ClearedCast recently interview Ron Sykstus, an expert on security clearance issues. Sykstus provides security clearance defense for those denied a security clearance and those needing assistance navigating security clearance requirements.

He explained his defense of security clearance cases and how the adjudication process works. He notes the most problematic adjudicative criteria in recent cases being related to drug and alcohol issues. Drug issues are becoming more prevalent in part due to changing conventions about drug use, including the increased numbers of states legalizing marijuana use – even when it remains illegal under federal law. Though an applicant may have experienced a drug or alcohol related arrest or incident, this is not necessarily a show stopper to obtaining a security clearance, however. An applicant who has a DUI or drug related arrest in their history may be able to mitigate the behavior enough to still receive a clearance.

Another, perhaps surprising issue that can cause issues for security clearance holders and applicants is not filing taxes. Failing to file your taxes (regardless of whether or not you owe money) shows an inability to follow policy and follow the rule of law – which may carry over to the handling of classified information. Sykstus recommends in these matters, where red flags are raised, the subject demonstrate that the behavior has occurred in the past. For example, with drinking issues, the applicant may succeed with completing counseling or demonstrating that they are no longer drinking. Showing that the behavior is in the past and will not be an issue in the future will go a long way in getting a clearance granted.

Are there any behaviors that cannot be mitigated?

When asked what behavior might not be mitigated, he responds that applicants who do not take responsibility for their actions are the most at risk of not mitigating the adjudicative criteria. Ignoring treatment, lying about incidences, obfuscating facts, or rationalizing behavior are definite showstoppers as the investigator and adjudicators will not have means to recommend that the applicant mitigated the circumstances.

Sykstus also recommends that an applicant complete their SF-86 as accurately and completely as possible. Lying on the SF-86 could result in denial of a clearance or disciplinary action. The best practice for an applicant is to provide all relevant information good or bad as it happened, and any actions the applicant took to address the situations.

One last piece of advice Sykstus offers is to come clean with self-reporting. Cleared employees are responsible for reporting behavior that are contrary to the adjudicative criteria. He maintains that while the cleared employee is required to self-report, they should seek legal advice first. The reason is not to hide the activity but report it correctly and with the advice of an expert to help mitigate the activity.

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Jeffrey W. Bennett, SAPPC, SFPC, ISOC, ISP is a podcaster, consultant and author of NISPOM, security, and risk management topics. Jeff's first book was a study guide for security certification. Soon after, Jeff began writing other security books and courses, and started his company Red Bike Publishing, LLC. You can find his books, ITAR, NISPOM, PodCast and more @