It’s rarely the issues themselves that really tank the individual’s chances of obtaining a security clearance – it’s the individual. While the whole person concept has allowed many individuals who have exercised poor judgment to redeem themselves and obtain a security clearance, it’s worth noting that the policy can swing the other way – the government decides your whole person is, in fact, untrustworthy.

True or False: If you Obtain a Secret Clearance, You Can Obtain a Top Secret Clearance

There is a common misconception about security clearance eligibility that is born out of some of the fuzziness surrounding the security clearance process. It is, in fact ‘harder’ to obtain a Top Secret security clearance, but that’s only because of the depth of the investigation. All too often a clearance upgrade ferrets out issues that should have been disclosed on a Secret clearance application – but simply weren’t. A recently released case from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) bears that out.

The applicant is 32 years old and submitted an SF-86 for a Secret clearance in 2015, where he failed to disclose marijuana use beginning in 2007 – and which continued until AFTER he obtained the Secret clearance. Inexplicably, this individual decided to apply for a position requiring a Top Secret security clearance (he clearly did not listen to our friendly news and advice at ClearanceJobs). In the period AFTER obtaining his Secret clearance the applicant paid for the services of prostitutes in Mexico. The applicant also solicited the services of a prostitute in Amsterdam during the course of his Top Secret clearance investigation.

In 2020, the DoD issued a Statement of Reasons with intent to deny clearance eligibility based on the sexual behavior, personal conduct, drug involvement, and criminal conduct adjudicative guidelines. The applicant was in it to win it, and despite his post security clearance sex and drug escapades, appealed the DOHA decision.

He sought an assessment by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who suggested the applicant was not at risk of relapse for his prior issues. Unfortunately, even the applicant’s statements to the LCSW and government were somewhat conflicting. And while the judge was willing to negate the issues caused by many of the adjudicative guidelines, the personal conduct (lying) issue cannot be mitigated. The judge noted:

“There is a common thread running through Applicant’s misconduct: poor judgment and dishonesty. He lied about his drug use on his SF 86, and then continued to use illegal drugs while holding a security clearance. He discussed his involvement with prostitutes during his June 2018 background interview, and then he engaged the services of a prostitute in Amsterdam in June 2019. He was less than candid in how he reported his conduct to the LCSW during his evaluation, and I have good reason to question his credibility. While I believe that specific conduct (drugs, prostitutes) is unlikely to recur, I am unable to conclude that other problematic conduct is unlikely to recur. The . . . mitigating conditions are insufficient to overcome ongoing concerns about Applicant’s judgment, reliability, trustworthiness, and honesty.”

False: The adjudicative guidelines are the same, but you can have a secret clearance granted, and a top secret clearance denied

If you’re going to solicit prostitutes, make sure you do it prior to applying for a security clearance. Because you may be able to mitigate the behavior, but you can’t mitigate lying about it. And if you skate through with a Secret clearance, it will come out in a Top Secret clearance investigation.

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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