Just like anyone, clearance holders need a little love. We all dream of understanding and being understood. Building a life with someone. And – if we’re being truthful – having something pretty to look at. But however human and natural these desires, security clearance holders have some deeper considerations in their love lives. Everyone must ask themselves if they share the same values as their partner or if we can stand that annoying habit of theirs for 50 years. But clearance holders must also ask, “Will their crippling debt jeopardize my career?” or “Could this possibly be a honeytrap operation set up by the Russians?”

So in honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to share with you all the ways that pretty stranger across the bar could eventually cost you your career and destroy your life.

(I’m just a hopeless romantic – what can I say?)

1. Your partner is a Foreign National

Though it may seem unfair, dating or marrying a foreign national (or even a naturalized citizen of foreign origin) can cause clearance hiccups, denial, or revocation. And not to name names, but if that person is from Russia, China, or Iran, the likelihood of trouble increases.

But not to fear: like the rest of the clearance background investigation process, everything is a case-by-case basis. Your best defense is to be forthcoming and thorough with your security officers and investigators. Your foreign spouse or significant other is by no means an automatic disqualifier. But it does add an additional layer of scrutiny.

After all, Vlad may love you deeply, down into the cockles of his Siberian heart – but be prepared for clearance investigators to need more than just your word for it.

2. honeybunch Has a Spending Problem

Apart from the sensational stuff of spy movies, this issue is probably more likely to get you into trouble than anything else. This is a very common issue with clearance holders and applicants. As we’ve written many times before, financial considerations are consistently the #1 reason for security clearances to be denied.

It doesn’t matter if your spouse handles the finances. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know about it. Your shared debt can make you vulnerable to blackmail and your security officer needs to know about it.

3. Someone is Your Significant Other Only “One Night at a Time”

Look, I’m not going to be vivid. I’m a lady (and you weren’t born yesterday). The advice is simple: do not engage with prostitutes. Full stop. Prostitution is illegal at the federal level, so even “what happens in Vegas” does not stay in Vegas. You will be liable for breaking a federal law. Aside from that, an adversary could easily blackmail you to keep the indiscretion private. And yes, illicit “massages” are also off-limits for clearance holders.

You must also consider that the kindly professional that you patronized may not just be after you for your good looks and charm. Since Samson and Delilah, adversaries have turned to the honeytrap to elicit secrets from the romantically vulnerable. Remember, any romantic relationship you engage in gives that person some power over you – can they be trusted with that power?

4. Your Significant Other Has a Drug Problem

While everyone’s spouse has flaws, flaws that break the law are where the federal government draws a line. Does your spouse smoke recreational marijuana? Abuse prescription medication?Turning a blind eye to a partner who breaks the law can cost you your clearance.

As with clearance holders themselves, one or two youthful indiscretions are not a deal-breaker; it’s about your aiding and abetting their current illegal behavior. Though be advised: If you are applying for the DEA or FBI, their standards about drug and alcohol use are particularly stringent.

5. an Ex-lover Is Out for Revenge

Hell hath no fury like a lover-turned-enemy. As mentioned above, a romantic relationship makes you vulnerable to another person. Ideally, that vulnerability is the foundation for a lifetime of happiness. However, it does not always work out that way.

Your ex will know all the skeletons in your closet. And if they’re feeling especially jilted, they may just make up a few to hurt you. If you are applying for a clearance or are up for periodic reinvestigation, that ex is likely to be contacted by investigators. To get the upper hand in divorce proceedings or custody battles, they could expose, exaggerate, or invent things that could jeopardize your clearance. Did your spending, drug use, or affair with a foreign national prompt your breakup?  You can bet it’s going to come to light.

The takeaway: Be a good spouse, clearance holders. Your relationship and your job are counting on you. And short of that, make sure you tell your FSO any concerns before your ex does.

6. Your Partner Is Significantly Younger than You

There’s nothing inherently wrong about the May-December romance. If you’re willing to be mistaken for her grandfather at social outings, then I wish you every happiness in the world.

However, a difference in age can often cast doubt on the motives for that relationship. Take, for example, James Wolfe, former Security Director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and his relationship with NYT reporter Ali Watkins. Wolfe, at age 53, began a romantic relationship with Watkins while she was still a college student. Through the course of this relationship, he was an anonymous source for Watkins – revealing privileged information to her.

Wolfe lost his job, was fined, and spent two months in prison for lying to the FBI about the nature of his relationship with Watkins. His tenure as Director of Security for the SSCI began in 1987 – five years before Watkins was even born . A 30-year career ended in scandal and ruin.

You’re balding and tell bad jokes. I’m going gray and have too many opinions; none of us are perfect. But if that PYT at the bar is eyeing you like a starving man eyes a cheeseburger, be a little self-aware. Your “private” conversations could just find their way to the NYT, Wikileaks, or Moscow.


With all that said, Happy Valentine’s Day, clearance holders!   😉


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Caroline's background is in public policy, non-profit fundraising, and - oddly enough - park rangering. Though she once dreamed of serving America secretly in the CIA, she's grateful she's gotten to serve America publicly - both through the National Park Service and right here at ClearanceJobs.