Threads and comments sections can be where you find the worst thoughts. It’s where you can find haters with one word responses and unintelligible phrases strung together as sentences. But it’s also where the honest, off-the-cuff conversations happen that can bring humor to spending so much time behind screens. Discussions on our ClearanceJobs blog are helpful to the cleared community. Discussion boards, like Reddit can also be a great place to find the unthinkable. The kind of stories that make you say “Bro!” like my teens and tweens do. And so it is with a recent Best of the Worst Security Clearance Cases thread.

The Best of the Worst Cases Who Got a Security Clearance Against All Odds

If you want to read about the crazy stories regularly, check out our weekly DOHA Dose cases. Or you can check out our Ask CJ weekly recaps, where we cover stories on how clearance holders or applicants handle the security clearance process. But here are some recent stories from commenters on the internet who have shared the seemingly impossible journeys to a security clearance that some applicants have taken.

1. What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Stay There

One commenter shared, “I got arrested in Vegas on drug possession at a rave and turned my life around after it. Yes, I hired a legal team to help me put it all on paper how it was my first mistake. I got my secret clearance 4 years later after my arrest and now currently waiting to hear on my upgrade to TS/SCI.”

2. But Pot Is Legal in my State…

Another commenter shared, “A woman in one of the major 3 letter IC was a “distributor” for pot on the side while working a full time job. It was legal in her state. She not only didn’t report the money but didn’t mention that she was doing that. One of the references that the investigator developed said that she is a good woman and gave me some marijuana for free to help me with my stress. When confronted. She came clean and said she was nervous about it and that it was legal. On her 86, there was no mention of these but i’m sure the investigator sent the notes to the agency. Took 5 months and she got her TS. When she got her TS, she hadn’t done drugs in over year and a half.”

3. But How Did ‘That Guy’ Get Through?

Another unbelievable story that makes you scratch your head, “A guy who got arrested because he assaulted his wife and beat her when he was drunk and stole her money from her bank account. Punched his father in law because he was drunk and police were called again. Then he got stopped for a DUI. On his poly 3 years later they asked if he has ever stolen anything. He said no and passed the poly first time. Even though he reported stealing over $5,000 from his wife’s account. He also went to AA meetings and had a sponsor. He still works at the same agency and has a TS/SCI (over 7 years and still there).”

4. Maybe Honesty is the Best Policy.

One commenter shared, “Aside from reading stories. I know a guy that works for a company that does IT contract work for the military and needed a secret clearance. He said he had been arrested 3 times in the past for alcohol-related instances, and he got an interim in about 3 weeks and secret clearance in 6 months.”

5. There’s Foreign Countries, and Then There’s Canada?

Some have stories with Canadian roots being no problem at all. One person shared their worst story, “The Canadian who still lives in Canada and refused to say he would agree to renounce his Canadian citizenship was a little surprising to me. I assume there’s some secret NORAD exception that the rest of us aren’t privy to.”

Polygraphs Different for Everyone

But one common thread that shows up in discussion threads is that people function differently when taking a polygraph. Some clearance holders get so frustrated at continually getting inconclusive results, despite a squeaky clean past. And yet others have a colorful history and skate through. The reality is that you can fail a polygraph simply because your responses can make it seem like there’s more to the story. At the same time, others can make it through by lying or not being impacted by the questioning.
Sean Bigley, security clearance attorney says, “treat your polygraph examination day just like any other day. Don’t build it up in your head as a crisis event and don’t switch up your normal habits. If you approach the polygraph like just another day, it probably will be. If you approach it like a dragon that requires slaying, it might just become one.”

Security Clearance Process Looks at the Whole Person

The federal government isn’t looking for perfect robots. They take a picture of the whole person and grant or deny a security clearance based on the perceived trustworthiness of the individual. It’s a case-by-case basis. The best worst cases are for those worthy clearance holders who trusted the process. The ones who worked to turn their life around and mitigated all of their issues with the adjudicative guidelines. What we don’t want to celebrate are the ones who lied their way through the process. Your goal isn’t to be the office nark, but you do want to protect national security. As one commenter put it, “There are screwups who made a mistake or two who deserve a chance. Then there are active threats to national security.”

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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.