Common Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Security Clearance

Security clearance is vital in various professions, especially those involving national security and sensitive information. It acts as a stringent screening process to ensure that individuals granted access to classified information or positions of trust meet certain criteria, such as loyalty, reliability, and trustworthiness. The significance of security clearance lies in safeguarding national interests, protecting sensitive data, and maintaining the integrity of our security systems.

This blog highlights the common mistakes made during the security clearance application process. We aim to help applicants understand the pitfalls to avoid, thus increasing their chances of a successful application. By addressing these common errors, we enable applicants to navigate the process more effectively, facilitating their eligibility for security clearance.

At Claery & Hammond, LLP, our team helps individuals through each step of the application process. Contact us at (877) 362-3176 or online.

Lack of Disclosure

Full disclosure in the security clearance application process is crucial. It is paramount to be honest and transparent, providing complete information about your past. Security agencies place a high value on integrity. Partial or dishonest disclosure can lead to mistrust and cast doubt on your reliability, loyalty, and trustworthiness, thereby jeopardizing your chances of obtaining clearance.

Withholding information or providing inaccurate details with the intent to deceive can be viewed as a federal offense. A conviction could result in severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, or both. Furthermore, even if initially successful, misleading information can later resurface and lead to revocation of the clearance, dismissal, and legal consequences.

The purpose of the security clearance process is not to seek faultless individuals but to identify honest, trustworthy, and reliable individuals capable of protecting sensitive information. In many instances, agencies understand that applicants may have made mistakes in the past. They are more interested in how you have rectified your mistakes and what you have learned from them.

Inaccurate or Incomplete Information

Providing accurate and complete information is critical to the security clearance application process. No matter how minor it may seem, you must meticulously and truthfully complete every detail. For example, the Standard Form 86 (SF86) requires comprehensive details about your past, including employment history, personal contacts, international travel, and psychological and emotional health.

Errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in these forms prolong the clearance process and cast a shadow of doubt over the applicant's reliability and truthfulness. Security clearance adjudicators pay close attention to the information provided, and discrepancies between the form and background investigations could cause concern.

Further, it's not uncommon for applicants to inadvertently leave out details, thinking they are irrelevant. However, such omissions could be perceived as an attempt to conceal information, resulting in unnecessary complications. Err on the side of over-disclosure.

The accuracy and completeness of your application form are fundamental to establishing trust. If you're uncertain about how to fill out your application thoroughly and accurately, consider seeking professional help.

Failing to Report Foreign Contacts

Maintaining foreign contacts or relationships is not necessarily a barrier to receiving security clearance. However, failing to report these contacts during the application process may raise concerns about your vulnerability to foreign influence and reliability in protecting sensitive information. Therefore, it is crucial to disclose all significant connections with non-U.S. citizens, including close friends, family members, and business associates. The disclosure should encompass details about the nature and duration of the relationship, frequency of contact, and whether any sensitive information has been shared.

Underestimating the importance of reporting foreign contacts can have serious repercussions. For example, foreign influences could be exploited in a globalized world to coerce or induce you to compromise security protocols and leak classified information. This scenario poses a significant risk to national safety and is taken very seriously by security agencies.

If you have substantial foreign contacts, it doesn't mean you will be automatically disqualified from obtaining security clearance. Each case is evaluated individually, considering factors such as the nature of the relationship, the country involved, and whether the individual has ties to a foreign government. So, if a contact does not threaten national security, it may not be a hindrance.

Financial Issues

Financial problems can significantly impact your ability to obtain security clearance. Issues such as bankruptcy, unpaid taxes, or a history of bad credit can raise questions about your reliability, trustworthiness, and susceptibility to financial coercion.

Financial behavior is a reliable indicator of a person's sense of responsibility, integrity, and ability to manage commitments. Therefore, erratic economic behavior or poor debt management could be a risk.

However, financial difficulties alone do not automatically disqualify an applicant. The adjudication process considers whether these issues were due to circumstances beyond the applicant's control, such as medical emergencies or job loss, versus reckless behavior or poor decision-making. A proactive approach can help mitigate the impact of financial problems on your security clearance application.

Firstly, demonstrate that you're taking steps to resolve your financial issues. Your approach could involve setting up payment plans, consolidating debts, or seeking financial counseling. Secondly, be upfront and honest about your financial problems. Just like other parts of the application process, transparency is vital. Trying to hide financial difficulties could lead to more severe consequences than the economic issues themselves.

Legal Troubles

Legal troubles can pose a significant hurdle in the security clearance application process. Adjudicators are likely to view a history of legal issues as potential indicators of poor judgment, lack of integrity, or disregard for rules and regulations—all of which are red flags in the clearance process. This review extends to matters ranging from minor infractions such as traffic violations to more significant criminal charges.

Legal troubles in your past do not automatically disqualify you from obtaining security clearance. Much like financial issues, the adjudication process for security clearance considers the legal issues' nature, frequency, and recency. Adjudicators will also consider your age at the time of the offense, the seriousness of the offense, and any patterns of behavior. For instance, a single legal infraction committed many years ago will likely carry less weight than a recent history of repeated offenses.

Being forthright about your legal history is essential. Trying to conceal past legal troubles will likely do more harm than the legal troubles themselves. Instead, take the opportunity to demonstrate your personal growth and how you have learned from your past mistakes. Provide context for your actions and show how you have rectified your behavior and complied with the law since your offense.

Mitigating Factors

Mistakes and errors in the past do not necessarily preclude one from obtaining a security clearance. A crucial component of the adjudication process is the examination of mitigating factors. These factors can help to contextualize any unfavorable information in your background and demonstrate that you do not pose a risk to national security.

Adjudicators consider a range of mitigating factors, including:

  • The passage of time since the adverse event
  • Evidence of rehabilitation or reformation
  • Positive changes in behavior
  • A demonstrated commitment to living a responsible life

In some cases, you may be required to provide evidence of mitigating factors. The proof might include documentation of debt repayments, certificates of completion for rehabilitation programs, or letters of recommendation attesting to your good character and commitment to improvement.

Navigating Your Security Clearance Journey with Legal Help

Avoiding the common pitfalls in the application process can significantly improve your chances of obtaining security clearance. However, even with the most diligent preparation, applicants may find it challenging to navigate the complexities of the process alone. It is in such instances that professional help can be invaluable.

At Claery & Hammond, LLP, our experienced team is well-versed in the intricacies of the security clearance process. If you need assistance with your security clearance application or have questions about the process, don't hesitate to contact us at (877) 362-3176 or online.