Nearly 5 million people in the United States have some level of security clearance. In addition to those, many apply for and are denied clearance for a number of reasons, including foreign influence concerns.
An applicant who applies for and is denied clearance is provided a Statement of Reasons, which identifies one or more of the 13 adjudicative guidelines as reasons why the application was denied. We’ve explained certain guidelines here on our blog over the past several months, and today we’re sharing information about Guideline B – Foreign Influence.
Military personnel, consultants, contractors, employees of contractors, and civilian government employees who require access to classified information as part of their job duties must obtain a security clearance.
When a person is granted a security clearance, a variety of factors are taken into account, such as the applicant’s commitment to the U.S., reliability, trustworthiness, and ability to protect classified information, according to information on the U.S. Department of State website.
The concerns outlined in Guideline B revolve around questioning whether an individual applying for clearance has “divided loyalties or foreign financial interests, may be manipulated or induced to help a foreign person, group, organization, or government in a way that is not in U.S. interests, or is vulnerable to pressure or coercion by any foreign interest,” according to the Department of State.
A variety of conditions can raise a security concern under Guideline B.
Security Concerns to Be Aware of Under Guideline B
- Contact with a family member, professional associate, friend, or acquaintance in a foreign country if that contact heightens the risk of foreign exploitation and coercion.
- Connections to a foreign group, person, or country could create a conflict of interest between holding secret confidential information and helping that foreign entity by providing that information.
- Living with an individual, regardless of their citizenship status, if that relationship creates a heightened security risk of foreign inducement or coercion.
- A business or otherwise financial interest in a foreign country could subject you to a heightened risk of foreign exploitation.
- Failure to report an association with a foreign national, as Jared Kushner appears to have done recently when he omitted a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer on his SF-86.
- Conduct, when traveling outside the U.S., which may make you vulnerable to exploitation or coercion by a foreign group, government, country, or individual.
These are just some of the conditions that can cause the denial or revocation of your security clearance based on foreign influence.
However, there also are mitigating circumstances. An attorney with experience in this legal specialty can help an applicant provide adequate information in the SF-86 security questionnaire that is completed when a person applies for security clearance to help ensure the application is approved.
Situations That Can Mitigate Security Concerns
To mitigate foreign influence concerns, you and your attorney will have to prove the true nature of your relationship with foreign individuals or countries in such a way as to show that it is unlikely that you will ever have to choose between divulging confidential information and helping a foreign group, organization, country, or individual.
You may have to show that there is no conflict of interest and that you will always side with the U.S. because of your longstanding loyalties.
Furthermore, you will have to show that your contact or communication with foreign citizens is infrequent, casual, and poses zero threat to your ability to hold a security clearance.
It is always best, to tell the truth when filling out the SF-86 and when being interviewed by investigators.
Leaving things out is a no-no also.
“Simple omissions can be enough to raise concerns for those reviewing these applications,” says John Griffith, a security clearance attorney.
A February 2012 case involving an associate engineer employed by a federal contractor is a good example of how an attorney might have helped this applicant obtain his clearance on the first try, and avoid having his application forwarded by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals to an administrative judge for a determination whether to deny his application, according to information available on the U.S. Department of Defense website.
The applicant was Moroccan-born and came to the U.S. in 1999. He became a U.S. citizen in 2008 and applied for a security clearance due to his job in 2009. The security concerns raised in his application centered around not just Guideline B, but also Guideline C (foreign preference) and Guideline E (personal conduct).
He kept his Moroccan passport and his Moroccan identification card after becoming a U.S. citizen, even though he legally changed his name upon being granted U.S. citizenship, but he used his U.S. passport for all foreign travel. When he learned that his Moroccan passport and identification card raised security concerns, he destroyed them, according to DoD information.
The fact that he owned an apartment and maintained a bank account in Morocco, and that his mother, four brothers, wife, mother-in-law, and father-in-law are Moroccan citizens and residents raised concerns under Guideline B.
He raised additional concerns by failing to answer questions that pertained to his foreign travel for business and personal reasons accurately.
“Failing to answer questions correctly on the application can lead to the suspicion that the responses have been intentionally falsified,” Griffith says. “In this applicant’s case, a review of the document reveals that the applicant apparently didn’t understand the wording of some questions.”
He disclosed pleasure travel but failed to list business trips that also included pleasure travel.
“He stated that he forgot about some of his pleasure trips that he frequently combined for business and pleasure travel, and that he did not fully understand that he was required to disclose the personal portion of combined business and pleasure travel,” according to DoD records.
“An attorney experienced in security clearance law might have helped this applicant understand the questions better so they could have been answered thoroughly in the application,” Griffith says. “An attorney also might have helped ensure the applicant adequately explained the circumstances around his ownership of property in Morocco and his bank account there.”
The DoD records state the applicant had purchased the apartment for his mother, and the account was in place so the mortgage payments could be made.
Applicants who go through the security clearance application process on their own and are issued a Statement of Reasons should consult a lawyer for guidance on how to approach the hearing and appeal process, Griffith says. Otherwise, they run the risk of having their clearance denied and being forced to find another line of work.
If you are applying for security clearance and would like assistance with the process, please contact our office to schedule an appointment.