With frequently evolving governmental budget priorities, cantankerous agency personnel, and long D.C.-area commutes, serving as a government contractor can sometimes be stressful.

To relieve that stress, many contractors turn to recreational sports, hitting the gym, or yoga. A not insignificant number also turn to massage, and that is where things get, well…touchy.

To be clear, the overwhelming majority of massage therapists are hard-working and legitimate professionals who do not deserve to be maligned by a few bad apples in their field of work. But bad apples do exist in the massage field, as they do in virtually every other vocation. In the world of massage therapy, they use legal massage services as a front for prostitution and other crimes like human trafficking.

Government contractors, including security clearance holders, are not immune to the temptations of the flesh. Whether by premeditated design or heat of the moment decision, those who patronize illicit massage providers are perpetuating criminal activity in every state but parts of rural Nevada; they are certainly running afoul of the standards of conduct for security clearance holders everywhere.

The NSA takes a dim view of illicit massage

We see a fairly high number of such cases in my security clearance defense practice. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, the majority of such cases seem to originate from the National Security Agency (NSA). This has led to some good-natured questions about whether Fort Meade is placing aphrodisiacs in their water – or whether there is some previously unknown association between signals intelligence and…you get the picture.

Either way, the salient thread between all these cases is that the behavior generally constitutes a pattern of misconduct over a single, one-off incident. The clearance holder specifically seeks out low-end massage establishments that are known to offer “extra” (i.e. illegal) services for the right price, as opposed to reputable chain establishments or higher-end spas.

Particularly in cases where the conduct is recent and during the clearance-holder’s service at NSA, the agency has tended to take a very aggressive position in revoking clearances and claiming that the behavior “cannot be mitigated.” Although the issue tends to arise less frequently at other agencies, anecdotal evidence suggests a similarly dim view of such behavior by other security clearance adjudicative authorities.

Clearance holders engaging in such conduct should be aware that these cases are challenging to win and often only mitigatable by significant passage of time without recurrent behavior.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at https://www.berrylegal.com/.