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.
One business is booming in spite of the coronavirus – alcohol sales are up $8 billion (17%) since the pandemic hit, and that doesn’t even include the holidays, where people traditionally double their alcohol consumption. Pair a lot of alcohol, a lack of social interaction, and you have a recipe made for disaster. If you’re a security clearance holder the most important factor to remember is that the single most important thing you can do if alcohol is an issue for you is to go out and get help. Alcohol abuse will only affect your security clearance if it remains untreated and out of control.
True or False: A decade of alcohol-related offenses will always result in security clearance denial.
An individual who had been in a position of public trust since 2003 recently appeared before DOHA to appeal a security clearance denial related to alcohol and criminal conduct adjudicative guidelines. The alcohol-related offenses spanned a decade, beginning in 2006, with the last offense in 2017. This is what would be called a pattern of behavior, and in this case, it all took place while the individual was in a position of public trust.
The Statement of Reasons the applicant received in 2019 should come as no surprise – the mix of criminal conduct and ongoing issues are clear signs there is an issue, and the government needs to take a closer look. As DOHA states, “a strong presumption against the grant or maintenance of a security clearance.” In other words, the government should always err on the side of protecting classified information vice submitting itself to risk. As the famous Department of Navy vs. Egan case codified, ” Any doubt concerning personnel being considered for national security eligibility will be resolved in favor of the national security.”
But what constitutes a national security risk?
One of the critical aspects for the government as it overhauls its security program as a part of Trusted Workforce 2.0, is what factors are most likely to indicate an individual who will breach trust? The case of Aaron Alexis highlighted the need for mental health and local criminal records checks, as well as continuous versus episodic vetting. Edward Snowden indicated the need to dig deeper in a background investigation, and why the traditional adjudicative criteria may not be the best method for vetting potential risk (although the government still hasn’t added narcissism as an adjudicative criteria).
The 13 adjudicative guidelines do catch many of the primary motivations behind an individual’s propensity to breach trust – financial motivations being top on the list, followed by other factors like foreign influence. But each of these criteria is weighed heavily against the whole person concept. That means that even if all of the facts point to issues that would lead to denial, the government will also consider any mitigations, as well.
False: Even a Decade of Alcohol Abuse Won’t Tank Your Clearance Chances – IF you seek help
Alcohol abuse – particularly a pattern of abuse that leads to criminal charges – indicate issues of reliability and trustworthiness. But in the above case, despite the criminal charges, length of time, and fact that the abuse occurred while holding a position of public trust, there were two factors that helped mitigate the concerns.
- The clearance holder reported the issues to her employer, who supported her in her appeal and referred to her as “an excellent worker–conscientious, ethical, and reliable.” Unlike many applicants who try to hide any potential issues (which then poses character and personal conduct issues), the applicant was straightforward about her issues, and disclosed them to her employer.
- The applicant took proactive, significant steps toward treatment, including being admitted to a state-sponsored treatment center, attending Alcoholics Anonymous, and moving in with supportive relatives who would help her with treatment.
The DOHA finding stated: “The Judge noted that Applicant’s last DUI occurred in 2017, “and there is no evidence of any alcohol related misconduct” after then. Decision at 7. He cited to her rehabilitation program, her changed personal circumstances, her love for her job and her concern over the consequences should she be denied access to classified information. He stated that she clearly understands that her eligibility for a clearance depends on continued sobriety. The Judge concluded that it is unlikely that Applicant will engage in alcohol-related misconduct in the future. He stated that Applicant “has demonstrated a sufficient pattern of modified behavior” to show that her security-significant conduct is behind her.”
The coronavirus and a lonelier than average holiday could create a perfect storm for many workers in the national security community. Keep in mind that even if you currently hold a security clearance, failing to get help may cost you your national security career – but being proactive, admitting you need help, and taking steps toward treatment will help you keep your security clearance, and your career.