If you’re at retirement’s doorstep, you’re probably contemplating a vision for the next chapter of your life. Perhaps it includes more time with grandchildren, seeing the world, or writing the next great American novel.

What it probably doesn’t include is annual security refresher training or facility security officers.  And yet, The Eagles’ may as well have been describing retirement from a cleared career in their famous song Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” The same obligations to protect classified information you abided by during your career continue to apply for life.

With that in mind, new or soon-to-be retirees would be wise to consider the following:

Pre-Publication Review

If writing the next great American novel is, in fact, on your retirement to-do list, the things you saw and did during your cleared career might seem like natural best-seller material. But before discovering whether or not your entrepreneurial instincts prove accurate, you must obtain pre-publication review of your manuscript from your former agency.

The requirement of pre-publication review isn’t just limited to novels. It applies whether you’re writing an op-ed for the local newspaper, a book, or a technical paper for the scientific community. If it touches on or incorporates information gleaned while working with a security clearance, the law requires you to first have your work product blessed by security officials.

At larger agencies like the Department of Defense, a dedicated Office of Pre-Publication Review is charged with this responsibility. Smaller agencies must sometimes rely on personnel to perform these reviews as a collateral duty (meaning that you could be in for a significant wait, so plan accordingly). Either way, the process actually protects you, the author, just as much as it protects the government’s interests. If you’ve followed the law and had your manuscript approved by the government, you’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing that no one can later accuse of divulging classified information.

Maintaining Secrets

Even if you have no plans to publish, remember that classified information doesn’t lose its classified status merely because its relevance seems to have been overtaken by events. Most classified information remains classified for at least 25 years after the date of original classification, but certain particularly sensitive information – for example, the identity of U.S. intelligence assets – remains classified for 50 years or more.

Never assume that information is declassified solely because of the passage of time or because its disclosure would seemingly no longer result in damage to national security. If you just have to tell your knitting group or golf buddies about the cool things you did in your glory days, first contact the National Archives and Records Administration’s National Declassification Center for guidance on how to research the current status of the information at issue.  Loose lips can still sink ships – even in 2020.

Reporting Attempts at Compromise to Authorities

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the information in your head may still be of value to our foreign adversaries for a number of years after you leave the workforce. Security and counterintelligence officials counsel that retired clearance-holders should remain vigilant, avoid placing one’s self in potentially compromising situations – especially overseas, and immediately report any solicitations for classified information to the FBI.

Following these simple guidelines can help keep you from running afoul of Uncle Sam in your golden years or tarnishing a legacy of service.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com