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Foreign Influence and Your Security Clearance

Posted by Greg Rinckey

Foreign Contacts

Contact with foreign nationals is one of the top reasons that security clearances are denied, suspended, or revoked. The concern agencies have is whether there is anything about your contact that could lead you to compromise classified information.

However, not all contact with foreign nationals will be an issue. If you have contact with foreign nationals, the employers will look at whether the contact is close and continuing, and whether or not the foreign national is someone with whom you are bound to by loyalty, affection, and/or obligation.

Essentially, the employer wants to determine if your loyalty to the foreign national is stronger than your loyalty to the United States and your obligation to safeguard classified information.

Several conditions the employer will evaluate:

1. The nature of your relationship with the foreign national

2. How often and in what manner you have contact with the foreign national

3. Whether or not that individual is aware of your security clearance

4. Whether or not that individual currently or previously worked for a foreign government, foreign intelligence, or foreign law enforcement agency

Additionally, the employer will consider the identity of the country in which the foreign national has citizenship and resides. The reason for this is to ascertain whether the foreign country is known to target United States citizens to obtain classified information or is associated with a risk of terrorism.

Individuals who reside in countries with poor human rights and/or terrorist activities are at risk of being wrongfully detained or imprisoned. Should this happen to one of your contacts in a foreign country, the employer is concerned that you may be willing to disclose protected information to that foreign country’s agency in an effort to help your foreign national contact.

Conditions that mitigate contact with foreign nationals include showing:

  1. Contact is minimal and infrequent (and therefore you have no sense of loyalty, affection, or obligation to the foreign national)
  2. The foreign national does not work for a foreign government, foreign law enforcement, or foreign intelligence agency, and therefore has no interest in obtaining classified information from you
  3. The country in which the foreign national has citizenship and resides is an ally to the United States

Additionally, you will want to be able to persuade the agency that your loyalties and ties to the United States are stronger than any alleged loyalty you have to a foreign national. Ways to show this include:

  1. Length of time as a U.S. citizen (if you were not born in the United States)
  2. Length of time residing in the United States
  3. Employment in the United States, and more specifically with the U.S. government, U.S. military, or U.S. Government contractors
  4. Attendance of college institutions in the United States
  5. Immediate family in the United States
  6. Assets in the United States, to include retirement savings and/or ownership of a home

Foreign Financial Interests

In addition to your contact with foreign nationals, the agency will examine whether you have a substantial business, financial, or property interest in a foreign country. If you have a business relationship with a foreign national, own a foreign business, or own foreign property, the agency will be concerned that you are at a heightened risk of foreign influence or exploitation. If this circumstance applies to you, the agency will want to determine:

  1. The amount of your assets in the foreign country
  2. How reliant you are on these assets for your overall financial situation

If you do have a financial interest in a foreign country, and if it is coupled with contact with foreign nationals, you may want to consider selling those assets to minimize any concerns the agency has regarding your loyalties.

Notify Your FSO of Any Contact

Finally, if you already maintain a security clearance, and if you develop contact with foreign nationals, you must report this prior to your next updated security clearance. If you fail to do so, the agency may imply that you intentionally failed to disclose this contact as required and that you therefore have divided loyalties.

Greg Rinckey is the Managing Partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC, one of the largest federal sector employment law firms in the country. Greg is a recognized leader in the military and federal employment law sectors. Nicole Smith, Tully Rinckey Associate, represents government employees and contractors in a wide range of security clearance matters, with a concentration on application and interview counseling. Nicole spent nine years as a national security background investigator. Follow Tully Rinckey on Twitter @FedLawSource

This entry was posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 7:30 am

10 thoughts on “Foreign Influence and Your Security Clearance”

  1. This article is mostly BS. My wife and I carry NATO TS clearances and interact with non US nationals all the time. The trick is to follow your security training and not divulge anything in question. Contact with non US nationals happens all the time, you can’t avoid it (how many Mexican illegals in your community?).

    1. Congrats, Steve! That’s the point that no individual is being isolated in its environment. We should consequently reiterates the need for vigilance concerning a number of illegal activities of specific stakeholders. In the end of day: WE DO NOT LIVE ON AN ISLAND

    2. Mr. Williamson, you are right in your statement that it is important not to divulge classified information to non US citizens. As I mentioned in paragraph 2, not all contacts with foreign nationals will be an issue for one’s security clearance. Obviously the contacts that you and your wife have had with foreign nationals have not been a concern in your continued eligibility for a security clearance. Not everyone is so fortunate to have such incidental contacts with foreign nationals. Many applicants for security clearances have what agencies consider to be close contacts with foreign nationals with whom the applicant may feel bound to by loyalty affection and obligation (as discussed in paragraph 2 in the article). Oftentimes, these are close friends and family members who are foreign nationals living in a foreign country. You also have to remember that each Agency conducts its own adjudication of clearances. While one Agency may have no issue with an applicant’s foreign contacts, another Agency may have concern and deny an applicant’s clearance. As mentioned in paragraph 1, these close contacts with foreign nationals is one of the top reasons for security clearance denials. A review of reported cases on the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals website reflects how frequently an applicant’s clearance is denied as a result of foreign contacts.

      1. Nicole, it is not only important not to divulge secrets to foreigners, but also to US citizens cleared or not, who do not have a need to know for the project you are on.

        This may be pedantic, but you don’t tell secret info to anyone!

  2. I believe the article has merit Steve. The key factor mentioned by the authors is the ability of the adjudicator to mitigate risk and validate your loyalty to the US. I agree that it’s virtually impossible not to have some sort of foreign contact nowadays, especially when you consider a global economy and the fact that our foreign allies fight fight along side us. I’m more concerned with the inside threat from the likes of Snowden and Manning; both were able to steal us blind without foreign influence. Ideology seems to be the new threat.

  3. In regards to foreign property… I get that if you were heavily involved in a large real estate development or part of an investing outfit it could be an issue.. But say a cleared individual wants to buy a 2nd home/vacation condo/future retirement home in a foreign country? Say… France or Costa Rica? A fairly stable country, nowhere that would be anti-American or have wars or violence on the regular? Would buying such a property, well within your financial means, cause issues with a clearance?

    1. Generally, owning real estate in a foreign country will not create a security concern if the property is in a country that is not currently known to target United States citizens for protected information, or is associated with terrorism. The concern is that a conflict may arise that could be used to “influence, manipulate, or pressure” the property owner, and thus create a security issue. It is always a good practice to disclose your intent to purchase property to your agency security officer, and perhaps get an opinion whether the purchase would be viewed negatively. Open and consistent communications is important to avoid any unintended security concerns. If you would like to speak further with a member of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s National Security Law Practice Group, call (202) 787-1900. The information provided here does not constitute legal advice.

  4. Here’s a scenario that I am unsure what the right answer is:

    Person has a Clearance with a DoD contractor

    Said person, wants to explore the possibility of leaving the Defense Industry and work in the private sector.

    The private sector company in question happens to be a foreign company (Ally) and the person will have to interact with a bevy of Foreign Nationals should an interview be granted.

    Typically, if you had communication with a FN you could go to the FSO and be upfront about it. In this case by doing so you would be tipping your hand that you were considering leaving the company.

    Even if there was no change of employment, the current employer would know that you were possibly looking to leave.

    Any way to play this right?

    1. You are definitely in a unique circumstance. In my opinion, it is always better to be safe than sorry regarding security clearance disclosures. In this case, even though it may tip-off your intentions to leave the company, you may want to notify your security officer of the interview. Guideline B of the Adjudicative Guidelines discusses your duties regarding potential Foreign Influence matters. It not only applies to foreign individuals that you contact, but also foreign businesses. Obviously, any type of foreign business relationship could put you at a heightened risk of foreign influence or exploitation. Also, under Guideline C, a Foreign Preference may exist when you interact with a foreign organization in a way that conflicts with a national security interest. If the nature of your work routinely involves sensitive communications, you may want to be very careful regarding the nature of what you disclose regarding your work history and skills. With these things in mind, it would best serve you to disclose your interactions in advance. If you would like to speak further with a member of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s National Security Law Practice Group, call (202) 787-1900. The information provided here does not constitute legal advice.

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