The whole-person concept works both ways in the security clearance process – it both prohibits an applicant from being eliminated due to a single issue or momentary lapse in judgement, and also prohibits an applicant from requesting a series of issues be considered individually.

True or False: Passing a Polygraph Can Help Mitigate Issues of Trustworthiness

A recent Department of Defense security clearance appeal case highlights how a polygraph isn’t necessarily a harbinger of trustworthiness. The applicant had taken – and passed – four security clearance polygraphs over the course of a career. Unfortunately, he’d also been fired nine times, had 12 motor vehicle incidents, and one security violation involving taking home a Secret classified document.

In appealing the security clearance denial, the applicant argued that his nine employment terminations, in particular, should have been considered individually on their own merits (or lack thereof):

“As far as the problematic employment history is concerned, each case needs to be looked at independent of the other situations. There is no pattern of behavior per se in this area. Every termination has to be examined on a case by case basis. I know how to follow directions, especially in the area of security procedures. Remember I have taken and passed four polygraphs . . . from 2006 to 2018.”

Guideline K: Security Violations Not Weighed Equally

The applicant also argued that the security violation should not be considered because it happened more than seven years ago, and that a statute of limitations should be applied. The court, in contrast, argued that security violations are – and should – be weighed more heavily than the other adjudicative criteria. Passage of time cannot mitigate a security violation, particularly one that involved taking a Secret-marked document home. The applicant had taken and passed polygraphs both prior to and after the security violation – but passing a polygraph isn’t enough to mitigate a security clearance violation.

False: A polygraph is a tool to root out negative information. It’s not a means of mitigating issues.

Policy guidance in recent years has clarified that a polygraph alone can’t be used to deny security clearance eligibility. But likewise, it can’t be used to prove the merit of eligibility, either. A security clearance determination is made considering the totality of issues presented – both negative and positive. In this case, 9 terminations, 12 motor vehicle violations, and one security violation were more issues than could be mitigated: security clearance revoked.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer