Answering honestly on the SF-86 is always the best policy. But even if you were honest on the form, undergoing a polygraph has questions that can slip up security clearance applicants.

One subscriber writes:

I’m currently in the hiring and security clearance process for a 3-letter agency.
Last week I had my Polygraph and Psychology exams. I was told by the Poly examiner that I passed the Counterintelligence section but didn’t pass the Personal Conduct section.

While the examiner was probing as to why I might have a reaction to the Personal Conduct section, I provided information on minor crimes including but not limited to music piracy and possession of illegal fireworks. I did not mention those occurrences or any other minor crimes on the SF86. I thought I was in the clear as the Background Investigator stated during the interview the scope of the investigation was only going back 7 years, which those “crimes” were committed outside of the scope time frame.

TL:DR, I failed the 1st poly due to personal conduct outside of the scope time frame. Prior to leaving the facility, I was given information to schedule a 2nd poly, but would have to wait upwards of 30 days to schedule another appointment.

In hindsight, I realize I should have disclosed any involvement in criminal matter no matter the severity prior to having the polygraph, but what is done is done.

My question, how much weight is placed on “forced admissions” during the polygraph examination, specifically misdemeanor and lesser crimes?
Am I facing an uphill challenge or am I over analyzing things?


Every examiner has different tactics, and the overall goal of the polygraph is to press someone enough so they might decipher details that didn’t land on their SF-86.

One investigator writes:

They need put you on the rack, discuss pirated music which became a huge deal post Snowden. Be truthful, not sure of age but if young it could be a maturity thing, you outgrew the fun of finding music online. Now most folks routinely pay for music but in the sticky in between time…it seemed ridiculous to do so. Post Snowden non legal download gets scrutiny. If you knew it was wrong, did anyway…will you be cavalier doing so with classified? If it was stupid kid stuff you since disavowed, say so. If you continued to do it…say so.

Fast forward a few months and the original poster received an update from their recruiter that the hiring process was discontinued, without reason. The original poster had the ability to submit for a Statement of Reasons (SOR) and could re-apply after a year.

Later in the thread the poster revealed being banned from property, mental health issues, and perhaps has other things in their background that adjudicators took into consideration.

It’s important to note that security clearances come with the whole person concept – not denying you based on a one-off scenario – and next time this applicant should simply lay out the offenses up front. Explain how far out of scope, how they matured or grew, or mitigated the issues through time or other means. They will still question it all, but at least it’s on the table in the open right under those wires.


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. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs  maintains – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum, emails received, and comments from this site.


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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸