Social media platforms like the ClearanceJobs discussion boards are inundated with applicants and clearance holders trying to navigate eligibility. How long does the process normally take? (It depends). Do I really need to be honest about my illegal drug use? (YES!) Will the investigator tell my wife about <insert indiscretion here>? (If you want your clearance, you should probably tell her first.) You name it, it’s been asked. Twenty years ago, you might have confided in the one or two people you felt that you could trust. Today, you can log on as DefinitelyNotMe123 and ask the masses (and the trolls) for their advice. There are many benefits to these platforms but, as they say, “knowledge is power” and proper caution is key.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Throwaway Accounts

While I have not yet had a client who was in hot water for something they posted on a clearance forum, I have seen posters make some very questionable, and potentially problematic, decisions about what to post. Here are seven habits to have .

1. Keep in mind that investigators are allowed to collect publicly available social media information.

In 2016, ODNI set out ground rules about social media which limit the ways agencies can collect and use social media information in background investigations and adjudications. At the end of the day, however, publicly available information is fair game.

2. Keep in mind that investigators frequent these sites.

This isn’t news—in fact, it’s part of the draw for many—but keep that in mind as you are deciding how much to disclose.

3. Keep it anonymous.

If your questions explain the agency sponsoring your clearance, the date and location of your interview, and one or more nuanced issues you worked through, your investigator may identify you without even trying. For others with unique facts, reciting those facts, alone, may be identifying. Although the post may be harmless, it’s better to be safe (i.e., only as specific as you need to be) than sorry.

4. Keep it clean.

This should go without saying, but apparently it needs saying: if you hold a clearance or would like to hold one, don’t post pictures of your nether regions on the internet. It doesn’t take a high-profile doxing to compromise anonymity—just ask any clearance holder who received an SOR (Statement of Reasons) after a former partner or spouse reported them out of spite.

5. Keep it separate.

Some platforms are not limited to discussions on clearance topics and users may use the same account to cross-post on several different topics. Even assuming you “keep it clean,” creating a separate account for clearance-related questions minimizes the chance of unintentionally compromising anonymity.

6. Keep perspective.

Clearance forums are full of people who want to help (and those who don’t), but it is important to take every piece of advice with a grain of salt. In most instances, you don’t know who is providing the information or whether they have any reasonable basis for their conclusions. At the end of the day, you will need to use your own best judgment in any given situation.

7. Keep an eye on verified sources.

For some insignificant inquiries such as timing, it is less important to try to verify information—publicly available data may be outdated and there isn’t much harm in relying on inaccurate responses (aside from lost sleep). For more important questions, however, such as how to respond to certain questions on the SF-86 or whether to self-report an issue, there are a number of resources online from verified sources, such as ClearanceJobs authors and *drum roll* official government resources such as the directives related to eligibility (SEAD 4) and self-reporting (SEAD 3).

At the end of the day, online forums are useful resources for crowdsourcing anecdotal information. But it’s important to keep in mind that with 21st century resources can come 21st century problems. As with all activities related to your clearance or prospective clearance, discretion is key.


The above content is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The handling and outcome of any legal matter depends on varying factors unique to each matter, and results cannot be predicted or guaranteed. Do not act upon information without seeking legal counsel.


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Elisabeth Baker-Pham is an attorney at Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman and Fitch (KCNF) and co-chair of KCNF’s security clearance practice. Baker-Pham advises applicants through the clearance process and represents federal employees and contractors whose clearances have been threatened or suspended, or whose suitability for federal employment has been challenged. Baker-Pham also contributed to the firm’s most recent edition of its long-running book, Security Clearance Law and Procedure. You can read more about KCNF’s security clearance practice and publications at