National Security Clearance in the Age of COVID-19

The Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) recently released a statement regarding national security clearances and COVID-19. The statement made it clear that as a result of the unexpected challenges presented by the pandemic outbreak, the agency will take into consideration the unavoidable economic hardships many security clearance holders may encounter. The agency further states that it is important to ensure that trusted national security holders and applicants are not unduly penalized when they suffer financial hardships as a result of the pandemic.

How the Security Clearance Evaluation Process Has Been Affected Amid the Pandemic

Through the implementation of the “Trusted Workforce 2.0”, as well as the incorporation of the Continuous Evaluation (CE) system, the NCSC continues to be committed to the “Whole Person Concept” approach when evaluating and vetting a person for a position of trust. Consequently, the agency is currently calling into attention mitigating factors within the Security Executive Agent Directive 4 (SEAD 4) Guideline F; Financial Considerations.

Guideline F (b) provides that security holders and applicants who have financial issues that were largely beyond their control do not face unreasonable penalizations. Issues that are beyond a holder or applicant’s control can apply to the following:

  • Death,
  • Business downturns,
  • Loss of employment,
  • Unexpected medical emergencies,
  • Identity theft,
  • Divorce and separation, and
  • A clear victimization by predatory lending practices

The Adjudicative Guidelines Used to Determine Eligibility to Obtain Access to Sensitive Information

Financial concerns are not the only factor considered when seeking security clearance. Based on the “Whole Person Concept”, a government official reviewing the case, also known as an adjudicator, will evaluate the person’s eligibility for clearance by considering the “totality” of the individual’s conduct and relevant circumstances. Factors considered by the Department of Defense are highlighted in the Adjudicative Guidelines, which are: Guideline A – Loyalty to the country; Guideline B – Review of foreign bias; Guideline C – Review of Foreign preferences; Guideline D – Sexual behaviors; Guideline E – Personal behavior; Guideline F – Personal financial consideration; Guidelines G – Review of alcohol abuse;  Guideline H – Review of drug use or distribution; Guideline I – Mental, emotional, and personality disorders; Guideline J – Review of criminal behavior; Guideline K – Assessment of security violations; Guideline L – Outside activities; and Guideline M – Misuse of I.T. systems.

Under these guidelines, a final determination of whether the individual will be granted security clearance will be based on an overall common sense judgement, which is based on the merits of the security issues and the review of the person as a whole.

A Traditional Perspective of Guideline F – Financial Considerations

Traditionally, national security reviews have looked down upon outstanding debt and any personal financial concerns an applicant or security holder may have. Clearance overseers assess personal financial issues as a risk factor since it can increase a person’s susceptibility to blackmail or bribes as well as increase their risk of being coerced into espionage.

Guideline F – Financial considerations contends that a person who is financially overexerted can be at risk of engaging in unlawful acts to generate funds. When an individual has an unexplained affluence, this is often linked to the proceeds of profitable criminal actions.

The conditions that could give rise to security concerns, and possibly lead to a security clearance disqualification, include: The individual’s history of being unable to meet his or her financial obligations; Any illegal or deceptive financial practices, such as employee theft, embezzlement, check fraud, expense account misuse, income tax evasion, deceptive loan applications, and other deliberate breaches of trust; The inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts; Any financial concerns pertaining to drug abuse, gambling, alcoholism, and/or other factors that lead to security concern.

The guidelines assert that mitigating factors for security concerns include the following: The issue was an isolated incident; The behavior was not recent; The monetary affluence resulted from a legal source; The applicant initiated an effort of good-faith to repay an overdue creditors and resolve debts; The individual received counseling for the issue and there are clear indications that the matter was resolved or is under control; and The situations that led to the behavior were greatly based on matters beyond the individual’s control, such as an unexpected health emergency.

Obtain the Support of a National Security Law Firm That Will Advocate on Your Behalf

As a current service member of the military or new member seeking national security clearance, it is important that you are aware of the ongoing changes to the background checks that can affect your ability to maintain or acquire a security clearance. Speak to a law firm with the right experience that can guide you through the rigorous application process. In the event that you have been denied clearance, a proficient attorney will advocate on your behalf.

The National Security Law Firm stands ready to represent and advise national security holders and would-be holders in the national security process. Additionally, the firm is also equipped to handle appeal concerns. For more information regarding your background check or application process, consider contacting the National Security Law Firm today.

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