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Security Clearances: Your Obligation to Report Foreign Contacts

Posted by TC Mitchell
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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

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