If you are a married general in a sensitive position who happens to be leading a double life as a secret swinger, here is the good news: When the Pentagon finds out about it, you’re not going to lose your clearance right away. Here’s the bad news: When it becomes public, you’re pretty much going to lose everything, and the clearance you still have won’t matter much. (But they’re gonna take your clearance, too.)
Consider the case of Maj. Gen. David Haight. By day, he was responsible for operations and plans at the U.S. European Command. By night, the married man frequented swinger clubs and maintained a fairly adventurous, if surreptitious, love life—a life which might have continued long into the future had the Pentagon inspector general not been tipped off and opened an investigation. It really didn’t help matters when one of his longtime girlfriends went to USA Today and revealed everything.
When you hold a security clearance, it’s just generally a bad idea to live a secret life. That sort of thing can lead you to being compromised, whether through blackmail or pillow talk. There is no evidence that Maj. Gen. Haight was ever targeted for espionage, but once his love life appeared in the newspaper, his career was over. Even after being exposed, however, he didn’t lose his clearance right away. Presently, his clearance is suspended pending an investigation. Should he be stripped of it, he has the right to appeal.
Understanding Military Polygraph Procedures
The general was never subjected to a polygraph examination, according to USA Today. As a rule, however, the Defense Department doesn’t polygraph soldiers. (They are investigated, but without the machine.) Even before assuming a leadership position at a major command, you probably won’t be strapped to a polygraph. There are, in fact, very few instances in which you will be tested. The use of the polygraph by the military is spelled out in Department of Defense Directive 5210.48. According to the directive, “polygraph examinations may be authorized only for the following purposes.” Here they are in plain English:
- As part of an investigation if you are accused of a crime that is punishable by death.
- If you are made part of a “special access program” and you have a need to access files that might jeopardize life or safety, or compromise sources, methods, technologies, or plans vital to the survival of the United States. Even then, the polygraph request will first need to be approved by the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and the examination will be limited to counterintelligence topics. (I.e., they probably won’t ask you if you smoked pot in high school.)
- As part of an investigation in which you might have leaked government secrets—but if you’re leaking secrets, what have you got to lose at that point?
- As part of an investigation in which you’re accused of terrorism or of being a spy. (Do you get the idea, yet, of how rare DOD polygraphs really are?)
- If you are a foreign national who needs access to classified material.
- Here’s the one most likely to snag you, and even then, it’s highly unlikely: If, during the course of your background investigation, you are found to have “serious credible derogatory information,” and questions raised “cannot be resolved in any other manner.” There is a catch, however: they first need your permission before using the polygraph.
- If you are Jack Bauer. Really! If “operational exigencies require the immediate utilization of a person’s service”—there’s some extraordinary emergency and only you can help and there’s no time to do the full background—they can ask you to submit to a poly. (Even then, the questions are limited to counterintelligence topics.)
- If they want you to spy on behalf of the United States. If you’re asked to be a spy, you will probably be polygraphed, okay? Now I’m not saying that’s probably not going to happen to you, but, well, it’s probably not going to happen to you.
- If you request one to clear up some horrible derogatory information that has arisen as part of an investigation, whether criminal or background or counterintelligence. (Talk to a lawyer first, though, because requesting a polygraph examination just seems like a really awful idea.)
- If you are asked to give polygraph examinations to non-DOD organizations. But look, if you’re the one giving the polygraph exams, you probably already know all of this.
- As part of an assignment or detail to the National Security Agency (but only for NSA jobs that handle crypto—if you are going to be the sanitation worker, you’re probably fine); the Defense Intelligence Agency; or the Central Intelligence Agency.
And that’s it! Those are the circumstances in which the military will bother attaching those little electrodes to your body. Avoid them, and the swinger clubs, and you can put in a full military career without ever having your involuntary bodily responses measured by stern-faced questioners.