Foreign influence is always among the top five issues resulting in security clearance denial and revocation. And it can often be one of the most difficult to mitigate. ClearanceJobs sat down with William Henderson, ClearanceJobs contributor and the president of the Federal Clearance Assistance Service to discuss some of the frequent questions he receives about foreign influence in the security clearance application process.

One of the recent areas where questions of foreign influence has come up is for individuals seeking to help Afghanistan refugees resettle in America.

“There is a requirement to report any continuing association with a foreign nationals if there is a bond of affection, obligation, or intimate contact, or exchange of personal information,” said Henderson.

The SF-86 also asks specifically about anyone the person has sponsored to enter the United States.

The reporting requirements are separate – and different – for security clearance applicants and holders. And there is a lot of gray area within both definitions. Henderson noted that simply ‘knowing’ a foreign national or even being a part of efforts to help someone resettle may not fall under the reporting guidelines, particularly for those who are already cleared and within Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 3.

‘Close and continuing contact’ is specific to the SF-86, notes Henderson. Without a textbook definition of what that means, it is up to the security clearance holder to decide when a relationship with a foreign national is ‘close and continuing.’

“Under SEAD 3, any time a relationship changes or is established, it needs to be reported,” said Henderson.

Can I List a Foreign National as a Character Reference?

Question 16 asks the individual to list three character references – that’s an issue for an applicant who has been living abroad for a number of years.

“The U.S. government has to be able to do a background investigation on you, for at least the past five years,” said Henderson. If they can’t interview a supervisor because that person is in Taiwan and can’t be interviewed, that’s an issue.”

If you’ve worked for a U.S. company in a foreign location, it is better to list someone in the U.S. who can verify that employment, notes Henderson, rather than only listing foreign nationals – even if you were working abroad for the duration of the employment.

“It’s tough if you’ve spent the last five years abroad and are expecting the U.S. government to be able to conduct a complete investigation on you,” said Henderson. That is due to the limitations of a background investigator being able to reach out to contacts, as well as the requirements of the investigation itself. If most of your recent contacts are foreign nationals, investigators will likely need to apply some exceptions to get to a complete investigation.

Keep in mind that if you list a foreign national on your SF-86 – which may be the best person based on the question – the government still may not be able to use their responses.

“A foreign national’s recommendation that you should receive a security clearance is kind of worthless,” notes Henderson.


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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