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:
- Contact is minimal and infrequent (and therefore you have no sense of loyalty, affection, or obligation to the foreign national)
- 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
- 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:
- Length of time as a U.S. citizen (if you were not born in the United States)
- Length of time residing in the United States
- Employment in the United States, and more specifically with the U.S. government, U.S. military, or U.S. Government contractors
- Attendance of college institutions in the United States
- Immediate family in the United States
- 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:
- The amount of your assets in the foreign country
- 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