Here’s your weekly DOHA dose – a shot of security clearance appeal cases and their outcome. The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals releases the results of their security clearance appeals cases. They’re one of the best insights into which clearance cases are granted or denied in the Department of Defense.
A personal subject interview can be one of the more stressful aspects of the security clearance application process, particularly if negative information is discussed or comes into the light. If you have negative issues, you may be tempted to ask your background investigator for their advice or opinion. While they are unlikely to give it, that doesn’t stop many applicants from asking.
True or False: If your background investigator says something isn’t an issue, it won’t result in clearance denial.
Interviews with Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) investigators have improved dramatically in recent years. Many investigators are moving beyond simply running down the list of questions one by one, and ask more intuitive questions (still based on the adjudicative criteria). Investigators also now have the freedom to conduct interviews via video platforms, which means investigations can move forward despite coronavirus closures.
While interviews today can seem more conversational than they have in years past, it’s important to remember the role of the background investigator – it’s to gather information, not make a value judgment. A background investigator never makes the actual final clearance determination.
In a recent appeal before DOHA, the applicant received a Statement of Reasons based on Guideline H, the drug involvement adjudicative criteria. The SOR was issued in 2019, but the applicant had held a security clearance since 2016. The issue is the applicant used drugs infrequently through 2018. In his answer to the SOR, the respondent said his last drug use was in 2018. In a subsequent interview, he clarified that it was 2018, and he’d answered incorrectly due to nervousness.
In his response, the respondent also put his background investigator on the line, saying that he had been told the drug issue wasn’t an issue. That argument was completely dismissed, along with the rest of his defense.
False: A background investigator won’t offer opinions on your case. If they do, they don’t matter.
Inconsistencies were a major issue in the applicants defense. Drug use while holding a security clearance remains a major issue – we have yet to see an applicant successfully mitigate drug use while holding a security clearance. In this case, the applicant admitted he knew the drug laws, as well as his own employers policies prohibiting drug use. Even though the drug use was sporadic and didn’t result in criminal conduct, the applicant’s integrity issues born out of misleading about the dates and the lack of time to mitigate the issues were too much to mitigate. ‘Blame the investigator’ may have seemed like a Hail Mary to secure a favorable hearing, but in this case it was ‘no dice.’