security clearance + previous drug use?
November 9, 2009 12:44 PM   Subscribe

If a person smoked pot in early July 2009, what is the likelihood of that person getting a secret security clearance for summer 2010 federal government internships? Is there anything that person can do now to maximize chance of getting a clearance?

Other relevant details: various drugs used from 2004-2006 (though in relative moderation except for high frequency of smoking weed), then 1x or 2x a month marijuana usage from then on. Came to a full stop after July 4, 2009 before starting graduate school and have no plans to resume drug use ever.

Various websites say that the general rule is "12 months of no drugs," but it is ambiguous as to whether that is for top secret or secret.

Again, this person is looking for secret clearance rather than top secret, and this is for non-intel positions with the US government. And most internships start in May.

Basically, is it worth it to even apply for positions that require applicant to eventually get a secret clearance for the summer? Is there anything that can be done to help get this thing? (and, uh, if the answer is "there's no way in hell that you'll get the clearance," does anyone know of any federal agencies that don't require clearance?)

Throwaway gmail account that I'll check:
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total)
I have heard from sharing with coworkers about our clearance application processes that the feds are basically looking to make sure you're not going to sell information. Drug use may imply to them that the habit could impact your financial stability and make you more susceptible to bribery.

There are several steps to getting a clearance. First is filling out a questionnaire, followed by background checks and interviews with your references. The service that processes clearances has a huge backlog right now, so I believe that unless your questionnaire raises some red flags they will at least skip the interviews.

Keep in mind that the questionnaire does explicitly ask about prior drug use and drug convictions, and they want information going back 10 years. Lying on the form is a federal offense and could land you in prison. However (again from talking with coworkers), if their own investigation finds inconsistencies on your forms they will get in touch with you to get clarification.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:53 PM on November 9, 2009

Oh, and we're not subjected to drug tests, but I don't work directly for the government. No idea what their policies are, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it varies widely among departments.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:54 PM on November 9, 2009

I looked into working for the CIA briefly. It seems that as long as you can explain your mild use in the past 12 months, and you have no other history of consequence, it shouldn't be a problem.
posted by emptyinside at 1:08 PM on November 9, 2009

The most important issue is to tell the truth on the questionnaire. Besides the issue of drugs = financial instability, they are also interested in 'hiding drug use from family/friends' = can be blackmailed. A friend of mine who recently went through this came-out to his mother shortly before the security check because, while his being gay was not a problem, not being out to family members was considered a blackmail liablity.
posted by hworth at 1:09 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up with kind of a sad, boring teenage existence, but even if I had done any weed when I got my TS 20 years ago I'm certain they wouldn't have found out unless I had a rap sheet or put down stoners and deadbeats as references. Men in black did indeed visit all the references I listed and I think they were looking for consistency. However this was awhile back and I don't know to what extent drug tests factor into past usage these days.
posted by crapmatic at 1:12 PM on November 9, 2009

My understanding is college and mid 20's marijuana use is usually not a big issue for people getting DOE Q clearance, the equivalent of DOD Top Secret. Here's a citation I found online.

The following is extracted from the Defense Personnel Security Research Center’s 2007 Adjudicative Desk Reference used by many government adjudicators:

"The following examples of time periods [of abstinence] that might mitigate various types and frequencies of past drug use . . . are provided for consideration in the context of all the other information available about the person. They are not a formula to be applied mechanically in all cases.

At Least Six Months: The only drug use was experimental or occasional use of marijuana, and there are no aggravating circumstances.

At Least One Year: Marijuana was used frequently, or any other drug was used experimentally, and there are no aggravating circumstances.

At Least Two Years: Marijuana was used regularly, or any other drug was used occasionally, and there are no aggravating circumstances. There was no evidence of psychological or physical dependence at the time subject was using drugs, and subject has demonstrated a stable lifestyle with satisfactory employment record since then. "
posted by pseudonick at 1:14 PM on November 9, 2009

Depends on the clearance level (secret, top secret, Q etc) and it really depends on the agency.

I know people who have been bounced from jobs at DOJ and DHS for smoking pot in the previous year. However, I also know people at other agencies with similar backgrounds who had no problem getting clearances.

My recommendation is to be honest. They will likely care more if you lie than if you come clean about your mild drug use in your 20s. Good luck to you!
posted by fancypants at 1:39 PM on November 9, 2009

I also depends on what government agency you are interested in working in, as well.

For example, if you are looking at the FBI, here is their drug policy:

Under the FBI's current Employment Drug Policy, an applicant will be found unsuitable for employment if they:

* Have used any illegal drug (including anabolic steroids after February 27, 1991), other than marijuana, within the past ten years, or engaged in more than minimal experimentation in their lifetime. In making the determination about an applicant’s suitability for FBI employment, all relevant facts, including the frequency of use, will be evaluated.
* Have used marijuana/cannabis within the past three years, or have extensively used marijuana/cannabis or over a substantial period of time. In making the determination about an applicant’s suitability for FBI employment, all relevant facts, including the recency and frequency of use, will be evaluated.

I applied for (and received) a secret security clearance for a previous job, so I'll echo one thing that previous posters have said - don't lie on your application. Remember that they are looking for consistency of character and trying to decide if you are at risk for blackmail - it shouldn't be a witch hunt.

I certainly wouldn't let this stop you from applying unless you see a clear policy or rule that you would not meet for your specific agency/job position.
posted by warble at 1:41 PM on November 9, 2009

You'll want to make sure your references are perfect.
A few years ago, I was a reference for my friend "Chris" who has a gov't job with a security clearance (secret or top secret, I don't know which). An agent arranged to interview me about Chris during the employment/interview process. The agent was very nice and polite but asked me, among other questions, about had I observed or did I know of any drug use by Chris. This type of question was repeated several ways over an hour of chatting, perhaps in an effort to trip me up or get me to recall something. Luckily for Chris, I never observed or knew or suspected anything more than the occasional beer.

In short, even if you were to lie, would everyone they interviewed be able/willing to back you up?
posted by pointystick at 1:48 PM on November 9, 2009

Much of the process depends on your specific adjudicator, so there is some flex there. I wouldn't rule yourself out.
posted by skintension at 1:54 PM on November 9, 2009

don't lie about it. Being caught in a lie is worse.
posted by k8t at 2:06 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like backseatpilot notes, there is a huge backlog of investigations. What will likely happen is someone will once-over your application locally. If it looks ok, you'll probably be granted an interim clearance pending investigation. It's possible that the internship will be over by the time an investigation is completed.

That's not to say lie - DON'T. Just that minor drug use probably isn't disqualifying for the interim clearance. I know plenty of people with final secret clearances who came clean to past use on the application, but that may depend on the exact nature of the job you're applying for.
posted by ctmf at 5:12 PM on November 9, 2009

I only know of one persons who's had to take a job-related drug test (it's generally not done up here in Canada). It was back in the 1980s when the War On Drugs was all the rage, but testing was just getting started. The job in question was for an American airline (Canadian airport). He had been shortlisted and, one evening, got a call telling him to be at the airport the next morning for a flight to the States where he would go through a day of workshops.

He was stoned at the time of the phone call.

During the workshops, he was asked to take a drug test. He shrugged, said, "Okay," expecting the worst, and passed. He got the job and he's still there, 20 years later. Still smokes weed regularly, too.
posted by philip-random at 7:51 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend applied for the FBI. I would be honest and say that there is no other use. Be more concerned about everyone and their brother in their past that they're going to interview. She was extremely qualified right up until they interviewed an ex boss who she filed sexual harrassment charges against.

She's no longer a candidate. One bad apple in the bunch can ruin your chances and you can't control that.
posted by stormpooper at 6:43 AM on November 10, 2009

A lot depends on the agency and the level of clearance. In my experience (DoD), it's not the using that is important, it's your honesty in reporting that matters. I've heard similar for FBI recruits. Be honest. You should be OK. These agencies are aware that people live in the real world.

Previous, perhaps useful questions.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:54 AM on November 10, 2009

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