The Standard Form 86 (SF-86) also known as the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, is the first step for any applicant seeking a national security clearance. As we’ve detailed numerous times, lying on this form is a federal offense. This week Gulshan Manko, pleaded guilty to making false statements and is looking at up to five years in prison for lying on his SF-86.
This is yet another case of the SF-86 being a key component in the prosecution of individuals holding national security clearances. Readers will recall the case of Paul Guertin, a State Department foreign service officer who omitted both his financial entanglements in China and his close and continuing sexual relationship with a Chinese national while assigned to the U.S. consulate in Shanghai which resulted in his April 2021 indictment.
As was the case with Guertin, such is the case with Manko; however, there is more to this story.
What was the SF-86 lie?
Manko embellished his academic record. He claimed to have attended Middlesex County College and Rutgers University on his SF-86, which he submitted to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) with his application for employment. A dive into the court records show that Manko was accused of doing much more than just lying on his SF-86 and that the plea bargain between he and the U.S. Attorney for District of New Jersey jettisoned other offenses.
Those jettisoned offenses include his pretending to be an officer and employee of the very U.S. Attorney’s office which was prosecuting him, an office from which he had been terminated for cause.
The backstory on Manko
Manko was a contract employee of the U.S. Attorney’s office for eight months in 2017. He was staffed to the office by a contract agency as a “criminal financial analyst.” As such, he was issued an identification card by the U.S. Attorney’s office to facilitate entry to workplace and to identify Manko as a contract employee.
Manko’s tenure at the office came to an abrupt end when he was discovered misusing government databases. He was in other words, an insider threat realized, as he used the databases “for his personal benefit.” When terminated, he was to return all identification and property. He neglected to return his identification card.
Approximately 30 days after his termination, he had a run in with the local police department, while employed at a local liquor store. During this encounter, he whipped out this missing government identification, and he claimed to be an employee of the U.S. Attorney’s office. The police officers were unimpressed and charged him with the crime of selling liquor to an intoxicated individual. Three days later, Manko doubled-down, sending a letter of complaint to the police department claiming discrimination and identifying himself to be a member of the law enforcement community. “Myself being a LEO, I respect all the LEO but how I was treated by your officer was not expected.”
Why prosecute Manko?
Once the SF-86 is signed, that signature is an attestation that the information provided is true and correct. During background investigations, it is natural for discrepancies to occur based on memory or simply semantics, and these are normally quickly cleared up through conversation or inquiry and the clearance process continues.
In the case of Manko, it would appear he was actually being considered for employment by the DEA, as they had initiated a background investigation. No doubt the initial results of a trace on Manko revealed his employment with the contracting firm supporting the U.S. Attorney’s office and his being charged by the local police department. A routine inquiry to the educational institutes would result in a “no record” result and thus raising the counterintelligence antenna of any background investigator. Instead of pitching the application in the circular file, they dug deeper. Immediate questions begin to flow. Why is this individual applying to the DEA? Is there a nefarious purpose? The U.S. Attorney ultimately charged Manko.
Manko was impersonating their office, an office from which he was fired for cause. Prosecuting Manko ensures he doesn’t get a second bite from the apple – he already showed himself to be an insider threat realized when he misused government databases for his personal gain; not prosecuting him was tantamount to kicking the can down the road.