Love, sweet love. It puts a swing in our step, a sparkle in our eye, and a warmth in our heart. But love giveth and love taketh away – and that’s certainly true for clearance holders. If you’re a cleared professional, your private life isn’t private to Uncle Sam; who you date or marry matters. We’ve written many times on the ways that a romantic relationship can cost you your security clearance. If your spouse is a habitual drug user, a foreign national or has delinquent debt, these are all red flags to a security officer.

But recently a user on the Clearance Jobs Blog brought up an interesting question that marries (haha, get it?) two potential concerns: What if your lover is a foreign national with a criminal record?

The user writes:

I am UK national and live in the UK. I have recently started seeing someone who has clearance and an impeccable record (he is 64) and has clearance. He may be going for higher levels of clearance too… (I am not sure if the details). He lives in Washington D.C and works at the same company as me.

11 years ago I was prosecuted in the UK for theft. My father was dying and I flipped out and took some units from work and sold them on ebay to try and pay for private medical for him. It was my first and only offence. The judge showed clemency and I repaid all the money and was given a suspended sentence and no custodial time, community service, tag or anything… the judge understood what I had done and although didn’t condone it… saw the reasons why.
My question is my partner who I have now been seeing for just three months says he will have to declare me as we have seen each other three times in four months and have now been intimate. Will my record strip him of his clearance? I haven’t told him as I am very embarrassed. I don’t know whether I need to end the relationship even though I love him, because I know having his clearance taken from him would be a major blow and I don’t want to be the cause of that. Any advice is very much appreciated as I am very worried and want to do the right thing for him… he is a lovely man. Thank you.

So is this user right to be concerned? Like so much else in the security clearance process, it depends. So let’s break down her two concerns: being a foreign national and having a criminal record.

Your Security Clearance and Romance with a Foreign National

The fact is that dating or marrying a foreign national (or even a naturalized citizen of foreign birth) can complicate your security clearance. It can cause long delays in the investigations process or result in outright clearance denial or revocation. It should surprise no one that a significant other poses an even greater threat to your clearance if that person is from China, Russia, Iran, or another nation known to be hostile against the U.S.

But a foreign lover is not in itself grounds for clearance denial or revocation. Adjudicators will take this into account, weigh it with the rest of your suitability and security findings, and make a judgment. Given that this user is a citizen of the United Kingdom – a trusted ally of the U.S. – this is unlikely to be a huge concern. However, even your significant other is from a nation as friendly as the U.K., you must still report that relationship to your security officer.  This is essential. Hiding a relationship with a foreign national is likely a greater cause of concern than the relationship itself.

What if Your Partner Has committed a Crime?

The additional concern is that of being convicted of a crime. Does this matter? Here are some questions your security officer will want to know:

  • How recent was the crime?
  • What steps has your partner taken to rehabilitate themself after the criminal conduct?
  • Did your partner spend time in prison and build dangerous contacts there?
  • Was their crime in any way related to your job?
  • Could you or your partner be blackmailed for this crime?
  • Did you know them at the time of the crime and fail to address or report it?

In other words, if you’re a cleared programmer and your wife shoplifted 10 years before you met her (and has been on the straight and narrow since), you’re probably in the clear. However, if you work for the DEA and your boyfriend smuggled drugs into the country three years ago – you’re treading through dangerous waters.

In all likelihood, this user probably doesn’t have much to worry about. She is the citizen of a friendly nation and committed a crime long in the past that probably has no direct relevance to her partner’s job. On the other hand, if she had been convicted of intellectual property theft and hailed from Beijing, you may have to search for a new line of work – or a new girlfriend.

Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains ClearanceJobsBlog.com – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum

If you have a tough security clearance question, you can post your questions or concerns on ClearanceJobsBlog.com.

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Caroline D'Agati is an Editor for ClearanceJobs based in Washington, D.C. Her 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. If you have tips or are interested in contributing to our site, you can email her at caroline.d'agati@clearancejobs.com