Background Investigations

Steve Jobs Had the Same Security Clearance Concerns You Do

As the person who reviews the comments posted to articles at, I can tell you the clearance process produces a lot of questions. Despite efforts to make the security clearance application (SF-86) more understandable, oftentimes questions remain as to what to include – and what not to.

It seems Steve Jobs had the same problem.

Documents related to Jobs’ security clearance continue to be released by Wired, who requested them through a Freedom of Information Act request. (Some have been surprised to learn that SF86 information has been deemed publicly releasable, and wonder if the same would hold true for the average citizen).

Wired reported that Jobs had not included a 1975 arrest for a traffic infraction on his Personnel Security Questionnaire. When investigators found the arrest and interviewed Jobs, he said he hadn’t included it because he didn’t consider the minor incident an “actual arrest.”

Like other security clearance applicants who face a difficult clearance process, Jobs had to provide a written response to clearance concerns. In it he outlined his occasional drug use and purchase of drugs, the traffic infraction, and even how he constructed a Blue Box device at the age of 14, which was capable of making long-distance phone calls.

The Jobs security clearance files point to both how complex the security clearance process can be as well as how critical it is to be completely forthcoming on any illegal activity. Most issues – from drug use to criminal conduct – can be mitigated over time. But failing to include such details on your SF-86 will cause investigators to question your honesty, not your memory.

If you can’t remember how often you used drugs or if you don’t know if that run in with police at a bar in college was really an “arrest” air on the side of inclusion, rather than leaving it out. Then take the time to explain the incident in question.

Also keep in mind that if your behavior was particularly egregious, you’ll want to bring in a few character statements from those who can confirm you’ve changed your ways.

Jobs eventually got his top secret security clearance.

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    I am taking a break from our lovely job for the next week. The wife and I are headed to Vegas. It would be great if we struck it big and I could come back and just work as a contractor when I wanted to. Here is to wishful thinking. Stay safe and sane out there!

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    Safe travels and enjoy a well-deserved break.


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    You can’t take a break! Who is going to take all of your cases?

    Have fun!

    And as far as thre article, why is Jobs’ info being released exactly? I missed it and it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s business, really.

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    I hear the temps will be 110+ in Vegas for the next several days…don’t do too much walking around outside before dark! Stay hydrated! Have a great time! Viva Las Vegas!

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    So jealous! Have a grea trip and don’t think about work…

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    Charge vs arrest, how many times we have to explain that charges are charges no matter what the end outcome. Have fun investigator, I am heading there for my break in 3 weeks, try to stay out of any C’s or D’s 🙂

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    Make sure to check your work emails while on vacation!

  8. Avatar

    Things are starting to get interesting. The one company I’m currently contracting to has expanded so much that they only things left in my area are pieces of cases (and they’re still recruiting like crazy). This is not cost effective for me. One of the OPM contractors pays so little it wouldn’t be worth it to go there. And the third is so poorly managed that I’m not sure they’d be receptive, even though I hear they are drowning in work. What to do, what to do…

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    While I agree that the SF-86 can be a confusing form to complete, I’ve found that the vast majority of problems (discrepancies, omitted issues, etc) arise from the blatant laziness, complacency, ignorance or stupidity of the people filling the form out (or a combination of the four). It would be interesting to see what kind of adjudicative guideline “Filling Out SF-86 Correctly” would have on these people.

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    I always prefere the D’s when in Vegas–if you get my meaning 🙂

  11. Avatar

    Double Ds.

  12. Avatar

    BW! Such a naughty boy…

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    Did I miss a memo or something? When did SF 86s begin to fall under the purview of FOIA? That is slightly concerning to me, people put a lot of info into those that they would not love to have released. Info that they assumed would only be seen by a small number of people.

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    Average FSO,

    I’m no expert on this subject, but I think that there is a lot of information under federal control that becomes FIOA after the subject of that information passes away.

    I don’t think Jobs’ file would have been attainable if he were still alive.

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    Average FSO:
    SF86s have always been under the FOIA. If you read the front pages of the SF86 it talks about the Privacy Act (PA). The PA is an amendment to the FOIA. It was written as an exception to the FOIA, allowing the government to withhold personal information that would otherwise be releaseable under the FOIA. The PA then creates an except to the exception, allowing individuals to obtain copies of their own records. FOUO is also an exception to the FOIA, as is classified information. Once in government hands, the SF86 becomes FOUO withing government channels until that protective marking is removed. The death of an individual usually creates the event that removes the FOUO protection from personal information in the hands of the government.

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    Thanks for the response, if I am understanding it right basically you are saying that as long as an individual is alive his/her SF86 is not releasable under the FOIA due to it being FOUO. Upon an individuals death that marking is removed and access to it can thus be requested. Thanks again

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    Average FSO:
    Anyone can request anything under the FOIA. Once the govt. agency receives the request, they must review to see if it is releaseable. Normally FOUO material is not releaseable; however, if the agency cannot justify maintaining the FOUO protective marking, they must remove it and release the document(s). In this case the review probably took into account more than just the death of Steve Jobs; it probably also considered his celebrity status and news worthiness.

  18. Avatar

    I’m going to request BW’s file after he dies.

    Then I’m going to post it here and have a drink in his honor.

  19. Avatar


    While In vegas go to Pawn Stars and see what you can get for your creds.

  20. Avatar


    Won’t do you any good–the real BW died about 60 years ago 🙂

  21. Avatar

    If you can get some of those D’s to high tail it over here with a drink we are talking…. I spent the day completely reworking a case b/c the subject did not fill his papers out anywhere near correctly, who forgets a whole military service and 5 + employments? Someone who says they didn’t think it mattered b/c they were temp (laziness check).

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    I think I’ll leave alot blank and I’m gonna answer “I don’t know” on everything. After that, I’m requesting that “Skittles” does my background.

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    Those creds don’t look well worn and Ive never heard of OPM, let me get a buddy in here to see if they’re real. Then we’ll talk about a price.

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    You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little f*cked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to f*ckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?


  26. Avatar

    Someone get Fed a snickers 🙂

  27. Avatar

    Hi my name is Bill–Rick calls me when a set of creds comes in and he is unsure of their value. Rick, what’s your concerns? Bill, are they real and what are they worth? Rick, they are obviuosly not real credentials as OPM is known for HR and Staffing functions only. I’d value them at, say, NOTHING. Rumor has it these are the most widely used fake credentials in the country–good thing you call me in.

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  29. Avatar

    BW –

    Pretty darn close to the truth!