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Reasons for Security Clearance Denial – Guideline K

We have written in recent months about several reasons why a security clearance application may be denied.

Today we’re addressing Guideline K of the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information. This outlines the reasons provided to an applicant when a government security clearance application is denied.

This is a timely topic, given the verdict on July 30th in the Army Pfc. Bradley Manning court-martial. A judge found Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, but guilty of five counts of espionage. He previously had pleaded guilty to almost a dozen lesser charges related to his giving about 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks in 2010.

We’re not here to argue whether Manning is a whistleblower or a traitor, but his case presents a good backdrop for explaining Guideline K: handling protected information.

When there is a security clearance denial and Guideline K is given as the reason in the official Statement of Reasons, it means there are concerns that the applicant has intentionally or negligently failed to abide by the rules and regulations pertaining to the protection of classified or other sensitive information, says John Griffith, an attorney who specializes in security clearance issues and assists clients seeking to apply for security clearance.

Security Clearance Denial Rate

“In the government’s eyes, it means there are doubts as to the applicant’s trustworthiness or willingness to protect secure information,” Griffith says.

According to information available to the public on the U.S. Government Printing Office website, factors that could raise security concerns and potentially disqualify a Department of Defense (DoD) security clearance applicant include:

  • Deliberately or negligently disclosing classified or other protected information to unauthorized persons, such as personal and business contacts, or media outlets.
  • Collecting or storing classified or other protected information in an unauthorized location.
  • Loading, drafting, editing, modifying, storing, transmitting, or otherwise handling classified reports, data, or other information on unapproved computer hardware, software, and other equipment.
  • Inappropriate efforts to obtain or view classified or other protected information outside a person’s need to know.
  • Copying classified or other protected information in a manner designed to conceal or remove classification or other document control markings.
  • Viewing or downloading information from a secure system when the information is beyond the individual’s need to know.
  • Failing to comply with rules designed to protect classified or other sensitive information.
  • Negligence or lax security habits that persist, even after being counseled on the issue.
  • Deliberately or negligently failing to comply with rules or regulations, results in damage to national security.

“If you’ve been denied security clearance under Guideline K, it’s important to consult an attorney to determine the best course of action,” Griffith says. “An attorney who is experienced in this area of law can advise you as to whether you have a good chance at appealing this decision.”

There are some mitigating circumstances. For example, if your actions were inadvertent, isolated, or infrequent, an attorney may be able to help you overturn the denial. Another exception would be if the mishandling of sensitive information was due to improper or inadequate training.

Applicants who are denied clearance have the right to request a hearing before an administrative judge. There is a small window of opportunity for doing this – within 15 days of receiving your Statement of Reasons – and failing to make the request within that window means forfeiting your right to a hearing.

You must have a prepared Statement of Reasons response when you get to your hearing. A security clearance attorney can assist you in drafting a proper response that will give you the best chance of successfully appealing the decision.

“The point we always drive home with clients is that quite often, a Statement of Reasons doesn’t mean you’ll be stripped of your security clearance,” Griffith says. “We have a good track record of assisting clients in appealing this decision so they can continue their livelihood.”