“I use my clearance like a mating call.”

I heard a lot of wild things during 10 years practicing law, but that one remains memorable.

It reminded me of something similar I heard earlier in my career working at the White House, when a colleague regaled the office with stories of how he used his work there “for game.” That was undoubtedly a very effective strategy in Washington, D.C. – where power is like a sad aphrodisiac for social and political climbers – but it seemed cringeworthy even back then.

Personal observations aside, both statements exemplify a real national security concern: that the speaker may be at a heightened risk of coercion or manipulation by a foreign intelligence service using a classic “honeypot” trap.

If you’re unfamiliar with that, the idea is to lavish flattery and sexual advances upon a target in the hopes of eliciting classified information by gaining the target’s trust or placing them in a compromising position that can be used for blackmail.

Guess who is precisely the personality-type most likely to be ensnared? Yep, the person already flaunting their position or access to prospective romantic interests. They don’t see the warning signs because they are expecting romantic interests to be drawn to them on the basis of power and access.

More broadly, this concern parallels some other issues we’ve previously written about here at ClearanceJobs: wearing your access ID badge outside of the workplace and advertising your security clearance on open social media profiles like LinkedIn. I’ve seen people do both – repeatedly – and I’ve often wondered whether they don’t understand the risks or simply don’t care.

Government security officials do understand the risks and do care when issues like this are brought to their attention. One’s security clearance isn’t a secret unless one’s affiliation with the U.S. government is itself classified – and those folks know who they are. But advertising it not only creates unnecessary risk, it also makes the speaker look naïve and perhaps even narcissistic. Neither personality trait is one I’d be eager to broadcast.

Actions like these can also potentially raise questions about judgement, which is – in all its vagueness and subjectivity – a cornerstone of the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances.

Bottom line, I’d be leery about the type of people anyone is attracting by dangling power and access as romantic selling points, whether in D.C. or elsewhere. Even the most ambitious social and political climbers surely have some other redeeming qualities to lead with.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 


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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at https://berrylegal.com.