We will all retire one day. When that day comes, we’ll have a line of well-wishers, and most will have one question. ‘So, what are you going to do in retirement?’ The answer you provide is something to consider well if you are currently a clearance holder.

The Retiree’s Clearance, Federal Law, and Classified Information

If you retire, your security clearance can remain effective for up to two years. However, a crucial obligation accompanies this privilege: you are never allowed to disclose classified information you were once privy to, a commitment that extends indefinitely. This means that attempting to cleverly hint at classified work on your resume is not permissible. The question then arises: why is such emphasis placed on this point? After all, the need for post-retirement employment is real. However, revealing classified information will result in several levels of damage to the interests of the United States. But why emphasize this to your retirees before they depart?

The reason lies in federal law and the nature of classified information itself. Revelation of classified information can lead to multifaceted damage to the interests of the United States. Foreign governments have devised ingenious methods for acquiring our sensitive information, including enticing retirees with offers of employment and substantial financial incentives.

Guarding Against Foreign Intrusion

Foreign governments are relentless in their efforts to acquire advanced technology and expertise. This extends to seeking out individuals who possess the knowledge to wield such technology effectively. An example comes from recent cases in the UK, where the government has enacted laws prohibiting its citizens from sharing tactical and aviation knowledge with foreign entities. This stems from China’s attempts to recruit experienced pilots from Western nations, often through online platforms.

It’s clear that China is seeking pilots knowledgeable of western technology, tactics, and capabilities, but they don’t want their interest known. Secondly, the recruitment of knowledgeable pilots could lead to mistrust between allied countries, if they believed their classified information is being shared by retirees with foreign nations.

It gets worse. An American military pilot was contacted through an employment service by the Chinese.  They sought high tech advice and guidance from him. While in the service, and later in retirement, he provided information for large amounts of money, none of which he reported. Nor did he advise those who did his bring-up investigation that he was so employed by foreign agents. He was sentenced to jail. Likewise, another former U.S. Marine Corps pilot was arrested in Australia, and is awaiting extradition to the United States. He claimed in his company website to be a weapons and tactical expert. His company also hired many former Western allied nation pilots. It is believed he, too, is somehow associated with Chinese pilot training, as his company moved to Beijing.

The Role of the Security Manager

Similar cases are occurring worldwide, demonstrating that expertise does not fade with retirement. Retirees must adhere to specific practices, with safeguarding classified information at the forefront. Security officials play a crucial role in guiding retirees about their post-retirement obligations, ensuring they understand reporting procedures for foreign contacts expressing interest in their classified work. Moreover, retirees should be informed about the process to clear writings about their previous work after retirement.

It is essential that security managers remind all retirees of their obligations before they walk out the door – before they literally start showing someone how to fly our latest fighter aircraft.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.