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security clearance - FAQ
Q. What is a NACI security clearance?
A. An NACI (National Agency Check with Inquiries) is not a clearance. It is a federal background investigation conducted to determine an applicant's suitability for federal employment and/or to determine an applicant's (federal or contractor) eligibility for a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card (also known as a PIV credential) required for physical access to federally controlled facilities or logical access to federally controlled information technology systems. Federal employment suitability determinations are mandated by Title 5 Code of Federal Regulations Part 731 and PIV Cards are mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. Within the Department of Defense PIV Cards are known as Common Access Cards (CAC). For more information about the various federal background investigations and clearances, see my Federal Security/Suitability Clearance Chart and review Chapter 1 of my book, Security Clearance Manual. Q1. If I used drugs over a year ago while in college, will I be denied a security clearance?
A. Probably not. Although the Adjudicative Guidelines list any drug use as a disqualifying condition; most young people are able to substantially mitigate their drug involvement. Mitigation involves a stated and demonstrated intent not to abuse any drugs in the future by 1) dissociation from drug-using associates and contacts, 2) changing or avoiding the environment where drugs were used, and 3) an appropriate period of abstinence. There have been cases where a period of less than one year was adjudicated as “an appropriate period of abstinence.” The appropriate period of time is influenced by your age, frequency of use, and the number of years that you used drugs. If you are middle aged and you used drugs regularly for 10 years, an adjudicator may not feel that one year is an appropriate period of abstinence. See the answer to question #10 (below) for an expanded explanation of what constitutes an appropriate period of absinence.
Q2. I went through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy two years ago. Is there any point for me to even apply for a clearance?
A. If you have been living within your means and have not been delinquent in any debt repayment since your bankruptcy, you will probably not be disqualified based on financial considerations. Surprisingly, the Adjudicative Guidelines do not specifically address bankruptcy. A bankruptcy from two years ago is not considered a current problem. The only disqualifying condition regarding past financial problems (that were not criminal in nature) is a “history of not meeting financial obligations.” The word “history” as it is used here, means a pattern of conduct. Consequently a single bankruptcy two years ago without any subsequent problems (or secondary issues that complicate matters), probably would not be considered a “history of not meeting financial obligations.”
Q3. I was arrested for simple possession of marijuana 8 years ago, when I was 15 years old. Do I have to list this on my SF86?
A. Yes, if your arrest resulted in being charged or convicted of a drug related offense, otherwise it depends your investigation. Although question 23a on the SF86 regarding drug use only asks for information going back 7 years; question 22e asks, “Have you ever been charged with any offense(s) related to alcohol or drugs?” If you were not charged and your investigation is a NACLC or an ANACI, then you don’t have to list it, because the question requires you to list arrests that occurred within the past 7 years. If your investigation is an SSBI, then you must list all arrests within the past 10 years. Any formal charge for a drug-related offense regardless of the type of investigation or how long ago it occurred must be listed.
Q4. I am 19 years old and I am enlisting in the U.S. Army in the near future. My position will require a Secret clearance. I smoked marijuana a few times in high school between my 16th and 17th birthday. My Army recruiter gave me an SF86 to fill out and hinted that I shouldn’t list this information on the form. Based on the information in your book, it appears unlikely that my involvement with marijuana will be discovered during an investigation for a Secret clearance, since there is no written record anywhere that I smoked marijuana. Should I list my marijuana use on the SF86 and risk the chance of having my clearance delayed or possibly denied?
A. You should list you marijuana use on your SF86 as accurately as possible. It may sound corny, but honesty is the best policy. See the answer to the earlier question about using marijuana while in college. There is another consideration. You have to think about the long-term consequences of falsifying a security questionnaire. Today you are only applying for a Secret clearance, but what if your clearance requirement changes soon after you join the Army? What if you separate from the Army after serving 4 years and you apply for a DoD contractor position that requires a Top Secret clearance? You will have to submit a new SF86 for the Top Secret clearance and that investigation will be far more comprehensive than the one for a Secret clearance. The period of investigation for a Top Secret clearance is 10 years or back to your 18th birthday, but that does not mean that investigators do not report information on your activities before you were 18. If your new investigation reveals that you used marijuana when you were 16, it will immediately be obvious that you falsified your prior SF86. Falsification of an SF86 is a criminal offense that bears directly on your honesty and integrity. These issues are far more significant that using marijuana a few times while in high school.
Q5. I was convicted of a felony offense 5 years ago but only spent six months in a county jail. Am I barred from having a security clearance because of the Smith Amendment?
A. No. The Smith Amendment was repealed and replaced by the Bond Amendment. The law now only prohibits the granting of a security clearance to a (current) user of illegal drugs; however, it continues to prohibit the granting of access eligibility for Special Access Programs, Restricted Data, or Sensitive Compartmented Information for anyone (without a waiver) who has been:
1) Convicted of a crime, sentenced, and incarcerated for a term exceeding 1 year,
2) Discharged or dismissed from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions, or
3) Determined to be mentally incompetent by a government approved mental health professional.
Q6. How long does it take to complete an investigation for a DoD Top Secret clearance?
A. Investigative processing time have decreased significantly in the past 2 years. It is now taking less than 3 months for the fastest 90% of Top Secret clearance investigations and less than 2 months for the fastest 90% of Secret clearance investigation. This does not include adjudication time, which currently averages about 30 days, front-end processing time, and the time it takes to hand off investigations from OPM to the adjudication facilities (sometimes up to 14 days).
Q7. Will my investigation for a Top Secret clearance take substantially longer because I have had several different residences and employers over the past 10 years?
A. Not necessarily, because these investigations are worked on concurrently (rather than sequentially) by different field offices located throughout the United States. A more important determinant of the length of time it takes to complete an investigation is the number of employers and residences an applicant fails to list on his security clearance application. If an investigator in one location completes his portion of your investigation on the suspense date assigned to the case but develops an unlisted employment that occurred in another location, he must task another field office to cover the unlisted employment. The receiving field office then assigns a new suspense date for that new portion of the investigation. If more unlisted information is then developed, the remainder of the investigation could be conducted sequentially with one office tasking another office, then another, and another.
Q8. I lived and attended college in England for about a year. Will this delay the completion of my SSBI?
A. Yes, if you attended the college in England within the past three years. At present OPM does not have any investigators permanently assigned outside the United States. Places like England are covered by sending OPM investigators there on temporary duty for periods of 45 to 90 days at a time. OPM allows such cases to accumulate until there is sufficient work to warrant sending an investigator there on temporary duty.
Q9. I have a relative living in a foreign country. Will this affect my chances of getting a security clearance?
A. Yes, but the affect could be anywhere from negligible to significant. Adjudicative Guideline B (Foreign Influence) provides that contact or connections with foreign persons may result in disqualification for a security clearance, if that contact or connection creates a heightened risk of foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion. It basically depends on the nature and extent of your contact with your foreign relative, the country in which your relative resides, and the position or activity of person in the foreign country. Obviously countries whose interests are inimical to those of the U.S. are of greater concern than countries that are political allies of the United States. Frequent contact with a cousin in a foreign country can be just as significant as little or no contact with a parent in a foreign country. A relative who holds a position in foreign government or military is more significant than a relative who is self-employed without any foreign governmental connections.
Q10. How much time must pass before illegal drug involvement can be mitigated by time?
A. The Adjudicative Guidelines do not contain any timetables regarding drug involvement; however, there is a supplemental guide (that is not directive in nature) known as the "Adjudicative Desk Reference" (ADR). Adjudicators can use the ADR to help them reach their decisions. The ADR contains the following definitions and guidance regarding the minimum amount of time that should pass before drug involvement can be mitigated by "passage of time without recurrence":
Experimental Use: Initial use for a maximum of six times, or more intensive use for a maximum of one month.
Occasional Use: Once a month or less.
Frequent Use: Once a week or less, but more than once a month.
Regular or Habitual Use: More than once a week.
At Least Six Months: The only drug use was experimental or occasional use of marijuana, and there are no aggravating circumstances.
At Least One Year: Marijuana was used frequently, or any other drug was used experimentally, and there are no aggravating circumstances.
At Least Two Years: Marijuana was used regularly, or any other drug was used occasionally, and there are no aggravating circumstances. There was no evidence of psychological or physical dependence at the time subject was using drugs, and subject has demonstrated a stable life style with satisfactory employment record since then.
At Least Three Years: Any drug other than marijuana was used frequently or regularly, or marijuana was used regularly with signs of psychological dependence. There are no other aggravating circumstances. Subject has maintained a stable lifestyle, satisfactory employment record, and a completely clean record in all other issue areas during the past three years.
At Least Five Years: A minor involvement in drug trafficking for profit or failure to complete a drug treatment program. Subject has maintained a stable lifestyle, satisfactory employment record, and a completely clean record in all other issue areas during the past five years.