For anyone who was ever held a security clearance, he or she knows the importance of full and complete disclosure on the SF 86 form, which is the application form to be able to get a clearance. That is why this story is shocking. Beyond that, before anyone who holds a secret clearance, there is a new formal investigation and a new completed SF 86 form that is required every 10 years and, for a top-secret clearance, this requirement is every five years. The instructions on the SF 86 are very clear:
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.
If you have foreign contacts and/or foreign activities, these must be disclosed! There is simply no way around that in light of the questions on the form.
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.
This next section deals with foreign activities.
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 versusEVER. 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.