We get a disproportionate number of posts on the ClearanceJobs Blog that end with ‘am I screwed?’ The general answer is ‘not necessarily,’ but worrying often goes hand-in-hand with filling out 100+ pages of personal information and submitting it for the government’s consideration.
One visitor recently wrote that after submitting his SF-86 for a security clearance position he began having second thoughts. He became concerned that if something were to happen to make the U.S. intolerant or discriminatory – would he feel compelled to flee to another country? He called up the agency he applied with and said, “I am young but I don’t know if my future will be 100% in this country or take me someplace else. Please stop the clearance process.”
Want to Stop the Clearance Process? You can.
The applicant in question isn’t the first person to ask to have the security clearance process discontinued. Many applicants drop out after finding a new opportunity, or not wanting to endure a months long wait. A much smaller proportion – like this applicant – start to have a crisis of conscious about the process they’re beginning.
Fast forward a few years, and now the applicant asks this question:
I am looking at a couple of jobs that I absolutely love – but not within the same organization – I was applying with. My concern is that the organization I was applying with for my clearance and then withdrew from most likely recorded the call. Would what I said in the call, word for word, bite me back later and disqualify me from receiving a clearance? And let’s say I apply for a clearance and have an interview, and I am asked about why I canceled the clearance, would telling the truth about being sure about an option to “flee the country” make me seem disloyal – and torpedo my chances? And what then? Am I screwed? Should I just assume that I would get a denial and not bother to apply for a clearance at all? Would the “whole person concept” mitigate this if I applied for a clearance and told the interviewer the truth about my situation?
Allegiance to the United States: An Adjudicative Criteria
One of the 13 adjudicative criteria used to establish security clearance eligibility is ‘allegiance to the United States.‘ This doesn’t come down to thinking the U.S. is the greatest country in the world, or requiring you to profess your love for the red, white, and blue – but specifically relates to acts of espionage or treason, sympathy with those committing acts of espionage or treason, and actions like preventing government personnel from performing their official duties.
Security clearance holders – like all Americans – have First Amendment protections allowing them to disagree with the actions of the federal government. Wanderlust is also not a prohibited activity for security clearance holders. It is true that foreign travel can be one of the most significant time sucks for a security clearance applicant – but the desire to live in another country, or believe that you may one day want to live on the beach in Tahiti or a cabin in the Alps (who wouldn’t?!) is not in and of itself a security clearance disqualifier.
The applicant in question should be willing to discuss the reasons he discontinued his initial security clearance application, and address why his attitude toward the security clearance process and federal government has changed. It’s okay to have a red line in your head about what government actions you think are appropriate, but how you would address them matters greatly. The cases of Edward Snowden and Reality Winner emphasize what can happen when an individual disagrees with the federal government – and rather than simply moving to Canada – decides they need to do something about it.
What You Do Need to Be able to Affirm
You don’t need to think America is perfect in order to obtain access to classified information. But you should be absolutely, unabashedly committed to protecting classified information, and maintaining the security of the U.S. Most national security workers don’t pursue their careers because they think America is perfect – it’s because they know they can make it better. A national security career is one of the greatest opportunities to give back, to serve your country, and to protect your fellow citizens. If the thought of service to this country gives you second thoughts – pursue a different career.