Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit

For most security clearance applicants, Section 11 of the SF-86 form (“Where You Have Lived”) is relatively innocuous. The worst part about it is remembering all those old addresses.

But in some cases, the information subsequently gleaned by investigators from neighbors, landlords, and roommates can actually cause major problems for the applicant. I distinctly remember one of those cases from when I was an investigator.

The case started out normally enough: some preliminary reference checks, education verifications, and an interview with the mid-20’s subject. On the surface, it appeared to be a “clean” case that I was looking forward to getting off my desk.

Then I drove by the guy’s house.

The first red flag was the line of at least 30 empty beer bottles along the curb. As my eyes wandered, I took-in the beer keg on the front lawn next to the inflatable swimming pool. Then the other keg on the porch. Then the “(expletive) the Police” bumper sticker plastered across the garage.

Cop or Clearance Investigator?

Things got even more interesting when I exited my car and a neighbor sweeping leaves began to approach. “Are you with the city? We’ve been waiting for you guys to come out forever.”

The neighbor’s disappointment that I wasn’t there to red tag the property melted quickly when she learned the real reason for my visit. She was more than happy to give me an earful about the “drunken idiots” who lived there – security clearance applicant included – and the “raging parties” they had every weekend. She was also kind enough to introduce me to two other neighbors who were equally thrilled to chat. I’ll never forget one particular comment about the subject of my investigation: “They’re (the house residents) all morons, but that guy is the idiot-in-chief.”

Not exactly a glowing endorsement.

As it turned out, the police were being called multiple times per week to break-up raucous parties – something which was self-evident after a visit to the local precinct. The landlord habitually rented to fraternities, and this applicant still apparently thought he was in college despite graduating several years prior. The neighbors were only too pleased to relay numerous tails of the applicant’s drunken neighborhood debauchery.

Being an Idiot – Not a Clearance Disqualification, But a Red Flag

Back in those days, I never did find out the end result of investigations I completed and submitted for adjudication. As a defense attorney now, however, I strongly suspect that the subject of my formerly “clean” case wound-up experiencing major career impediments because of his hard-partying ways. After all, regular, heavy drinking is not particularly compatible with national security.

With all that in mind, my closing words of advice are simply this: make nice with your neighbors by being respectful of them. If you don’t, they might one day be very happy to see your background investigator.



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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Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials, revocations, and the security clearance application process. He is a former investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management). For more information, please visit Readers will also find a low-cost, self-help option for obtaining copies of their security clearance background investigations and DISS/Scattered Castles records at