As any security clearance holder can tell you, the background investigations process is invasive. The SF-86, background interviews, and polygraph exams are all meant to unearth any information that could cast doubts on your trustworthiness to hold a security clearance. But does the line stop somewhere? Does even the most private information about our bodies and behavior have to be revealed in order to work in national security? That’s what one security clearance applicant asked this week on the ClearanceJobs Blog.

The original poster wrote specifically about being HIV positive and its impact on a clearance application:

“I would like to clarify one question about the U.S. Security Clearance process, please:

During the background check is it normal a HIV+ person be asked about his/her health situation and provide information about this subject? Family, friends, ex’s and coworkers can also be asked if they know and share information about the HIV status of the candidate?”

This is obviously a very serious and difficult situation – one for which there is not the most clear precedent. A background investigator could not directly ask something like, “Are you HIV positive?” or “Do you have any sexually transmitted diseases?” The same questions would not be posed to references or personal subjects interviewed in the course of the background investigation. However, an investigator will ask you questions about illegal activity or if there is any information that could put you at risk for blackmail. If a person volunteers that they have HIV, an investigator can ask follow up questions.

Having an STD – or any other personal health issue –  will not disqualify you from obtaining a clearance, however.

Was your sexually transmitted disease the result of illegal or high-risk behavior?

As several replies pointed out, the condition itself is not an issue. However, how you contracted it could be. If your STD was contracted as a result of prostitution or illegal drug use, that will present a concern.

In addition, a personal health condition someone has gone to great lengths to hide may be an issue. If a person’s HIV status is not widely known, this could make that person a target for blackmail. Or what if you contracted an STD from an extramarital affair and have hidden that from your spouse? What if it was the result of an exchange with a foreign national (think Russian honeytraps, folks)?

Like so many other variables in the security process, the guidance on this isn’t black and white. But like almost every issue – a single factor alone (including an STD) will not result in clearance denial. Remember, the security clearance process always centers around the adjudicative criteria. Unless your health situation is related to criminal conduct or sexual behavior (extramarital affairs or sexual addiction), it will not be a factor. As always, an adjudicator is looking at you as a whole person; an STD alone will not have any bearing on your security clearance.

 

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