Personal conduct is consistently one of the primary reasons for security clearance denial, closely following financial considerations. Dishonesty that is uncovered in the security clearance process – either through investigative work, a personnel subject interview, or the polygraph – is often considered a more serious issue than the lying itself.

Often it isn’t the fact that you used drugs, engaged with a sex worker, or racked up debt from student loans and subsequence credit cards. Security clearance applicants are human. Adjudicators (who are also human) understand that. Issues can often be mitigated with passage of time or a demonstration that the behavior wasn’t a pattern. The recency of a lie listed on the SF-86 can catch clearance holders red handed.

The good news is there is hope – especially if you come clean early.

PK96 writes:

“This is my first application for a TS clearance. I left info off my SF-86 regarding past drug use while I was in college. I know I’m an imbecile for lying on the form. I get the point that the entire process is to determine one’s truthfulness and lying on the form is the dumbest thing one can do. Anyway, the clearance is for a private sector gov’t contractor job. I haven’t yet scheduled the follow up interview, and I’m wondering if I’d be better off withdrawing my application and apply in the future with a new FS86, or if I should go through with the confrontational interview, tell the truth and hope for the best?”

Withdrawing an application is not required. As mentioned by others in the discussion, the original poster is on the right track. When meeting with the investigator, they should address the undisclosed issue. The initial interview is not meant to be confrontational; it’s an opportunity to rectify any inaccuracies on the SF-86, provide additional details, and resolve any listed concerns. This is the moment to disclose anything previously omitted. Be ready to thoroughly discuss the details – what, when, with whom, where, why, and more. They will also need to clarify why it was not initially disclosed.

Drug use issues are often cases where applicants initially balk at adding the information, so this likely won’t be the first time the investigator has seen an applicant admit to past drug use. Remember the investigator is just there to gather information, and not make a value judgment or determination themselves. Mitigating drug use includes passage of time between last use and demonstrating it’s not a pattern of behavior or in your life any more.


Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum,emails received, and comments from this site.

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸