Here’s a fun activity for your weekend: get a room full of current or former military together and ask them some of the crazy things their recruiter told them when they enlisted. That’s the issue brought up by one poster this week on the ClearanceJobs Blog. What if your recruiter told you it was okay to lie about drug use or other information that winds up on your SF-86? The original poster wrote:

I enlisted in 2010, I had smoked marijuana twice in 2007, but was told by a current Air Force personnel to not disclose this information. Being young and stupid I followed that advice. After MEPS I told the recruiter about the situation stated above, and he said the paperwork concerning drug use could not be changed, and to not worry about it because I was never arrested, it wasn’t in the last 45 days and they only care about if it was 7 times or more… so I didn’t press the matter. I’m cross training into a field that requires a TS/SCI w/ CI poly, so I’m sweating bullets over here analyzing everything about my life, I’m looking at my past records in the Air Force Portal and I see that I have a SF86 on record that I didn’t fill out, maybe the recruiter did? I signed it but don’t recall ever being shown this document.

Fast forward a few years in 2013 I joined the reserves, and I told the recruiter that I needed to change this, but was told to keep the paperwork the same because it’s like I’m admitting to falsifying the document. And then they made me fill out another SF86 and it was then outside the 7 years. I’ve held a Secret security clearance now for 6 1/2 years… I can’t/don’t want to keep this in my upcoming investigation, and really want to continue serving. Will you shoot straight with me if I’m totally screwed? It happened 12 years ago. I plan on disclosing this information, and then returning back to this blog to let everyone know the outcome. I hate that people never follow back up after everything gets adjudicated. Thanks guys.

Tough call, especially since one of the few more detrimental things than drug use to your security clearance is lying about it (or anything else).

You have to tell the truth sometime. It might as well be today.

Very few things disqualify someone for a security clearance in themselves; investigators and adjudicators are human, too, and they’re looking at you as a complete picture. The security clearance process applies the “whole person” concept so one mistake alone will not sink your chances. So where the original poster’s drug use in itself is probably not of great concern, in combination with the falsified SF-86, it does raise red flags. Keep in mind that the SF-86 asks you to confirm that all information is true. Caught up in a storm of enlistment paperwork, some applicants they don’t recall filling it out, but answering similar questions. It bears repeating that you should always read the fine print before signing anything (whether it’s an SF-86 or a new car loan with 25% APR).

As one background investigator responded:

The bad news is that you have now falsified SF86 forms. You lied the first time and had a chance to come clean the second but again followed poor advice from someone who wanted to move you forward to meet a quota. Now, you have a poly in your future?

You need to come clean on the new SF86. The advice that you were given, both times, was really crappy but now, you have to show that you are making your own decisions.

The good news is that investigators and adjudicators know that recruiters often tell youngsters who are enlisting to leave drug use off of their application. It would be great if you had names and dates for those that gave you this advice but I’m pretty sure that you can clear with 12 year old MJ use.

Just come clean . . .

Since the use took place outside the AF (AF vet myself), and 12 years prior, I believe you have a good chance it will not be an issue. It is known that recruiters in general are paid to fill seats and at times are well known to give that bad advice. However, I do know if brought up on drug charges in the AF for current use, they can and do look at past SF86’s and enlistment documents, and they do pursue fraudulent enlistment charges. You will not get through the poly if you maintain the lie. Submit the fresh, clean SF86 and chances are they only use that for the investigation. So you can answer no MJ use past 7 years (10 years for TS SCI). That should be an honest answer for you. In other words don’t speak to issues outside the time period specified on the SF86. They are not asking if you ever used in your entire life. It is a 7 or 10 year question.
Like all other clearance determinations, it’s ultimately the subjective call of an adjudicator who is looking at all of your information. But at some point you’re going to have to correct the mistake and start being honest. You might as well start now.

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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.