearances. This has been due in part to changes in motivation of those who have chosen to spy against the U.S. A government study issued in March 2008 reported that since 1990 offenders who are naturalized citizens rose to 35%, those with relatives or close friends overseas increased to 58%, and those with foreign business or professional connections increased to 50%.

The Adjudicative Guidelines specify that “foreign contacts and interests may be a security concern if the individual has divided loyalties or foreign financial interests; may be manipulated or induced to help a foreign person, group, organization, or government in a way that is not in U.S. interests; or is vulnerable to pressure or coercion by any foreign interest.” The Adjudicative Guidelines further specify that “Adjudication . . . should consider the identity of the foreign country in which the foreign contact or financial interest is located, including but not limited to, such considerations as whether the foreign country is known to target United States citizens to obtain protected information and/or is associated with a risk of terrorism.” However the location of a person’s contacts or interest is not by itself a disqualifying condition.

EVALUATING FOREIGN INFLUENCE

The location, relationship, occupation, activities, and interests of the foreign person, as well as the recency, frequency and nature of the contact are all relevant. The security significance of these foreign contacts can be measure by the extent to which an applicant:

• Maintains contact with foreign friends, family members, or professional associates.

• Provides or receives material support to/from contacts outside the U.S.

• Returns to native country.

• Maintains property or financial interests (including inheritance rights) outside the U.S.

• Fails to report association with foreigners when required.

Foreign connections that “create a potential conflict of interest between the individual’s obligation to protect sensitive information and the individual’s desire to help a foreign person, group, government, or country by providing that information” are security concerns. Absent a potential for a conflict of interest, foreign connections must present a “heightened” risk of foreign influence to be a security concern. A heightened risk can be created either by the nature of the foreign contact and/or by the applicant’s perceived ability to resist foreign influence. In assessing an applicant’s ability to resist foreign influence adjudicators may consider the degree to which an applicant has assimilated American culture and displayed undivided loyalty to the United States by:

• Applying for U.S. citizenship as soon as they are eligible.

• Expressing their intention to live permanently in the U.S. even after retirement.

• Observing American holidays.

• Participating in local non-ethnic social, community, political, or charitable groups.

• Socializing with people outside their ethnic group.

Additionally, circumstances or behavior that could attract the attention of foreign intelligence are also potentially disqualifying factors.

INTERIM CLEARANCES

Interim clearances are problematic when any security issue exists. The existence of current foreign connections can create a presumption of foreign influence. Often this issue can be mitigated by the information collected during a security clearance investigation. But interim clearances require issue mitigation before the investigation is completed. The Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86 –SF86) asks about foreign activities, associates, financial interests, and travel. But the SF86 does not ask for information that might mitigate indicators of foreign influence. Applicants are allowed to include any mitigating information in their SF86 (or its electronic equivalent, known as eQIP) by using the “Continuation Space” at the end of the paper version or by using the “Comment Section” following each question on the eQIP version. Including mitigating information in this manner is often a determining factor in the granting of an interim clearance.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY SECURITY CLEARANCES

For first- and second-generation immigrants, employment with the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) is often out of reach. This is because the disqualifying condition created by the existence of non-U.S. citizen immediate family members can not be mitigated for access eligibility to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) as it can for collateral clearances. And SCI access eligibility is almost always a requirement for IC employment. This obstacle can only be overcome with a “waiver” from a Senior Official of the Intelligence Community. This risk avoidance policy within the IC may soon change due to the critical need for people with special knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. For more than a year the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has repeatedly stressed the need to break down the IC security clearance and employment barriers for first- and second-generation immigrants. In testimony before congress on security clearance reform in February 2008 the Assistant Deputy DNI for Security stated:

“Additionally modifications to IC hiring policies are being made to allow for the hiring of first and second generation, or heritage, American candidates. . . . We fully expect the near-term outcome of this DNI-level policy change to result in more applications from heritage Americans and ultimately a more robust mission capability within the IC.”

The DNI has had the authority to change policy for SCI access throughout the IC. But institutional changes take time and are not often attainable by fiat alone. Recently Executive Order 13467, as part of a major clearance reform effort, expanded the DNI’s authority to change the standards for all federal security clearances. This reform effort may provide the impetus needed to change the security standards for foreign influence.


*This article does not cover the “Foreign Preference” and “Outside Activities” criteria in the Adjudicative Guidelines.

Copyright © 2008 Last Post Publishing. All rights reserved. William H. Henderson is a retired security investigator, author of Security Clearance Manual, and regular contributor to ClearanceJobsBlog.com and ClearanceJobs.com.