A prerequisite for accessing classified national security information is the completion and favorable outcome of a background investigation.
The adjudicative process is the careful weighing of a number of variables known as the "whole person concept" and includes an examination of a sufficient period of your life to determine if you are an acceptable security risk.
Available, reliable information about you - past and present, favorable and unfavorable - is considered in reaching a determination of your eligibility for a security clearance.
Background Investigators are required to identify, locate, and interview a sufficient number of people who know you well, including neighbors, co-workers, supervisors, and, if applicable, former spouses. They want to talk to as many knowledgeable people as possible to get a balanced, accurate, and comprehensive picture of you. Later, you may have an opportunity to refute any misleading or false information that was reported about you.
When investigators are conducting interviews with your references - those that you supply and those that are developed by the agency - and your past and current employers, they are trying to determine particular information about you.
Many types of background investigations involve a personal interview, which is used to validate the data you filled out in your SF86 and clarify any other information about you.
Investigators will be sure to verify:
- Your U.S. citizenship and the citizenship of immediate family members
- Your date and place of birth
- Your education level
- Your employment for the last seven years
- Your financial status
- Completion of the SF86 and that it is current within 90 days of the investigation.
Local agency checks will be conducted to review your criminal history within the jurisdictions where you have lived, worked or attended school.
Specifically, there are 13 Adjudication Guidelines that adjudicators consider when determining eligibility for access to classified information and eligibility to perform sensitive duties:
- Allegiance to the United StatesAn individual must be of unquestioned allegiance to the United States. The willingness to safeguard classified information is in doubt if there is any reason to suspect an individual’s allegiance to the United States.
Example of a concern: Membership in an organization that supports the overthrowing of the U.S. government.
- Foreign InfluenceForeign contacts and interests may be a security concern if the individual has divided loyalties, is vulnerable to pressure from any foreign interest, or foreign financial interests which may be manipulated to help a foreign person, group or government in a way that is not in U.S. interests.
Example of a concern: Failure to report, when required, an association with a foreign national.
- Foreign PreferencesWhen an individual acts in such a way as to indicate a preference for a foreign country over the United States, then he or she may be prone to provide information or make decisions that are harmful to the interests of the United States.
Example of a concern: Failure to report to an appropriate security official the possession of a passport issued by any other country.
- Sexual BehaviorSexual behavior is a security concern if it involves a criminal offense; indicates a personality or emotional disorder; may subject the individual to coercion, exploitation, or duress; or reflects lack of judgment or discretion. Sexual orientation or preference may not be used as a disqualifying factor in determining a person’s eligibility for a security clearance.
Example of a concern: Sexual behavior of a criminal nature, whether or not the individual has been prosecuted.
- Personal ConductConduct involving questionable judgment, lack of candor, dishonesty or unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations can raise questions about an individual’s reliability, trustworthiness and ability to protect classified information.
Example of a concern: Deliberately providing false or misleading information concerning relevant facts to an investigator or security official.
- Financial ConsiderationsAn individual, who is financially overextended, is at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds. Unexplained affluence is often linked to proceeds from financially profitable criminal acts.
Example of a concern: A history of not meeting financial obligations or an inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts.
- Alcohol ConsumptionExcessive alcohol consumption often leads to the exercise of questionable judgment or the failure to control impulses, and can raise questions about an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness.
Example of a concern: Alcohol-related incident, such as driving while under the influence.
- Drug InvolvementUse of an illegal drug or misuse of a prescription drug can raise questions about an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness, both because it may impair judgment and because it raises questions about a person’s ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules and regulations.
Example of a concern: Recent drug use, illegal drug possession or drug dependence.
- Psychological ConditionsCertain emotional, mental and personality conditions can impair judgment, reliability or trustworthiness.
Example of a concern: The individual has failed to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental or personality condition, such as failure to take prescribed medication.
- Criminal ConductCriminal activity creates doubt about a person’s judgment, reliability and trustworthiness.
Example of a Concern: A single serious crime or multiple lesser offenses.
- Handling Protected InformationDeliberate or negligent failure to comply with rules and regulations for protecting classified information or other sensitive information raises doubt about an individual’s trustworthiness, judgment, reliability or willingness to safeguard such information and is a concern.
Example of a concern: Collecting or storing classified information in an unauthorized location.
- Outside ActivitiesInvolvement in certain types of outside employment or activities is of security concern if it poses a conflict with an individual’s security responsibilities and could create an increased risk of unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
Example of a concern: Service or employment with the government of a foreign country.
- Use of Information Technology SystemsNoncompliance with rules, procedures, guidelines or regulations pertaining to information technology systems may raise security concerns about an individual’s trustworthiness, willingness, and ability to properly protect classified systems, networks, and information. Information Technology Systems include all related equipment used for the communication, transmission, processing, manipulation, and storage of classified or sensitive information.
Example of a concern: Illegal or unauthorized entry into any IT system or component thereof.
During the investigative process, inappropriate conduct from your past may be uncovered. This is not automatic grounds for denial of a clearance. In fact, the investigators will look deeply into the actual incident and determine its relevance on a case-by-case basis.
They will consider the following factors:
- The nature, extent, and seriousness of the conduct;
- The circumstances surrounding the conduct, such as your knowledgeable participation;
- The frequency of the conduct and how recent it was;
- The extent to which participation was voluntary;
- The presence or absence of rehabilitation and other permanent behavioral changes;
- The motivation for the conduct;
- The potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation, or duress; and
- The likelihood of continuation or recurrence.
Each case must be judged on its own merits, and final determination remains the responsibility of the specific department or agency. Any doubt concerning personnel being considered for access to classified information will be resolved in favor of national security.
Federal agencies will normally accept another agency's investigation as the basis for granting a security clearance, provided your last security clearance investigation was completed within the past five years for a Top Secret clearance and 10 years for a Secret clearance, and you have not had a break in service of more than two years. Also considered is whether there have been any significant changes in your situation since your last investigation. Some federal agencies might have additional investigative or adjudicative requirements that must be met prior to their accepting a clearance granted by another agency.