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Security Clearance Secrets

Part 2, The Approval/Disapproval Process

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Continued from Part 1 - Security Clearance Basics

What Determines Approval or Disapproval?

It's important to note that DSS/OPM does not make any security clearance determinations or recommendations. DSS simply gathers information. Once the information has been verified, and the investigations completed, DSS presents the information to the specific military service's adjudicator authority (each military service has their own), who determine whether or not to grant the security clearance, using standards set by that particular military service.

It's impossible to say if any particular thing will result in denial of a security clearance. The adjudicators use the Adjudicator Guidelines to determine whether or not the individual can be trusted with our nation's secrets. Primarily, adjudicators look for honesty, trustworthiness, character, loyalty, financial responsibility, and reliability. On cases that contain significant derogatory information warranting additional action, the adjudicator may draft a request for additional investigation/information, or request psychiatric or alcohol and drug evaluation. Even so, adjudicators are not the final authority. All denials of clearances must be personally reviewed by a branch chief, or higher.

The adjudicator considers the following factors when evaluating an individual’s conduct:

  • The nature, extent and seriousness of the conduct
  • The circumstances surrounding the conduct, to include knowledgeable participation
  • The frequency and recency of the conduct
  • The individual’s age and maturity at the time of the conduct
  • The voluntariness of participation
  • The presence or absence of rehabilitation and other pertinent behavioral changes
  • The motivation for the conduct
  • The potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation, or duress; and
  • The likelihood of continuation of the conduct

Naturally, each case is judged on its own merits and final determination remains the responsibility of the specific department or agency. Any doubt as to whether access to classified information is clearly consistent with national security will be resolved in favor of the national security.

Because of a recent change in the law, there are some factors which will positively result in the denial of a clearance. As a result of the Smith Amendment, the FY01 Defense Authorization Act amended Chapter 49 of Title 10, United States Code, and precluded the initial granting or renewal of a security clearance by (DoD) under the following four specific circumstances:

  1. An individual has been convicted in any court of the U.S. of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
  2. An individual is (currently) an unlawful user of, or is addicted to, a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 or the Controlled Substances Act (21U.S.C. 802))
  3. An individual is mentally incompetent, as determined by a mental health professional approved by the DoD
  4. An individual has been discharged or dismissed from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions.

The statute also provides that the Secretary of Defense and the secretary of the military department concerned may authorize an exception to the provisions concerning convictions, dismissals and discharges from the armed force in meritorious cases.

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