The security clearance process is designed to keep classified information out of the hands of adversaries and protect the United States. It’s not intended to cause stress about personal life choices. But sometimes, our pasts can cause stress and worry when it comes time to fill out the SF-86 – especially when we’re on the other side of an affair and wondering how much to share. One ClearanceJobs blogger shares:

I just submitted my SF-86 for my Top Secret clearance. I’m married and I had an affair with my last boss (also married). I no longer work there and have not spoken to my former boss since I left. My husband knows all about it, as well as both our immediate families and some close friends. The affair is done and since everyone I care about already knows I’m not at risk for blackmail. My husband and I are reconciling and have been in marriage counseling since he found out.

I guess my question is twofold; should I have revealed the affair in the SF-86, and should I reveal the affair during the interview? Obviously if they ask directly I won’t lie about anything but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to volunteer it out of the blue.

If they ask, will they ask about who the affair was with? My former boss has a Secret clearance and as far as I know his wife and higher ups at our company are still unaware. I assume he could get in trouble and while again I absolutely will not lie, I’d rather keep all of this in the past where it belongs and not stir up any problems for him if I don’t have to.

The Issue with an Affair

Aside from your personal life fallout, an affair mainly impacts your career with the federal government when it’s at risk for being used against you. If there are people who don’t know about it, then it could cause a red flag during the investigation process if (or when) the truth comes out. In this case, the security clearance applicant has already come clean to people in her life and does not feel at risk for blackmail. However, her former boss’ spouse and former employer are still not aware. Thankfully, for this clearance applicant, the desire to be open and honest is clear, but it’s a fine line to walk to try to keep things in the past and not look deceitful.

Filling out Your SF-86

The good news for security clearance applicants is that the SF-86 does not ask about your extramarital activities – unless they were illegal. While a polygraph may ask a question about “broken trust” with a significant other, the SF-86 does not have a question that deals specifically with whether or not you have had an affair. So, when it comes time to submit for a security clearance, the SF-86 is not the time to disclose this information. It’s important to provide only what is asked so you don’t create more issues for yourself. If or when the issue pops up during the investigation, provide whatever context is required. As long as it wasn’t illegal (or didn’t violate workplace practices) and you can’t be blackmailed for it, then don’t go in sharing information that isn’t required. Of course, the former boss who hasn’t shared the details with his spouse and company leadership may have a different outcome.


Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.