“Failure to provide truthful and candid answers during the security clearance process” is one of the most common reasons for the denial or revocation of security clearances. Of the approximately 1,300 security clearance cases decided by Administrative Judges of the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) during fiscal year 2008, Personal Conduct was the second most frequently cited issue and appeared in 497 (38%) of the cases. It was almost always cited due to applicants concealing information related to one of the other issues, such as criminal conduct, drug involvement, and alcohol consumption. Falsification of security clearance applications is a serious issue, much more serious than most applicants consider.
Unfortunately in many falsification cases, the information the applicant tried to conceal would not have resulted in a clearance denial. But the act of providing false information on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86—SF86) was often fatal to the cases. The issue of falsification is covered under the “Personal Conduct” criterion of the “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information.”
If an applicant can not be trusted to provide full and truthful answers to questions on the SF86 or to government security officials, it is extremely difficult to trust the applicant with classified national security information. Most conduct-related security issues can be mitigated by rehabilitation as evidenced by passage of time without recurrence of the conduct. However, concealing relevant unfavorable information or claiming unearned qualifications or achievements on an SF86 indicates a current unwillingness to comply with security requirements and casts serious doubts on an applicant’s honesty, trustworthiness, and judgment.
POTENTIALLY DISQUALIFYING CONDITIONS
(a) deliberate omission, concealment, or falsification of relevant facts from any personnel security questionnaire, personal history statement, or similar form used to conduct investigations, determine employment qualifications, award benefits or status, determine security clearance eligibility or trustworthiness, or award fiduciary responsibilities
(b) deliberately providing false or misleading information concerning relevant facts to an employer, investigator, security official, competent medical authority, or other official government representative
In the current version of the Adjudicative Guidelines the word, “material” was removed from the phrase, “falsification of relevant and material facts.” Since all questions on the SF86 are considered relevant, any deliberate omission, concealment, or falsification, including information that would not have made any difference in the adjudication, may be cause for clearance denial.
In recent years the misrepresentation of educational qualifications has gained increased importance in security clearance investigations and adjudication. Previously educational degrees were merely verified. Today the bona fides of questionable post-secondary schools are being scrutinized.
Many applicants treat the SF86 as just another bureaucratic form and fill it out quickly without attention to accuracy or detail. Others view it as being comparable to an employment application form where a certain amount of “huffing and puffing,” as well as selective presenting and withholding of information are normal. Some honestly misunderstand the wording and the intent of the questions. Lawyers, work associates, and military recruiters occasionally give applicants bad advice about what must be disclose and what may be withheld on an SF86.
Mitigating alleged falsification is possible, if the applicant did not deliberately provide false information on an SF86. Mistake of fact, faulty memory, and misunderstanding can be plausible reasons for unintentionally providing false information. When applicants are given an opportunity to correct false information but repeat their false assertions, mitigation becomes impossible even if they later tell the truth. “Prompt, good-faith efforts to correct the omission, concealment, or falsification before being confronted with the facts” are critical to successfully mitigating this issue.
Adjudicators consider the “whole person” when assessing applicants’ intent to falsify and their subsequent actions to correct false information. Mature, highly educated individuals are less likely than young military recruits to convince an adjudicator that they misunderstood questions, inadvertently made mistakes, or incorrectly relied on the advice of other people. When falsification is admittedly deliberate but the applicant promptly attempts to correct it before being confronted, adjudicators can sometimes make a favorable decision if the falsification was an isolated, uncharacteristic lapse in judgment by an otherwise responsible, honest individual.
William H. Henderson is a retired security investigator, author of Security Clearance Manual, and regular contributor to ClearanceJobsBlog.com and ClearanceJobs.com.
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