Up until I read this story, the answer has always been an emphatic yes. I will amend my answer to say yes in all but the most unique of circumstances. To quote John Fogerty, “I ain’t no fortunate son.” I believe that most of my clients fall into this category as well so my advice to them is to answer the SF 86 in a full, complete and honest manner.
In fact, here is how the SF 86 form begins and it certainly gives you a strong sense of the import and solemnity of the form and the process.
SF 86 Form and Process
All questions on this form must be answered completely and truthfully in order that the government may make the determinations described below on a complete record. Penalties for inaccurate or false statements are discussed below. If you are a current civilian employee of the federal government: failure to answer any questions completely and truthfully could result in an adverse personnel action against you, including loss of employment; with respect to sections 23, 27 and 29, however, neither your truthful responses or information derived from those responses will be used against you in a subsequent criminal proceeding. Note that the words in bold are exactly as set forth in this first paragraph of the instructions.
The instructions then go on to explain the purpose of the form. The form states that this form will be used by the United States government in conducting background investigations, reinvestigations, and continuous evaluations of persons under consideration for, or retention of, national security positions as defined in five CFR 732, and for individuals requiring eligibility for access to classified information under Executive Order 12968. This form may also be used by agencies in determining whether a subject performing work for, on behalf of, the government under a contract should be deemed eligible for logical or physical access when the nature of the work to be performed is sensitive and could bring about an adverse effect on national security.
Providing this information is voluntary. If you do not provide each item of requested information, however, we will not be able to complete your investigation, which will adversely affect your eligibility for national security position, eligibility for access to classified information, or logical or physical access. It is imperative that the information provided be true and correct to the best of your knowledge. Any information that you provide is evaluated on the basis of its currency, seriousness, relevance to the position and duties, and consistency with all information about you. Withholding, misrepresenting, or falsifying information may affect your eligibility for access to classified information, eligibility for sensitive position, or your ability to obtain or retain federal or contract employment. In addition, withholding, misrepresenting, or falsifying information may affect your eligibility for physical and logical access to federally controlled facilities or information systems. Withholding, misrepresenting, or falsifying information may also negatively affect your employment prospects and job status, and the potential consequences include, but are not limited to, removal, debarment from federal service, loss of eligibility for access to classified information, or prosecution.
This form is a permanent document that may be used as the basis for future investigations, eligibility determinations for access to classified information, or fitness for contract employment, or eligibility for physical and logical access to federally controlled facilities or information systems. Your responses to this form may be compared with your responses to previous SF-86 questionnaires.
Finally, the instructions reference the main concern that everyone has when filling out the SF 86. The instructions specifically spell out criminal penalties for inaccurate or false statements. The instructions read that the United States criminal code (title 18, section 1001) provides that knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five years imprisonment. In addition, federal agencies generally fire, do not grant a security clearance, or disqualify individuals who have materially and deliberately falsified these forms, and this remains a part of the permanent record for future placements. Your prospects of placement or security clearance are better if you answer all questions truthfully and completely. You will have adequate opportunity to explain any information you provide on the form and to make your comments part of the record.
You can see that, with those several paragraph explanations under the purposes of the form, this is far-reaching on a lot of different fronts. It is an exhaustive search of someone’s background and, as I’ve seen with the number of cases for my own clients, these SF-86 questionnaires have a way of popping up 10, 20 or even 30 years down the road as a relates to security clearances for individuals.
The following is a list of the far-reaching questions as posed on the SF 86 as they relate to foreign contacts.
Page 59 – 19 – Foreign Contacts – do you have, or have you had, close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven years with whom you, or your spouse, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation? Include associates as well as relatives, not previously listed in section 18. Yes or no. If yes, provide the full name of the foreign national. Provide approximate date of first contact. Provide approximate date of last contact. Provide methods of contact and check all that apply. In person, written correspondence, telephone, electronic such as email, text, chat room, etc. or other. Provide approximate frequency of contact; daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually or other. Provide the nature of the relationship whether it is professional or business, personal, obligation, or other. Provide the country of citizenship, date of birth, place of birth, current address, foreign national’s current employer and employer address. It also asks if this foreign national is affiliated with a foreign government, military, security, defense industry or intelligence service. In my experience, it is important that this type of information and foreign contact is disclosed thoroughly. In that same light, please be prepared to answer questions from the government investigator regarding all facets of this foreign contact.
Page 63 – 20A1 – Foreign activities-have you, your spouse, cohabitant or dependent children EVER had any foreign financial interests such as stocks, property, investments, bank accounts, ownership of corporate entities, corporate interests or businesses in which you or they have had direct control or direct ownership? Exclude financial interests in companies that are diversified mutual funds that are publicly traded on a US stock exchange. If an applicant has these type of ownership interests, he or she will need to provide all of the detailed information regarding these foreign financial interests. This is especially important when applicants come from other countries. Regardless, please note that this question covers the entirety of a person’s lifetime since it asked if someone has ever had these types of interest. Do not limit yourself to the last seven years with regard to this question.
Page 65 – 20A2 – Foreign activities-have you, your spouse, cohabitant, or dependent children EVER had any foreign financial interests that someone controlled on your behalf? Yes or no. If yes, please note to whom this applies and provide the type of financial interest, the name and relationship of the person who holds the interest and the exact details of the interest itself.
Page 67 – 20A3 – Foreign activities – have you, your spouse, cohabitant, or dependent children EVER owned, or do you anticipate owning, or plan to purchase real estate in a foreign country?
Page 69 – 20A4 – As a US citizen, have you, your spouse, cohabitant, or dependent children received in the past seven years, or are eligible to receive in the future, any educational, medical, retirement, social welfare, or other such benefit from a foreign country?
Page 71 – 20A5 – Have you EVER provided financial support for any foreign national?
Page 72 – 20B.1 – Have you in the past seven years provided advice or support to any individuals associated with a foreign business or other foreign organization that you have not previously listed as a former employer?
Page 73 – 20B.3 – Has any foreign national in the past seven years offered you a job, or did you work as a consultant, or consider employment with them?
Page 74 – 20B.4 – Have you in the past seven years been involved in any other type of business venture with a foreign national not described above (own, co-own, serve as business consultant, provide financial support, etc.)?
Page 75 – 20B5 – Have you in the past seven years attended or participated in any conference, trade shows, seminars, or meetings outside of the US?
Page 76 – 20B.6 – Have you or any member of your immediate family in the past seven years had any contact with a foreign government, its establishment such as embassy, consulate, agency, military service, intelligencer security service, etc. or its representatives, whether inside or outside the US?
Page 77 – 20B.7 – Have you in the past seven years sponsored any foreign national to come to the US as a student, for work, or for permanent residence?
Page 79 – 20B.8 – Have you EVER held political office in a foreign country?
Page 80 – 20C – have you traveled outside the US in the last seven years? If yes, has your travel in the last seven years been solely for US government business (i.e., no personal trips in conjunction with the official US government business)?
Page 81 – 20C – Complete the following if you responded yes to having traveled outside the US in the last seven years for other than solely US government business. Provide information about all such trips made outside the United States including personal trips made in conjunction with US government business. Provide information on the country visited, the exact dates of travel, the total of numbers of days involved in the visit the exact purpose of the travel, and whether you were questioned, searched or otherwise detained or have any encounter with the police or were you contacted by anyone or did anyone show any excessive knowledge or undue interest in you or were you threatened coerced or pressured in any way?
The questions regarding foreign travel and involvement are extensive. A security clearance applicant will want to be exacting and definitive with regard to all foreign travel outside of the United States. Also, note the distinction where the question asks the last seven years versus EVER. This phraseology changes throughout the SF 86. I have had a number of clients over the years run into trouble because they did not carefully discern whether the question was asking over the last seven years or ever in their lifetime. As a result, their respective clearances were in jeopardy.
To sum up, it is my advice that anyone filling out a SF 86 must fully, completely and honestly answer every question posed in the SF 86. In my experience, failure to do so will result in either the initial denial of a clearance or movement by the government to try and revoke a security clearance that has already previously been granted.
I have been assisting people with their security clearance issues, denials and revocations nationwide for many years. If you have any concerns about the initial process of applying for a clearance or if something feels like it is going wrong after you already have your clearance, please contact me as early as possible. I have found that the more preparatory and cautious work on the front end of a clearance goes a long way to preventing clearance problems and subsequent job loss down the road.
Ron Sykstus is a Managing Partner of several of the Bond & Botes Law Offices throughout Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a Juris Doctorate from the Northern Illinois University College of Law. Ron has served in numerous positions throughout the U.S. Army and now utilizes his expertise in the areas of VA issues, security clearances, military law, and bankruptcy to assist his clients when they need it most. Read his full bio here.