The development of the atomic bomb isn’t the only thing that turns up the heat in Christopher Nolan’s very-anticipated film Oppenheimer, which opened this weekend. Many reviews have highlighted the steamy sex scenes as something they were not expecting in a 3-hour biopic about the father of the atomic bomb. For those intimately familiar with the security clearance process – and the role of Oppenheimer’s security clearance revocation in the film – the role of sex should come as no surprise.

Many aspects of the film were pulled directly from Oppenheimer biographies and even actual testimony he gave, including the more than 27 hours he spent testifying during a month-long hearing where he was accused of being a Communist and Soviet spy. It wasn’t until last year, nearly 70-years later, that the government ceded the revocation of Oppenheimer’s clearance was a witch hunt and he, in fact, did not spy for the Soviet Union despite their repeated attempts, and even worked to protect the security of the Manhattan Project.

That’s all too-little, too-late for Oppenheimer, who did face seeing his personal life smeared across a security review board, including intimate questions about his sexual life. Which leads to the question – should the average security clearance holder expect such treatment, and why is sexual behavior still an adjudicative guideline?

It’s worth remembering that for the vast majority of security clearance holders and applicants – the average developer or analyst – issues of sex or sexual proclivities will never come up in the process. The Intelligence Community (IC) may be a different animal, and depending upon your role or the agency, you may be asked to fill out a questionnaire that asks more personal details.

In almost every instance, what you disclose is no issue for the security clearance process or your suitability for a government job. Where it gets sticky is if you’ve had an affair or any sexual behavior you’ve tried to keep quiet. The obvious question comes – could someone successfully blackmail you to keep that issue or incident a secret?

If the answer is yes – or if you come up against a possible clearance denial or revocation, or face a security clearance polygraph, you may face questions around your sexual past or current behavior that could cause you to be vulnerable to blackmail.


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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