The Air Force Engineer Who Shagged a Foreign National and Lost His Security Clearance

Security Clearance

Any who are steeped in the history of the second oldest profession – espionage – know the relationship with the oldest profession is omnipresent. The use of sex and the resultant pillow talk have been used by intelligence services since time immemorial to undermine national security.

You would think that in 2017, after centuries of examples to cull from, those in positions of trust would understand that the foreign national reporting requirement is to provide an early warning that an adversary may be engaging a trusted employee.  Furthermore, to hide the existence of the relationship places one on the other side of the rules on reporting close and continuing contact. Though espionage is the threat which is being addressed, there doesn’t have to be an espionage component to an unreported relationship with a foreign national for the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to throw the book at you.

An engineer a Wright-Patterson Air Force base learned this lesson the hard way.

The Daytona Daily News tells us,  how Michael Volf Ol,  an aeronautical engineer,  was charged with making false statements on his national security questionnaire, lying to a federal officer and lying to an Air Force OSI special agent.  A subsequent review of court documents reveal DOJ had the latter two charges dropped, as Ol admitted guilt to making false statements on his questionnaire for national security positions (SF-86), and was fined $5000, assessed $100 in fees and given probation not to exceed three years and ordered to enroll in a mental health treatment program at the direction of the probation officer.

So how did this cleared engineer find himself in the soup?

Very simple.  He had a paramour who was a foreign national. Court documents indicate he visited her in 2012 in various locations in France and the United States. In 2016 they liaisoned in Estonia. The relationship with the unidentified lady was romantic, close, and intimate.

The need to report foreign national contacts are table stakes. When Ol met his paramour in 2012 (or before) he should have identified her as a an individual he had met and submitted the name to his Facility Security Officer (FSO). Subsequently when the relationship evolved to be more personal, with clear bonds of affection, he should have updated his FSO with additional information. The FSO would have counseled him, advised the Cognizant Security Authority, background on the individual would have occurred, and Ol would have been kept in the loop.

The inclusion on the SF86 would have been administratively a non-event, because he had previously reported the contact, and the evolution of the romantic relationship.  Section 19 of the SF86 is unambiguous.

Do you have, or have you had, close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven
(7) years with whom you, or your spouse, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests,
and/or obligation? Include associates as well as relatives, not previously listed in Section 18  (Section 18 refers to relatives who are foreign nationals).

Well, we know Ol kept his relationship hidden, opted to check the NO box, instead of stating YES, thus committing a federal crime once he signed and submitted the form, as it contained a clear falsehood. His guilt was further compounded by continuing to deny the relationship during interviews with federal personnel.  In doing so, he turned his own life upside down.

Moral of the story?

While sex is natural, those who enjoy the trust of the US government must be judicious, and not put their security clearance at risk, due to the “in the moment” override and supplanting the national security ramifications (and your employment). If you do encounter a foreign national, beyond casual interaction, make sure your report the contact. Should your relationship with the individual advance to “close and continuing,” report it, be responsible and be accountable.  And remember, the information on the SF86 is attested as being true to the federal government once you sign your name to the document.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).