For most workers what you do in your personal life has little to no impact on your professional life. Short of committing a serious crime, personal infractions are outside the company’s concern. However, as Mathew B. Tully discusses in an article in FedSmith, this separation between personal and professional behavior does not apply when it comes to cleared workers. When security clearances are on the line, the personal lives of workers can have very real consequences.
So, in the case of adultery by a cleared worker, what are the consequences? According to Tully, they are severe. An adulterous worker may lose their security clearance when it comes up for review, particularly if they’ve gone to any effort to conceal their actions. The reason for revoking the clearance is stated in Guideline D of the Adjudication Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information, specifically that personal conduct can disqualify an individual when it "creates a vulnerability for exploitation, manipulation, or duress." Simply put, it is for cleared federal workers, as Tully puts it, "the kiss of death."
Why is the penalty so severe? The short answer is coercion. Individuals with security clearances gain that privilege at least partially through demonstrating a resistance to pressure. This means no alcoholism, no gambling debts, and no secrets that could be exploited by a foreign agent in order to obtain classified information. When a cleared worker does commit adultery, the punishment is not to penalize their moral behavior, but to nullify the threat posed by that individual’s susceptibility to coercion.
For the cleared worker and job seeker, extra care has to be taken in managing one’s personal life because the necessities of national security means that a few wrong decisions can ruin not only a marriage but also a career.
Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.