A security clearance is necessary for many employees of the federal government, and millions of private contractors working with federal government, so as to protect classified information that they may be privileged to access. For obvious reasons, the federal government is very careful about who they grant security clearances to, and the ability to receive and keep a security clearance can often be the deciding factor between qualified candidates for a government job. The guidelines for who can and can’t receive a security clearance are set by the Department of Defense in Directive Number 5220.6, which was issued in 1992 and extends to almost every other federal agency by mutual agreement. The directive contains several guidelines by which a person receiving a security clearance must be judged. These guidelines are also expected to be followed for as long as the security clearance is held, or else it can be revoked.

Most of the guidelines outlined in Directive Number 5220.6 are fairly simple and expected. The very first three, Guidelines A through C, are unquestionable allegiance to the United States, preference to no other country, and lack of immediate family in foreign countries. As confidential information can be of high value to other countries, these more patriotic guidelines act as a primary buffer to keep the secrets of the United States in the United States. There are other guidelines that analyze behaviors such as sexual misconduct, deceptiveness, honesty, alcoholism, mental health, and the financial stability of applicants for security status so as to ensure that those with security clearance are trustworthy and less likely to commit a crime or be manipulated by enemies of the United States.

Then there are the guidelines involving actually committing crimes. Guideline J states that an applicant is disqualified from receiving a security clearance if there has been any allegation or admission of, “a single serious crime or multiple lesser offenses,” regardless of whether the applicant was formally charged. Though this is a very strict standard, the guideline does allow for wiggle room. The applicant may still be granted clearance if they were acquitted of the charge, or if they can prove that it was not representative of them as a person. The ways in which the applicant can prove the latter include that they were forced to commit the crime, that the crime was not recent, that the crime was an isolated incident, or that they have been rehabilitated. Trying to prove these factors can be very difficult though, and conviction of a felony crime can often mean the end of all chances for receiving a security clearance.

Illegal drug use is a specifically identified crime that can very quickly end a bid for security clearance. According to Guideline H, any illegal drug abuse, possession, or cultivation is grounds for immediate disqualification. However, this guideline is not in place to punish those who use drugs but rather to ensure that people in possession of classified information are able to protect that information. Past drug use can be disregarded as long as the applicant is able to prove that they have rehabilitated, and have no intention to abuse any drugs in the future. That being said, discovery of any drug abuse after receipt of a security clearance will result in immediately losing that clearance, and most likely your job.

When you take a job with a security clearance, these become the guidelines that you must live by if you plan to keep your job. If at any time the agency you work for finds that you have committed a crime or are abusing drugs, then it very likely will cost you your job. That goes double if you are convicted of either. When it comes down to it, a security clearance is a privilege that comes after proving that you can be trusted to protect the secrets of the United States, and it is not a privilege that is earned easily.