Serving your country comes at a price. For those in the military it can literally mean putting your life on the line. For those who serve the government in a civilian capacity it may mean restrictions on what you can say or where you can travel. A national security career offers many tangible benefits, but there are trade-offs. You will be asked to give up certain ‘liberties’ in the interests of security.
“There are a range of lawful activities or connections that people typically have to give up in order to maintain a security clearance,” said Braley P. Moss, partner at the Law Offices of Mark S. Zaid, a firm that specializes in litigation and lobbying on matters relating to international transactions, torts and crimes, national security.
Change #1 Personal Life and Space
Your personal life becomes less personal when you have a security clearance. The SF86, application for eligibility to access classified information, asks questions about drug use, sexual behavior and finances.
“I’ve avoided dating women with family members in certain countries,” admitted Mark S. Zaid, managing partner at the Law Offices of Mark S. Zaid.
“Associations with foreign nationals could cause a problem, unless they have been deemed as not a threat,” added Tony Anscombe global security evangelist at cybersecurity firm ESET.
“This extends to close friendships, or relatives,” Anscombe told ClearanceJobs. “We have all seen the movies where a foreign power tries to insert an agent into someone’s life in order to get information.”
Some security clearance applicants falsely assume if an activity overseas is legal, it shouldn’t pose security clearance issues – but the standards for clearance eligibility are different than legal rules.
“It’s completely fine for an American to own property in a foreign country, have friends in foreign countries or have family members who live and work in foreign countries,” Moss said. “However, if you want to hold a security clearance, there are all viewed as risks that expose you to foreign exploitation or coercion.”
The issue of dual citizenship is another issue. The government recently clarified it would not ask dual citizens to give up their foreign-country passports. But taking advantage of any benefits of foreign citizenship may be seen as an issue of allegiance, and result in clearance denial or revocation.
“Americans are lawfully permitted to hold more than one citizenship, work for foreign governments or vote in foreign countries,” Moss told ClearanceJobs. “If you want to hold a security clearance, though, you virtually always have to forego doing any of that ever.”
Change #2 Changing Workflows and workspaces
A security clearance will certainly impact how and where you work. Security clearance holders have their own set of terminology – from SCIF to burn-bag, your cleared workplace will be a change if you’ve only worked in non-sensitive positions.
If you’re a secret squirrel, don’t plan to telecommute. And not just that – don’t bring your work home, either.
“This is something everyone can probably relate to; in the 21st century we are all used to packing our laptop and going home with unfinished work, knowing we can do it from there – or how about having a late brunch while checking emails to make sure nothing urgent is happening,” explained AviramJenik is the CEO and co-founder of Beyond Security.
“All this is impossible for people with high security clearance since ‘work’ is a physical place that cannot be easily moved,” Jenik told ClearanceJobs.
Jenik added that he would recommend against even considering asking for a secure mail server so that you can work from your home office,. Even using the cloud could come with great risks.
When you obtain clearance your connections to the digital world may not be cut, but could be seriously limited.
“There is no doubt that the invention of the Internet has changed our lives, but if you have security clearance you’re a bit behind,” said Jenik. “Gmail, Dropbox, Slack and the various chat messaging systems are all fantastic productivity applications but since they store all their data in the ‘cloud’ you will not be allowed to use these [at work] if you have security clearance.”
Those who have worked for the government often lament the slow adoption of technology. It’s generally blamed on archaic policy and inefficiency, but security is also a very real driver behind the slow adoption of new technology in government offices.
“‘When in doubt, ‘say no’ could be the main imperative, which often causes gadget-freaks like myself to exhibit withdrawal symptoms,” warned Jenik. “‘Can we use Uber yet?’The answer may be ‘the committee will meet in June 2019 and consider allowing it. Wait until then.'”
Change #3 More Limited Vacation Options
Travel may be an issue, at least if you plan to take a trip overseas.
“Some places are more strict than others, but where you are is an issue when you have security clearance,” explained Jenik. “This is more restrictive than you might think: not only are you not allowed to physically travel to places which are American-hostile – a list which may vary frequently – but you may be forbidden to transit in or even fly over them. When was the last time you checked the actual flight plan of your plane? If you are going from New York to Delhi you’ll need to make sure the ‘fly-over country’ you’ll be passing through – or near – is not on the forbidden list.”
When vacationing in an approved country your clearance may come in handy for another reason – it will help you fight the urge to make an impulse purchase.
“Next time you’re on vacation and they try selling you a timeshare apartment, it might be amusing to use the excuse that you are limited to property ownership in foreign countries due to your security clearance,” Anscombe joked.
Change #4 Real Work Life Balance
Related to all of these changes is one distinction – in a world where the lines between ‘work’ and ‘home’ continue to blur, the security clearance holder can generally count on very delineated responsibilities, work hours and handling protocols.
“There is no ‘secure line’ on the beach, so on the plus side it provides great work/life separation,” said Jenik. “On the minus side you can’t leave work until work is done.”