Not long ago, online dating came with a serious stigma. It was, in effect, the Lonely Hearts Club for the technologically savvy. Yet just as internet technology has evolved with lightning speed, so have social perceptions on acceptable ways of finding a mate. Most of us probably know at least one entirely normal person who met their significant other online. The phenomenon is particularly common in large cities.

Absent the rare cases of serial killers and stalkers, the general wisdom is that online dating is no more dangerous than chatting someone up at the local bar. That may be true for the general population, but security clearance holders should exercise additional caution.

Not to State the Obvious, But…

Loneliness and love can cause even the smartest people to make incredibly irrational decisions. A number of studies have shown an increase in reckless personal behavior as a result of the seeming anonymity afforded by the internet. That recklessness can manifest itself in divulging information that makes you a target for a foreign intelligence service. You would never walk around wearing a sign announcing your security clearance status. And yet, I have had several clients put themselves at enormous risk for effectively doing just that in their dating profile. Contrary to one recent client’s joke about leveraging his impressive-sounding job for “game” in his dating profile, you should never post anything that even implies access to classified information.

Of course, a natural question on a first date is “what do you do for a living?” You don’t necessarily have to lie about it, but be wary of anyone who expresses undue interest in your job. One of the oldest tricks in the espionage book is using romance to extract secrets from a target. If you think foreign intelligence services aren’t leveraging online dating – particularly in the Washington, D.C. area – think again. Report any odd interactions to your security officer.

Overseas Online Dating

One of the inherent problems with online dating is that you really don’t know where your prospective love interests are actually located – unless and until you meet in person. I have heard several stories from clients about online relationships they developed with seemingly local women who later turned out to be living in places like Russia or Belarus. Photos that look too good to be true, broken English, and responses to online messages time-stamped in the middle of the night local time are all good indicators that you may be dealing with someone actually overseas. Not all of these people are outright frauds, but deception isn’t exactly a great way to start a relationship. In this scenario, I advise security clearance holders to promptly terminate all correspondence; it’s just not worth the risk.

“Mail Order” Brides

A thriving subset of online dating is the “Mail Order Bride” industry. This is a surprisingly common issue in the military, with women hailing from places like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe. Professionally, I advise extreme caution to anyone thinking of pursuing a marriage under such circumstances. The women involved may be trafficked and/or pursuing marriage simply as a means of obtaining United States residency. A seasoned federal background investigator will be able to instantly pick up on red flags in this area that the clearance holder did not see – as I did several times during my own tenure as an OPM Investigator. The mere fact of the relationship can, in and of itself, be a major security risk. At that point, your “I do” may have just become “I do not have a security clearance anymore.”

Like much else in the security clearance world, some basic precautions in online dating go a long way toward preventing potentially career-ending scenarios.  Just remember: your security clearance (and the paycheck it affords you) allow you to pay for all those dates. Prioritize accordingly.



This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at