So, you think you can hide that unpaid debt, drug use, felony charge, security violation, or firing under questionable behavior? You might be able to hide answers from friends, families, and employers. However, when it comes to security clearance investigations and the continuous evaluation process, you might not be able to hide so well.

Investigative Checks and Balances

Here’s why: the SF-86 is used as a basis for investigations. Information provided on the form may be compared with SF-86 questions from previous investigations and findings from background checks. When populating the SF-86, the subject should answer each question accurately, completely, and truthfully, as the form is a matter of record.  In fact, the person assigned to do the investigations may verify with the subject and subject’s references to seek clarification of answers. Any anomalies will be investigated and reported. The answers concerning employment, credit, education, relationships, and legal matters may be cross checked against any reference interviews and information from background checks. These investigation results should match information provided on the questionnaire. The impact of falsifying the SF-86 is realized in adjudication decisions and linked to Guideline E: Personal Conduct.

Guideline E: Personal Conduct

“Conduct involving questionable judgment, lack of candor, dishonesty, or unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations…Of special interest is any failure to cooperate or provide truthful and candid answers during national security investigative or adjudicative processes.” Security Executive Agent Directive 4, National Security Adjudicative Guidelines. A review of security clearance adjudication decisions demonstrate that few security clearance decisions are based solely on Guideline E. They are usually paired with other guidelines such as not disclosing foreign relations, failure to repay debt, drug usage, and others. Below are but a few examples of how Guideline E has been applied to deny security clearances.

Tax Lien and Failure to Pay Debt

Applicant was aware of a federal tax lien and a debt for reimbursement to a federal agency for overpayment. He defaulted on his payment and failed to report the information during the investigation process. As a result, he was denied a security clearance.

Stolen Valor

Applicant received a general discharge under honorable conditions for performance in the U.S. Army Reserves. However, he reported in the SF-86 that he received an honorable discharge. The applicant understood he had received a lesser of the two discharges, but claimed the more desirable discharge and lied about his military rank. Additionally, he received punishment for numerous security violations such as bringing a camera into a restricted area, failing to secure classified information, and sharing sensitive information with foreign nationals without approval. He was denied a security clearance based on his personal conduct.

Drugs are my religion

An applicant claimed that he should be able to use drugs as a matter of his religion. His drug use was determined after he had received a security clearance. The judge denied his security clearance upon reinvestigation, as the applicant’s drug use occurred after having completed a clearance application and being granted a clearance. This behavior became a significant factor in evaluating his judgment and reliability.

Freebies for Friends

Applicant had an arrest record for battery, assault, and alcohol abuse. If that were not enough, she was also terminated for giving a free oil change to a customer. Her clearance was denied for many obvious reasons including questions about her honesty and judgment, and her ability to comply with laws, rules and regulations.

Get your story straight

This last scenario will make most supervisors, and those interested in preserving national security, grateful for the tough adjudicative process. The applicant was convicted of felony offenses three times, but marked “no” to the SF-86 question which asked whether he been charged with or convicted of any felony offense. He was also arrested on at least two other offenses, but stated “no” on the SF-86 question which asked whether he had been arrested for any offense not listed elsewhere on the SF 86 (let’s bring it full circle). Same guy marks “no” to the question which asked whether he had any unpaid judgments. As such, he failed to address that a judgment was filed against him for not paying child support. Additionally, he responded “no” to questions which asked whether delinquent on any debts, which also proved to be untrue.

Just be yourself

When it comes to personal conduct, applicants should demonstrate they can follow rules and regulations and make good decisions. This begins with completing the SF-86 as accurately as possible (truthfully). The SF-86 should crosswalk well with any investigation findings. If not, the gaps should be identified and mitigated. Many security clearances have been denied because the applicant was dishonest. However, many clearances were granted when the applicant was honest on the SF-86 and demonstrated during the adjudication process that they had overcome guideline issues and could be trusted with classified information.

Related News

Jeffrey W. Bennett, SAPPC, SFPC, ISOC, ISP is a podcaster, consultant and author of NISPOM, security, and risk management topics. Jeff's first book was a study guide for security certification. Soon after, Jeff began writing other security books and courses, and started his company Red Bike Publishing, LLC. You can find his books, ITAR, NISPOM, PodCast and more @