When it comes to what issues are going to cost you a clearance or prevent you from obtaining one in the first place, the overwhelming answer is ‘screwing up in multiple areas of your life.’ Security clearance determinations are made based on thirteen adjudicative criteria, covering issues from finances to foreign influence. Adjudication – the decision to award or deny a clearance – is based on a ‘whole person’ concept. That means a single issue is very unlikely to result in security clearance denial or revocation. What the government is interested in is who you are as a person, and your overall character and trustworthiness.
That’s why when we unpack the causes for security clearance denial from appeals cases, you overwhelmingly see multiple issues present in the decision to deny or revoke the clearance.
Here is a breakdown of security clearance denials for the Department of Defense for the first quarter of 2018, based on the cases released by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA):
# of cases
|Guideline A: Allegiance to the U.S
|Guideline B: Foreign Influence
|Guideline C: Foreign Preference
|Guideline D: Sexual Behavior
|Guideline E: Personal Conduct
|Guideline F: Financial Considerations
|Guideline G: Alcohol Consumption
|Guideline H: Drug Involvement
|Guideline I: Psychological Conditions
|Guideline J: Criminal Conduct
|Guideline K: Handling Protected Information
|Guideline L: Outside Activities
|Guideline M: Use of IT Systems
Financial issues – as always – far outpace other issues in cause of clearance denial and revocation. Second on the list – personal conduct – is one of the issues that is frequently seen along other issues or violations. For example, you have massive credit card debt (financial issues), and lie about it on your application (personal conduct).
My divorce, my foreclosure, and my multiple affairs
Over at the ClearanceJobsBlog discussions site security clearance holders frequently ask questions about how issues in their life may affect their government career and federal security clearance. One commenter recently asked:
“My ex has a clearance and he has stopped paying the mortgage on our house while the divorce is pending appeal. It’s about to go into foreclosure. Can he lose his clearance over this? Also, he had multiple affairs with married women who were contracting with the government agency he worked for. Could that also affect his clearance?”
Clearly it’s impossible to know or say for certain which confluence of issues may or may not result in a denial. It’s also impossible to say if this is a vindictive ex-spouse with an ax to grind, or an individual seriously interested in which issues constitute a threat to national security. It is certainly possible to have had multiple extramarital affairs and significant financial issues, and keep your security clearance. But it would require the applicant to be incredibly honest with his security officer about those personal issues (something that is difficult for most individuals), and he would also need to signal a pattern change in behavior, in terms of both personal conduct and finances.
Divorce and foreclosure are both major lifestyle changes and issues which should be self-reported to your security officer. And as awkward as it may seem, honesty is the best policy when it comes to the reasons for the divorce or foreclosure, and also the steps being taken to address them.
What Won’t Result in Clearance Denial?
It’s worth noting that in the first quarter of 2018, there were three criteria that resulted in zero security clearance denials – Outside Activities, Psychological Conditions, and Allegiance to the United States. These three areas have always been infrequent issues for security clearance denial. The lack of any clearances lost due to psychological conditions emphasizes the government’s decision to narrow the scope of the question about mental health, to make sure only psychological conditions which may pose a risk are disclosed, and not proactive measures to maintain mental health.
And as usual, Allegiance to the United States remains at the bottom of the list of issues resulting in clearance denial. Which means security clearance holders are clearly not making the decision to take a knee during the anthem when they attend Nats games.