Drugs and security clearances are always a hot topic. Why? Because there are a ton of questions and cases that come up involving the two.

This subscriber to the ClearanceJobsBlog is applying for their first security clearance and filling out their SF-86 for the first time. Before we dive into this story, always remember that it’s best to not self-sabotage if you ever see yourself entering a career in national security, and play by the rules.

“I recently (~3 months ago) bought modafinil online using bitcoin. My understanding was that it is illegal to sell modafinil in the US, but not to buy/possess it. This was before this job was even on my radar, and I have since learned that the whole thing is illegal. (I know this was very naïve of me)

I don’t mind admitting to this but am worried about the potential for criminal charges to be filed, or local authorities being notified. From what I’ve read so far online, it’s up to the investigators’ discretion whether to inform other agencies or not. So, am I rolling the dice if I admit to it? My other alternative is to just back out of the whole thing; is that a bad idea? Would I be banned from applying again in 7+ years (when I could give an honest “no” answer)?”


Modafinil (also known as Provigil) is a schedule IV drug that can treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift work sleep disorder. To obtain this medication legally, it must be prescribed by a physician and purchased through a legitimate pharmacy.

Buying these pills online yourself without a prescription is 100% illegal in the United States.


Misuse of a prescription medication can raise concerns and disqualify an individual from holding a security clearance (Guideline H) but such concerns can be alleviated by showing:

  1. The behavior was so infrequent or so long ago that it is unlikely to recur.
  2. It doesn’t cast doubt on an individual’s reliability, trustworthiness, or judgment.
  3. An individual acknowledges the drug involvement, provides evidence of actions taken to overcome the problem, and has established pattern of abstinence.

Each individual’s application, each investigator, each DOHA judge, etc. is going to look at things differently. And each security clearance application is adjudicated using the whole-person concept, which is designed to ensure a single lapse in judgment won’t tank your security clearance chances.

In the above case, illegal purchase of a controlled substance is the clear issue, which includes the drug involvement and criminal activity adjudicative criteria. A secondary issue is if using bitcoin to make the purchase would be a factor. To some, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is the future; cyber funds allow individuals to make confidential transactions and can be used in international trade. To others, this type of currency could be a serious concern. USMC banned bitcoin on government devices, and owning bitcoin could even be problematic for a security clearance holder. (Although this has never been clarified in policy, so it remains a serious gray area).


To say no is untruthful. If you lie on the SF-86 form, more often than not, that lie will be uncovered. So, if you do move forward with filling out your SF-86 and applying for a security clearance, honesty is the best policy. Some applicants fail to report illegal activity because they’re considered it could result in criminal prosecution for the offense.

Security clearance attorney Sean Bigley writes that “federal policy has generally been that admissions of unreported criminal conduct made by an applicant in the course of their background investigation will not be reported for prosecution.”

He also notes that there is a major difference between “can’t” and “won’t”  so applicants who have concerns about this issue are advised to consult a qualified attorney before submitting their SF-86.

Bottom line: Do you have a security clearance? Or want one? If you answer to either question is yes, don’t buy pills online using bitcoin. Did we really have to say it?


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.

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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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸