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Top Reasons for Security Clearance Denial

There’s nothing like a real-world example to explain some of the reasons why a person applying for a security clearance may be denied.

Edward Snowden has provided that example for us today.

Snowden, a Booz Allen Hamilton infrastructure analyst with a top-secret security clearance, dropped a bombshell on the world in June when he leaked information to the press about mass surveillance programs. He also shared classified material on several top-secret National Security Agency programs.

In light of that, we view this as a good time to discuss Guideline A: Allegiance to the United States of the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information. Guideline A is one of 13 guidelines, which we listed in this recent blog post, which are reasons for security clearance denial.

Security Clearance Denial Rate Explained by Attorneys

The reasons for having a process in which an applicant who is in the process of obtaining a security clearance is heavily vetted may be clear to many, but it still bears mentioning here. When you are in a position of privileged access – whether you are a military service member, a government employee or a government contractor – you’re exposed to a great deal more information than the average employee. The applicant must be willing to keep the classified information with which they come in contact safe.

The Snowden case is one such example of what happens when the trust given in the form of security clearance to a government contractor is violated.

“In light of Edward Snowden’s actions, it is obvious that his allegiance to the country has been called into question,” says John Griffith.

There is a multitude of situations that could cause the government to question your allegiance to the country. Examples include being directly involved with, associating, or sympathizing with people involved with spying, terrorism, or sabotage in an effort to alter or overthrow the government. Another circumstance that could raise questions as to a person’s allegiance would be involved in activities that illegally advocate or practice acts of violence or force to keep others from exercising their constitutional rights.

It is important to note that allegiance to the U.S. doesn’t prevent you from being able to criticize the government, Griffith says. That is protected by freedom of speech. It only becomes an allegiance issue when a person acts or prepares to act on those beliefs in a manner that is against the law.

“If you have a security clearance, you’re allowed to hold an unpopular opinion of the U.S., which seems to be how Snowden felt about what he was seeing in his position as an analyst,” Griffith says. “But if he is apprehended by federal officials and brought to trial, there is a possibility that he will be found guilty of having committed acts of sabotage.”

According to interviews granted to The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, it appears Snowden leaked information because he wanted the public to know the depth of information the government was keeping on U.S. citizens.

“As citizens, we have the right to seek change in government policies or programs, but we can’t break the law in order to create those changes,” Griffith says.

Snowden’s critics say he aided America’s enemies by making them aware of these mass surveillance systems. On June 14, federal prosecutors filed espionage charges against Snowden. He has eluded capture for the past several weeks, and at the time of this blog post, it is unclear whether he will be returned to the U.S. to stand trial.

We have no inside knowledge of the Snowden case and won’t speculate on its outcome, but it is possible (perhaps likely) that he will lose his security clearance. When a person’s clearance is denied or revoked, he/she receives a “Statement of Reasons,” which details the reasons for the denial or revocation. To use Snowden as an example, his reason might fall under Guideline A.

When this happens, the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals notifies the applicant that he/she has the right to respond with a written rebuttal, as well as schedule a hearing. It is important to submit a Statement of Reasons response, which should be done with an attorney’s assistance.

If you have received a SOR, feel free to contact our office for a consultation. We are happy to tell you if there is a legitimate chance of appealing this decision, or if your chances of obtaining a security clearance are slim.