Why You Probably Shouldn’t Have a Clearance
In a recent Department of Energy clearance denial appeal the judge turned the tables on the applicant’s argument that he misunderstood the questions on the SF-86 application as to why he didn’t disclose delinquent taxes, debts, and arrests. The issues in this case involved the applicant failing to file his taxes, getting evicted for not paying his rent, taking out new credit cards and loans in order to pay his living expenses, getting a speeding ticket and then failing to pay it, resulting in suspension of his driver’s license, and then getting arrested for driving on a suspended license. To top it all off, he didn’t disclose any of this information on his application for the security clearance.
At the appeals hearing he argued he had misunderstood or misinterpreted the questions: he didn’t think being arrested for driving on a suspended license was a police action because the charges were later dismissed; he wasn’t aware that he had to file taxes since he had taxes taken out of his pay each paycheck; and he was never served with a legal notice from his landlord or creditors about being delinquent in payments. The judge acknowledged that the applicant had mitigated the financial irresponsibility issues by getting his taxes filed, agreeing to a payment plan with the landlord for the judgment, and entering into a debt repayment program with the remaining creditors. However, the personal conduct issue by not disclosing all of the required information on the form was not mitigated. The judge provided this explanation: “I am not confident, however, of how the individual would respond when faced with new challenges in the future. In particular, I am not convinced that he would follow appropriate protocol with respect to handling classified material, were he placed in a situation of some complexity. I am also not convinced that he would recognize that he did not know how to respond. Nor am I convinced that he would seek advice from classification or security experts, rather than simply act on his understanding, as he has in the past. In my opinion, the individual displays an unmerited sense of self-confidence in his ability to know what is right. This trait may well temper with maturity, but as of now, I find a substantial risk that he might not handle classified material properly under all circumstances”.
Putting it nicely, it seems the judge was trying to say: If you don’t have the common sense it takes to interpret, understand, and answer what is pretty straightforward on the clearance application, then how can the nation trust you to interpret and understand how to handle classified information?