Security clearance adjudicative guidelines are used to determine eligibility for a security clearance. The government uses 13 adjudicative criteria, referred to as guidelines, for determining whether or not an individual should obtain access to classified information. Decisions are based on national security and a ‘common sense’ judgment of the person’s overall trustworthiness.
Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4 went into effect June of 2017, and is the most recent directive establishing the adjudicative criteria for security clearance eligibility. SEAD 4 made relatively minor changes to the adjudicative guidelines. The two primary changes were to the foreign preference adjudicative criteria, and polygraph. Polygraphs had not previously been mentioned in the adjudicative guidelines, but SEAD 4 clarified that adverse security clearance determinations could not be made on the basis of polygraph alone.
13 Adjudicative Guidelines
The 13 adjudicative criteria are:
(1) Guideline A: Allegiance to the United States
This is rarely the cause of a clearance denial or revocation, but political dissidents beware. You can certainly participate in politics but defamatory speech against the government is not looked upon well. The next time someone talks to you about overthrowing the government, you certainly don’t want to lend them your ear.
(2) Guideline B: Foreign Influence
Foreign influence is an increasingly significant factor in security clearance determinations, both for naturalized citizens and for those whose parents were born in a foreign country. Your security clearance investigation will seek to ensure that you don’t have divided loyalties. SEAD 4 does clarify that dual citizenship is not a disqualifier for a security clearance, but dual citizens should not be taking advantage of their foreign citizenship.
(3) Guideline C: Foreign Preference
Foreign preference – very similar to foreign influence, also comes down to loyalty. It is frequently cited as a factor for dual citizens. If you’re a dual citizen you’ll want to avoid taking advantage of the benefits of that citizenship – including traveling on a foreign passport.
(4) Guideline D: Sexual Behavior
Sexual behavior is rarely used for a clearance denial or revocation. When it is, it typically relates to criminal sexual behavior or an extramarital affair. Even an extramarital affair is not likely to result in a clearance denial. But if you haven’t disclosed that indiscretion and would go to great lengths to hide it, the risk for a foreign government is a consideration.
(5) Guideline E: Personal Conduct
Personal conduct is a common disqualifying condition, and it is most frequently used against applicants who have lied on their SF-86. Fabricating details on your security clearance application is a sure sign of dishonesty. That’s why the rule about the SF-86 is to always be truthful. Don’t disclose unnecessary information, but omitting a known drug use (which may or may not be a disqualifying issue) is certain to come back to haunt you.
(6) Guideline F: Financial Considerations
Financial considerations are the number one clearance killer. The idea is, if you can’t be responsible for your finances, than you may not be trustworthy with classified information, either. Not all debt is considered equally – medical debt, debt due to lay-offs and other explained debt can be mitigated. A problem with overspending is not as favorable, and puts you at risk for foreign espionage efforts and the chance for a quick pay off.
(7) Guideline G: Alcohol Consumption
This adjudicative guideline comes down to alcohol abuse – not the regular glass of wine before dinner or the occasional bender. It is often seen through repeated citations for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or public intoxication. If you’ve been cited recently – or frequently – for alcohol related offenses, consider enrolling yourself in an alcohol education course.
(8) Guideline H: Drug Involvement and Substance Misuse
Drug involvement frequently gives young security-clearance applicants sweaty palms. But infrequent drug use can be mitigated – particularly with the passage of time. Even a habitual drug user can show that he’s changed his ways with the passage of time. So be honest on your application, but avoid any contact with drugs in the future.
(9) Guideline I: Psychological Conditions
Mental health is one of the more controversial adjudicative criteria. In recent years the guideline has been updated to clarify that seeking mental health counseling is not a disqualifying factor for a security clearance. The issue for the government is untreated mental illness, unreliability or dysfunctional behavior. If you have received medical counseling for anything other than a spousal, family issue, or military service-related issue, you will be asked to provide an “Authorization of Release of Medical Information” which allows your medical provider to answer three questions related to your judgement, reliability and prognosis.
(10) Guideline J: Criminal Conduct
Criminal offenses are considered based on three categories – felonies, misdemeanors and infractions. All must be reported on the SF-86. When in doubt as to whether or not you were actually arrested for that college drinking incident (a common issue), go ahead and include that information on your SF-86 – along with mitigating factors such as a character reference.
(11) Guideline K: Handling Protected Information
This criteria is more often used to revoke an existing clearance and comes down to the ability to responsibly carry out your duties in handling classified information. Repeatedly failing to lock a safe, for instance, may be seen as a callous attitude toward your duties, and could result in a clearance revocation if the situation is serious.
(12) Guideline L: Outside Activities
This criteria often comes down to relationships – particularly financial ones – with a foreign country. If you’re currently being paid by a foreign company or government for any reason, cease that relationship and be sure you can clearly explain your involvement on your SF-86.
(13) Guideline M: Use of Information Technology Systems
This adjudicative criteria typically relates to excessive illegal downloading of music or misuse of a workplace computer system – including activities such as viewing pornography on a workplace computer. But it also comes down to unauthorized access to systems or denying access to others wrongfully. Lax security practices can impact your clearance, so be careful to follow the rules and report any oversights immediately.
Each of these criteria are considered in light of the ‘whole-person’ concept. The ‘whole-person’ concept refers to how a combination of variables are weighed, including the seriousness of conduct, frequency, motivation, likeliness of recurrence, and other factors.