Security is more challenging than ever in today’s fast paced and ever-changing global network.  Society is now connected across borders and countries through of the ease of travel, social media, and the never-ending line of new technological gadgets and devices.  This freedom of movement and the ability to instantly communicate via various methods world-wide has directly and indirectly led to changes in societal demographics, norms, and attitudes towards previously disqualifying conduct.  As society’s viewpoints have evolved and changed, so must the guidelines used to determine suitability for government employment and eligibility for access to classified information.

Recent reforms to the adjudicative guidelines were initiated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in collaboration with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to reflect the changes in which the American society in general currently views certain behaviors and conduct, such as experimental drug use, cohabitation, foreign relationships, and delinquent debt.


Take for instance foreign relationships and contacts: an ever increasing percentage of Americans are foreign born.  This has increased the number of households who have relatives that are foreign citizens.  Additionally, second generation Americans are now embracing their heritage and roots and developing contacts with extended families overseas.  More and more people from countries that were high on the CIA watch lists like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are now becoming naturalized U.S. citizens while still maintaining close bonds to their homelands.   Two guidelines, Foreign Preference and Foreign Influence, are intertwined and may evolve into being called Foreign Involvement.  The focus of concern would be on actions taken to be involved in foreign politics, foreign employment, foreign property/business ownership, taking up arms for a foreign military, and in general, taking any action that might be in conflict with U.S. policy and interests.


Regarding the Drug Involvement guideline, recent changes within individual States reflect the change in attitude towards casual use.  Although still a violation of Federal law, and still a concern and potentially disqualifying, experimental drug use in high school and college is now normal and is not viewed as negatively as in the past.  Of course mitigating factors still have to be applied and depends on the type of drugs, frequency of use, and recency of use, but there is no longer the stigma of being a drug user that was portrayed in the past.  The focus disqualifying conduct will be on diagnosed abuse and dependency, and following and completing treatment administered by professionals used as a mitigating factor.


Under the Financial Considerations guideline, the focus will be on whether an individual is “unwilling” to pay their just debts or they don’t have the “ability” to pay due to circumstances beyond their control.  The recent economic downturn caused many to have homes foreclosed on or forced them to file for bankruptcy.  These issues can be mitigated as long as the circumstances that caused the debt were not due to irresponsibility and positive steps are taken to resolve the delinquencies.


As far as cohabitation goes, living together without being married is now the norm and it matters not whether it is in a heterosexual or homosexual context.  Previously, same-sex partners were ostracized and susceptible to blackmail.  Now, due to societal changes, those who choose to live an open relationship regardless of their sexual orientation are not a concern due to the possibility of blackmail being nullified.

The challenges that security professionals face in today’s society are many.  Lines are blurred, attitudes change, and acceptable behavioral norms are constantly shifting.  In order to make sense of what it all means as far as risk to your security, analysis and understanding requires adaptability, flexibility, and a fair amount of common sense.  Security today is all about managing and assuming an acceptable level of risk.  Security guidelines are just that: guidelines.  They are there to help mitigate risk, but will never fully eliminate it.  As evidenced by recent notorious classified information leaks, human behavior is never 100% predictable and there are many shades of gray.  We can only strive to do the best we can.

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Marko Hakamaa served in various military police positions with the United States Army worldwide for 22 years before retiring in 2006 as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he transitioned into the civilian workforce as a contractor background investigator for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) before entering civil service as a Security Specialist in 2009.