Security Clearances: Your Obligation to Report Foreign Contacts

Posted by TC Mitchell
security clearance foreign contact

Security Consultant, TC Mitchell, explains security clearance holders’ obligation to report foreign national contacts. A foreign national is any person who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national.

One of your many responsibilities as a person that holds a security clearance is reporting foreign contacts with whom you have close and/or continuing contact. You agree to this when you apply with the U.S. government for your security clearance.

The primary objective is to protect both information and the person with whom access to information has been given. There is a threat that a security clearance holder can be exploited to provide information that they have access to, through a relationship or bonds of affection. That type of bond creates a risk for compromising information as well as the actual oath that one is bound to when you accept the responsibilities of carrying a clearance.

The risks that increase U.S. vulnerabilities have variance from minor to grave implications, that can cause damage to our nation’s safety, national security, the protection of our military, civilian citizens, technical information, biological information or intellectual information.

There are various ways in which cleared individuals handle foreign contacts. Some people are extremely careful and literally choose to live a life having no foreign friends. Others are more liberal and their lifestyle is such that they have lived abroad, like military personnel. So they quite naturally by circumstance know many non-Americans – either living among them, attending school or places of worship together and working on a parallel project at work together, for example.

Foreign contacts are not just limited to those met outside of the continental United States. A foreign contact that lives in the states versus one that lives overseas could potentially pose the same threat if they are in the life of a person that has a security clearance.

Contacts You Know in Passing vs Long Term

While I recommend reporting every foreign contact, there are a variety of situations in which you might run into foreign nationals that do not bear reporting. In your everyday life for instance, you do not have to report those casual, passing relationships of those that you might see occasionally at your favorite grocery store, such as the butcher or produce worker. Other examples include a regular UPS delivery person, or even your physician, that one should feel obligated to report. However, this advice still depends on how much information the clearance holder shares about themselves.

It is required to report all close and/or continuous relationships (e.g. your children’s tutor or nanny), and especially those with endearing ties, such as a romantic relationship. You made an oath to your government and are obligated to report them to your security office.

Reporting periodic regular relationships with foreign nationals is required, however minor, such as a social media friend only. It’s a good idea and it’s the right thing to do because you have nothing to hide. Ask your security officer the protocol for the agency you work with, as there may be more stringent requirements.

Example of Foreign Contact to Report

I know someone in the Air Force who was stationed in Australia. While he was stationed there he became so close to an Australian that he was named the godfather to that person’s children. So that’s a true bond of affection that is almost like a family member. Since that person is not an American, he is reported every year – even though they may only see each other every four or five years because the family has to travel to Australia to see him, and he is no longer active duty there.

The point is that you have a connection, and having that strong connection could potentially have an impact on your decision-making, by virtue of wanting to care for or protect that loved one. So it is very important to report them because we care for those in our family that are close to us and our human nature is to protect them. That sort of love or caring can be exploited by those that seek to do harm against Americans or our nation, so it’s very important to maintain that list.

Avoid This Foreign Contact Pitfall

The main concern is creating a lasting friendship or bonds of affection with a foreign national that you do not report. It’s easily traceable and easily found out through your agreed upon background investigation and continuous evaluation. Choosing not to report a foreign contact that you have close or continuing ties with puts your security clearance at risk and therefore your livelihood and perhaps even your freedom.

Whether you have 1 or 150 foreign national contacts, just do your due diligence by reporting them. There are people that have so many foreign contacts, they’ve provided full spreadsheets! Maintaining a list of them with the dates of contact is really helpful for your reinvestigation and continuous evaluation. The context in which you have met these people is also important, so be sure to note how and why you met and know these contacts.

The best and safest practice is: If you’ve had a conversation for more than two minutes with that person, report that contact. You don’t know how much information you have revealed about yourself over time, that they could have gathered from your many casual conversations. They can then put those pieces together to create a bigger picture about you or your lifestyle. Although, my experience is that most people are careful with revealing their professional lives to strangers. Newer individuals to this industry are learning to practice good OPSEC and it bears reinforcing over and over.

Reporting foreign contacts is one of the highest obligations for security clearance holders.

TC Mitchell

Security Consultant | Clearance Analyst | Federal Contractor Business Secrets Podcast | Washington, DC. Contact me at [email protected]


This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 05, 2021 10:34 am

16 thoughts on “Security Clearances: Your Obligation to Report Foreign Contacts”

  1. well let me ask this? what about the political leaders and aides and those who deal with the Third world nationals on a daily basis ?Does tis count

    1. Great Question Steve! The defining factor on reporting foreign contacts to your security officer is solely based on IF you have a security clearance. And because there are varying levels of clearances, all with unique requirements, all persons should consult with their security office to determine and actually be reminded of their responsibilities that they agreed to upon indoctrination. Thank you for your question!

  2. Great information. Thanks for sharing. What kind of information is required to capture about each individual?

    1. Hi Todd, Primarily, you will provide the nature of the relationship and dates of the relationship. It could expand, but that is usually the most basic information required. Thank you for your question! TC

  3. I attend a Hispanic church and I am a friend of one person there who I know is an undocumented immigrant. What should I do? I don’t know or work with any spies. My dilemma is that I don’t want to get someone I care about in trouble.

  4. As long as they are handling their paperwork to get it processed correctly, it’s not your concern or your duty to ensure that they are doing what they need to do. And if you find that you can’t refrain from asking them questions that are not truly your business, I would advise you to break off the relationship Because you have an obligation if this is a close and/or continuing relationship, To provide the names of those in your life with such status that or not US citizens. And I encourage you to teach people to tell you as little as possible because it’s not your business, and also I would encourage you to not ask people a lot of personal questions as a practice. If you have any further questions please reach me at the email below.

  5. I am looking at having virtual assistants to in Pakistan handle my Facebook Automation account administration. The fee for the service is $5k and they handle all sells on the Facebook Marketplace administration and shop. It is my shop but they will handle all of the sales of my products and correspondence with customers. In return, there is a profit split with my VA 60/40. Before I hire or agree to move forward, is this forbidden? I am government civilian with a secret clearance but I don’t discuss work just the Marketplace shop and earning income from the sell of various items. I have not hired their cheap VA work yet. I just want to be in the clear.

  6. I have a relationship with someone i never met, they are a good friend on social media and gaming platforms, and we plan on meeting each other in less than a year, we have been talking for a little while, and i feel that this person would be considered a close friend, i am 19 and they are 17 would reporting them be challenging due to their age? Could i be forced to stop talking to this person? And what kind of information do they need and look at when i make this report?

  7. It’s important to note that you two are both teenagers, So being in the same age group you would not have to cease the friendship for obvious reasons. How do you said you were over 21 I would give a different response. And I would have to understand the context in which you actually hold a security clearance. For example do you work full-time? Are you active duty in the military and are stationed abroad? And depending on your level of clearance it might not even be an issue. So these are some of the issues that would be of concern to really be able to give you a true answer. Feel free to reach out to me via email for further information.

  8. “If you’ve had a conversation for more than two minutes with that person, report that contact.”

    This was clearly written by someone who has never traveled outside the United States. Or realized that they have > 3 minute interactions with foreign nationals in the U.S. on a frequent basis without knowing it. This is the kind of nonesense advice that makes investigators pull their hair out, wastes taxpayer money, and has resulted in the clearance system being as backlogged as it is.

  9. The context was if a person with the security clearance has been able to determine that they are talking to a foreign national and they are unsure of all of the information they have revealed about them selves then yes they should actually list foreign nationals’ name. Frankly, to determine within two minutes if a person is an American, when CONUS is atypical – The answer was under the context of and/or continuing coupled with deferring to your security officer on completing the application. Cleared personnel usually have training to determine if they are being targeted for information And if so they should list that person. Yes, Even for a two minute conversation. So hopefully you’ll get to keep your hair and know that you are doing your part to help our nation as tedious as it might be.

  10. My husband and I are about to PCS again. I am now looking for a in home nanny because I worry that if something happens to me while my husband is deployed, then there would be nobody to check in on me or feed/take care of my baby. Military one source recommended that I go through Au Pair service to get an in home nanny as it fits within our limited budget. Au Pairs are from different country’s though. Is there a way to “pre-report” or somehow ask for permission to hire a nanny from another country before I commit to someone? When reporting would I have to collect and state the nanny’s immediate relative information?

  11. Hey. My wife has a TS security clearance. I have a business colleague that is a foreign national that I want to have stay in our guest room for a while so me may work on our business pursuits, while I remain isolated (I’m high risk to Covid). Is it against the law / rules to have this foreign national as a guest in our home for a couple of months during the summer? I don’t want my wife’s clearance jeopardized!

  12. If I have a relative/friend whom I have had continuous conversation with, 3 years ago, but have lost their contact as of now- then should I be reporting their name in my list? Also, can a person apply for security clearance, as soon as they become a citizen via naturalization?

  13. If a person who has a security clearance w/Sandia labs does not have an SEC license and solicits money from church members to invest in a financial instrument which profits allegedly benefit villagers in Peru, is the clearance holder required to report the foreign organizers/contacts and the investment principals to you to verify legitimacy?

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