Two Puffs and You’re Out: Drug Use with a Security Clearance

The use of illegal drugs (under Federal law) is a sure-fire way to lose eligibility for a security clearance, especially if you already have one. All clearance holders get a security briefing about their responsibilities, acceptable conduct, and reporting requirements. Most take it to heart and toe the line. Others…well, let’s just say there are those few who think the rules are not really that important or don’t apply to them. Usually it’s just a matter of time before adverse information or bad behavior comes to light. In one such case, a defense contractor had his clearance revoked after completing multiple polygraph-assisted security interviews with signs of deception present. On the last one the applicant finally admitted to smoking marijuana a few years back while holding a clearance. Here are some of the case highlights:

The applicant held a TS/SCI clearance in 2014 when he went abroad for a work-related conference. While a nightclub afterwards, he was engaged in a conversation with  someone smoking a marijuana cigarette and took two puffs from it himself. Six months later he took a polygraph and didn’t disclose the drug use for fear of losing his clearance. The Agency who granted his clearance asked him to take another polygraph seven months later because of signs of deception. Two more exams followed and on the fourth one he finally confessed to smoking marijuana. His SCI access was subsequently revoked. Fast forward to 2018 when the applicant had undergone two additional security interviews with background investigators. During questioning the applicant denied knowing why he didn’t pass the previously noted polygraphs and denied any illegal drug use. However, after the investigator confronted him with the previous admission of marijuana use, the applicant then claimed he didn’t actually take two puffs, but instead just put it to his lips (sounds familiar).

In his appeal to the Defense Office of Hearing and Appeals the applicant claims it was a one-time incident that occurred over five years ago and that time has mitigated his conduct. However, the appeals judge pointed out the more serious conduct of falsifying his security clearance application and continued lack of candor far outweighed the actual drug use. The “I did not inhale” excuse did not go over well and not surprisingly, the clearance revocation was upheld. You can read the appeals case in its entirety here.