Recent articles report that a U.S. Army Major General (MG), assigned to the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) was removed from his duty position after the Army Inspector General investigated and substantiated a complaint that the MG participated in a ten-year extramarital affair that included sex with multiple partners at a time and attending “swinging clubs” in several locations. One question most people will ask is “How did this go on for so many years without detection by the security clearance process ?” Very good question. Unfortunately, the answer is somewhat complicated and these situations probably occur more often than anyone would like to admit.
Sexual Behavior on the SF86
Let’s start at the beginning – the investigation. If you hold a U.S. Government security clearance or access, you know the first step is to complete the form, a Standard Form 86 (SF86) or the electronic version, the electronic Questionnaire for Investigation Processing (eQIP). I have completed and reviewed many of these forms during my 35+ year career in the security arena. There is NO question on the form that asks “Are you a swinger?”, “Are you an adulterer?” or “Do you visit swinging clubs and do you participate in activities there?” Only if you commit adultery or swing with foreign nationals could this behavior possibly surface on the form as you are required to list foreign nationals with whom you have a close relationship.
“Now, General, let’s talk about swinging…”
Next, we can look at the personal interview which is conducted for all investigations that lead to eligibility or access to Top Secret information. I have undergone several of these interviews. Essentially, the investigator reviews your form item by item to check if the information is accurate or if there have been any changes since you completed and certified the form. At the end of the interview, the investigator generally asks one final question. Something along the lines of “Is there anything we have not covered that, if known, could have a negative impact on your eligibility for the clearance or access you are processing for or that would prevent you from protecting national security information?” This question leaves it open for you to admit any conduct that might possibly leave you open to pressure, coercion or blackmail. The vast majority of people being investigated answer “no”.
During the investigation process, several references are interviewed to ascertain an individual’s conduct at work and in social settings and general knowledge of the individual. Generally, for most military applicants, references that are interviewed are similar ranks as the subject of the investigation. They usually are not willing to discuss issues that they do not believe are noteworthy or that they, themselves, participate in. Or, they do not know about behavior that should be reported. Based on the MG’s many military reassignments, it is very possible that his references knew him primarily as a work associate and had no direct knowledge of his behavior off-duty.
What a Polygraph Can’t Measure: Compulsive Liars and Unasked Questions
Finally, the polygraph. From the reports I read, I believe he was the EUCOM J3, in charge of plans and operations. EUCOM is a Unified Combatant Command and its area of responsibility covers Europe and NATO countries, including Turkey and Iceland. EUCOM’s number one priority is to deter Russian aggression. As the J3, he would have had access to Top Secret information and national security Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) from the intelligence community (IC) agencies.
The MG certainly would have undergone a polygraph by one of the IC agencies. There are two types of polygraphs – one focuses on counterintelligence (CI) issues and the other covers life-style issues, commonly called a full scope (FS) polygraph. The CI polygraph asks questions regarding an individual’s knowledge or participation in espionage, sabotage, terrorism and unreported contact with intelligence agents of a foreign government. The FS polygraph includes the CI-type questions and also asks about involvement in criminal activity, illegal drugs and falsification of security forms. If an individual does not believe their behavior falls under these areas, the polygraph equipment will not register a reaction to the question and there would be no follow-up questions/interviews.
Also, if an individual is a compulsive liar, the equipment will not register a reaction. I believe the MG fits the latter possibility as he lied to his spouse for at least 10 years regarding his activities and his whereabouts. It is not difficult to understand how someone can behave in this manner and still complete the process and be granted eligibility for access to highly classified national security information.