Recruiter encouraged me to lie, now I'm concerned about security clearan
October 15, 2014 9:31 AM   Subscribe

So a while back I was going to enlist in the National Guard, and when I was going through the enlistment process, the recruiter told me to lie about my drug use because it would cause problems for me down the road. His exact words were, "if there's no record of it, they have no way of finding out." So I lied and said I have never used drugs.

Well, I ended up changing my mind and decided to go active duty Navy. I put on my paper work that I have never used drugs because I figured they could easily look and see what I put on the ARNG's SF86. For my rate in the Navy I will need either a secret clearance or a top secret clearance. I told them everything from a defaulted loan I had, to speeding tickets, even a time when I was arrested as a juvenile. There are literally no records anywhere of me experimenting with pot.

Also, my Navy recruiter told me at boot camp they do a "Moment of Truth" and he said no matter what, under any circumstances, do not tell them anything that I may have forgotten about or intentionally withheld as I will most likely be booted out right there for lying.

tl;dr: I disclosed everything about me that is on record, i.e. police involvement, financial trouble, etc. Realistically will they find out about the pot experimentation?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose they could talk with everyone you have ever known in your life and ask each of them whether they know of any drug use, but realistically, no.
posted by Dolley at 9:46 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

The main ways they would find this out are:

1) Talking with people you know. Do a lot of people know that you tried pot? Was this like a one-time thing, or did it go on for a while? If a lot of people know and they do a thorough investigation (which they might for top secret) this may come out.

2) Polygraph test down the road. No idea how often they actually do this, but I think for some of the really high level clearances this is possible.

Ask yourself if either of these scenarios is likely to happen.

Usually with security clearances and drug use, the fact of lying is worse than the actual act, if sufficient time has passed and it was experimental use. Not sure how sympathetic they would be if you came clear now, though, since you already withheld the information on the form. Also, did the pot use occur within whatever time frame they asked about in the most recent paperwork? If not, you could maybe make the argument that the recruiter advised you to do it on the first form, and that it was too long ago to count for the most recent.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 9:48 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Realistically? Of course not unless you had a stupid history of posting things to the internet saying how high you got. But you have to be careful. As far as you're concerned right now, you have never ever done this. You never experimented with pot. If someone says you did, they must be mistaken. Or "I don't recall anything of the sort happening".

The record is no longer the "official" record of court documents. It includes emails you may have sent to someone that they turn over. Or LiveJournal posts you made in 2002. Or that picture you tweeted and quickly deleted that somehow made it into some internet archive because the spider was crawling at the right moment.

Bottom line: if they do a polygraph test, you're going to fail because you're already freaking out about it. If they have no reason to do such a test and you give them no reason to dig other than superficially, then, you should be fine.
posted by inturnaround at 9:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your recruiter's job is to get you in, they have more of a reason to get you to lie than not. Many, many young men and women break down in the Moment of Truth. Its not an automatic out.

However, we chose not to lie, it was weird but not bad. If they found out later, it could be much much worse. I would go ahead and tell the truth now so you don't have to figure out if you are an excellent liar under crazy pressure later.

They will also, by the way, interview a lot of people you know for your clearance. They will all have to lie for you if they know you smoked a joint once a long time ago, its not cool to make people lie for you.

(on preview, you will get a polygraph at some point, btw.)
posted by stormygrey at 9:50 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

The DoD posts rejection reasons for clearances on a semi-regular basis. It's pretty clear from their writeups that they are willing to clear people who have pasts that aren't squeaky-clean, but they're really unimpressed with anyone who falsified information on their clearance paperwork. Don't lie.
posted by dorque at 9:52 AM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

A lot depends on
a) when you last took drugs
b) what sort of investigation they decide to do

The Navy tests active duty personnel regularly. So if it's still in your system when they test, out you go without an honorable discharge.

Some clearances require a lie detector test. Can you pass one if you're asked about drug use? Most clearances require interviews with references. Will any of your references tell them about the drug use?

The thing about clearances is that they want to know if there's anything out there that can be used for leverage on you. This is why lying on the forms is a bigger deal than actually having used drugs once upon a time. "yes, I used drugs once upon a time but I don't anymore" will generally get you a clearance. "No, I never used drugs" that is found out will generally get you denied.

My advice would be to come clean on the subject.
posted by Runes at 9:52 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I stopped smoking pot a year before I went in the Navy, never smoked while I was in and nobody every questioned it. If there is no record, there's nothing to find. The Navy does test but anything you've taken more than a few months ago is long gone. I'd just stay quiet.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:00 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't understand the advice telling OP to come clean. If OP already lied, wouldn't coming clean about it now jeopardize his standing? The only way they will know he lied is if he tells them, probably, right? It sounds to me like it's doubtful they will ever find out, so it might just be better to keep the lie going. Plus, it's only pot and pot is even legal in several states now. My friend told me they do polygraphs, I don't know if that's true or not, but OP should just tell himself that pot is legal and it's a plant, not a drug.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:01 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only way they will know he lied is if he tells them, probably, right?

For a top secret clearance they could go and talk to his old friends, and they could give him a lie detector test. It's not about whether it was criminal - it's not criminal to go bankrupt, for instance, but if you lied about never having gone bankrupt and they found out you would almost certainly be thrown out.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:03 AM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

Depends how high up you get. I've been interviewed for someone's high-level security clearance and told the truth about everything, including past drug and alcohol use. The important thing seemed to be that it matched up with the statements the person needing clearance had made and what other people in their life said in interviews (all matched up because we all told the truth).

So, if your career in the Navy goes well and you need the kind of clearance that involves interviewing friends and those folks know about your pot smoking?

Is there someone you can come clean to and explain the full truth and that your Navy recruiter told you to lie?
posted by amaire at 10:08 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Retract the lies right now. If things still work the way they did in the eighties, the NSA is going to track down everyone you partied with and one of them will give you up.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:09 AM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

Re: the agents of KAOS Fair enough, but my point was that if he already submitted the forms with the omission, admitting it now probably won't help him, right? Wouldn't he be best off hoping they never find out rather than making sure they find out?

I don't know how this stuff works, but can OP just say he remembered something that he would like to add to your forms or he would like to submit an updated form? So he would be copping to it but painting it as an honest mistake -- something he forgot about that he wants to correct -- rather than intentional deceit?

If it were me, I'd just hope they never found out since it seems like such a low-level transgression without any clear trail of evidence. But I will defer to the rest of the thread now.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:09 AM on October 15, 2014

In the 1980s a friend's sister got a security clearance and as part of the process they sent someone to our podunk town to interview WAY more people who knew her than I ever would have guessed they'd bother with.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:17 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about it for a Secret clearance. Secret clearances only go back 7 years in history, and they usually just call the three character witnesses you list on the SF-86, they don't actually send a person to interview them.

Top Secret or SCI is a much more invasive process. You may or may not have to take a polygraph test, and NCIS (which I believe does Navy clearance investigations) will come in person and talk to your friends, and neighbors at the addresses that you listed on the SF-86.

One important thing to remember about security clearances - they don't really care if you have some incidents in your past. They care if you're hiding these incidents, because it makes you more susceptible to blackmail.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 10:18 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Fidel Cashflow. I had TS clearance as a contractor. No polygraph but an extensive interview process with me and anyone that they cared to locate and talk to. Again, they do not care about what you've done, only that you are attempting to hide it because that makes you a target for blackmail. To the point that when I said that I only had 1 or 2 girlfriends he drilled in (I assume) to find out my sexual orientation.
posted by kookywon at 10:23 AM on October 15, 2014

Read through the page dorque posted. This is relevant:

Case Number: 11-00001.h1
Drugs; Personal Conduct
Applicant has mitigated the security significance of his past drug involvement. He has also mitigated the security significance of his falsifications on security forms. Clearance is granted. CASE NO:11-00001.h1

Case Number: 11-06479
Drug Involvement; Personal Conduct
Applicant mitigated the drug involvement security concern related to his August 2010 marijuana possession arrest, but he failed to mitigate the personal conduct security concern for failing to disclose it, as required, on his security clearance application. Clearance is denied. CASE NO: 11-06479

Terms to search on that page are: Drugs, Alcohol, and Personal Conduct. Reading those examples will give you a good sense of what does and doesn't fly.
posted by telepanda at 10:35 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't understand the advice telling OP to come clean. If OP already lied, wouldn't coming clean about it now jeopardize his standing?

Because the stakes just keep getting higher.

Do you really want someone in a position that requires security clearance who lied about something trivial that has grown into a career crushing elephant? Blackmailers love that shit.
posted by Good Brain at 10:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine in college got to late-stage interviews to work for the NSA. He probably would have gotten the job but he walked out of the polygraph halfway through because he felt they were being too intrusive and he didn't want to work for them that bad.

They required him to give them a huge list of friends and family so they could make calls to clear him for high level security purposes. I was one of those people. All I was asked to do was give a brief character recommendation and then confirm his addresses for the four years I'd known him. Other of our friends were asked more personal questions about him and how he spent his time.

Where I'm going with this is it's conceivable that at some point in the future, especially if trying to attain high level security clearance, the truth might come out one way or another. I'd vote for full disclosure up front just so it doesn't come back to bite you years down the road.
posted by phunniemee at 10:51 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm on record in every iteration of this question I've seen for the last several years: do NOT lie. Do not not not.

Please see this comment and also understand that if you are going to be holding a TS clearance, you will have at least a CI-scope poly (perhaps not the lifestyle variety).

I'd like to sugar coat it, but you kind of fucked up when you listened to your recruiter about lying. You should probably walk this back immediately, and thoroughly, in any way you can. If that means the navy tells you to wait a year, so be it. You can be the sailor who had to wait a year before you got let into intel school, rather than the sailor who was denied a clearance and ended up being in a rate you detest, and possibly passed over for rank later on.

You're welcome to memail me, as I have some direct experience with both clearances and (less so) the US Navy.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:55 AM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

If it was just pot experimentation and you never got caught so it's not on your record then you're almost definitely fine. They won't find out and they probably don't care anyway. I'm a little surprised at how seriously some people think this is. As long as you weren't some who huge stoner(like, wearing TShirts with pot images, posting about it on facebook, and had Bob Marley posters everywhere) there's basically no way this is going to come back and bite you.

Anyway, if it puts your mind at ease I was in the same situation: had a Navy job that required high level clearance and had some marijuana use in my past that I lied(even had the same issue with a recruiter telling me to lie). I never had any issues with my clearance and a pretty significant number of my shipmates were the same. In fact I can't even recall ever hearing about someone having clearance problems due to drug use despite that fact probably over half the people I worked with would openly admit to casual drug use before they joined. Security Clearance issues were almost always related to criminal records, serious financial problems that weren't disclosed, or weird foreign relations stuff
posted by zodballs at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the distinction between a Secret clearance and a Top Secret clearance is really important. I know people who disclosed drug use and received Secret clearance, and I also know others who were polygraphed in order to qualify for Top Secret performance.

Without the polygraph, there would be very little chance of the clearance office determining that you did, in fact, have some recreational drug use in the past.

Personally I chose to disclose because I didn't want to ever have to try and lie at some point in the future in case I was asked to qualify for a higher level of security clearance.

Please memail me if you'd like to know more about the process.

Good luck!
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 11:27 AM on October 15, 2014

I was in the nuclear program in the Navy. They will give you 1000 more "last chances to come clean." Either do it now or wipe that memory from your brain and always, always say the same thing. Convince yourself that it's true.

If you come clean now, say you thought your recruiter wanted you to say no. Occasional past pot use isn't disqualifying, and that's not at all an unbelievable story. You'll be fine.

If you decide to keep denying it now, no, they'll probably never find out unless you eventually go for some crazy SCI assignment like presidential bodyguard and they start interviewing everyone who ever knew you. (That they can find, by then)

If you deny it now and admit it later, you're screwed.
posted by ctmf at 11:41 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

My vote is admit it now. If it fucks you it fucks you but you can move on and never worry about it in the future.
posted by sully75 at 11:51 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh, and also, similar to phunniemee, I've been interviewed for someone else's TS before. They only asked me to confirm that I knew them and then asked about general character. "How would you describe this person? Would you have any concerns if you knew they were in a sensitive position?" kind of thing. No specific "Did this person ever smoke pot" stuff.
posted by ctmf at 11:53 AM on October 15, 2014

As ctmf said, you will likely be given another chance to come clean. If the clearance is for TS/SCI, you will be given several opportunities to come clean. Near the end of the clearance process, the investigator will likely interview you personally. If that happens, tell him/her the truth then and there and explain what happened with the recruiter and your initial application.

Every time you have a polygraph, the examiner should also give you lots of chances to clear your conscience. When I went through these, I usually spent 45 minutes going through and talking about every little thing in my brain that gave the slightest twinge of concern or guilt. After that, the actual poly is cake since the examiner tells you that none of that stuff is any big deal, and every question asked when actually hooked up to the machine is prefaced with, "With the exception of everything we just talked about, have you ever...".
posted by stoffer at 12:32 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing that your friends and family will be interviewed for your security clearance, including people you'd never think they'd bother with -- I was once interviewed for the security clearance of someone who had been my roommate for one summer break during college, several years after we'd been roommates.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:33 PM on October 15, 2014

Oh, and he had no idea that I was even interviewed until I told him about it years later -- he hadn't given me as a reference or anything. So if anyone you ever associated with knows you smoked pot, there's a chance of it getting out.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:35 PM on October 15, 2014

Someone I knew in college is in the Navy and got top secret clearance. I had someone come to my house and ask me an insane amount of questions about him, his family, his past, etc. Our relationship? 5-10 years earlier, in college, we lived in the same dorm and sometimes played Starcraft.

Maybe that's unusual--maybe he just has a really small social circle and I was one of the closest friends he had--but it would give me pause in considering whether to keep lying.
posted by johnofjack at 12:40 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't lie - that is the one thing that will totally bork your clearance! Disclose, and disclose that you lied on the previous form because the recruiter told you to lie and you were worried about going against their advice. This could really fuck up your future career, because you aren't going to pass a polygraph test.

Pretty sure as long as you have no recent drug use (~2 years iirc), it won't affect your ability to get clearance.
posted by zug at 1:38 PM on October 15, 2014

I live in DC, and know a surprising amount of people who have A) used a lot of drugs and B) have a top secret security clearance.

If you are not doing drugs, tell them exactly what you told us. A recruiter told you to lie, so you did, and you're very sorry about it.

The clearance people want to know that you're not going to get blackmailed. They don't care in the slightest whether you smoked pot in high school. Just be open about everything and as long as you aren't actively using drugs and don't have problems like huge amounts of debt, you should be fine.
posted by empath at 3:11 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Realistically, no. But you are
now a textbook security risk because someone who knew you when you used drugs could have a great deal of leverage over you and you have a lot to lose.
posted by DWRoelands at 4:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Federal employee here. I have to say that there are simply right answer in this thread and wrong answers. The right answers are the people telling you to come clean. The wrong answers are the ones telling you not to. And, to be honest, the right answers appear to be coming from people with personal or professional knowledge of the U.S. security clearance process.

If you don't come clean now, the stakes just get higher and higher. Yeah, no one really care about inconsequential drug use for the National Guard. They kind of care about it for active duty military. They really care about it for the State Department job you get after the Navy. They really-really-oh-my-god-really care about it for the intelligence job you get after the State Department gig. Not because the federal government (with the exception of the DEA) hates drugs, but because you having a secret from the government makes you extremely liable to be blackmailed.

Basically, you're on a conveyor belt now. You need to come clean or else it's going to bite you in the butt later on. Yes, there's a chance this is going to muck up you plans. However, there's an equally good chance it won't. And none of that matters--you basically just got to do it.

tl;dr: Trust the advice from people in the thread who throw around terms like Secret, TS, SCI, SCIF, SF-86, e-QIP, DoD, or IC. Don't trust advice from laymen who are saying, "But how will they ever know?!" or "I once got interviewed by an investigator for a friend..."

(Sorry, that was pretty harsh on the other responders, but I see this stuff every day and ill-informed advice could really screw the poster over.)
posted by whitewall at 6:13 PM on October 15, 2014 [12 favorites]

I guarantee that if they do a TS crypto level search they will find out about it, and they may even figure out everyone you ever shared a doobie with. They may not decide to use this as a tool to deny you the clearance, or as a device to muster you out for a fraudulent enlistment. But this is the risk you are taking. Two main issues with clearances are vulnerability to foreign agents (via blackmail and such), and criminal behavior, in that order.

Smoking a doobie isn't a big item. Lying on your enlistment papers is. Don't count on the kind heart of the authorities to see you through this.

You created this situation by lying on the contract. I agree that the recruiter was complicit, but this was your decision, and you will deal with its consequences, either passively or proactively. You can use the same mentality that got you into it--say what you have to say to get what you want, then shine it on and hope they don't find out. Or, you can come clean and make the best of it.

Forgive me if I sound preachy, but integrity is expensive.
posted by mule98J at 7:44 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh good grief, it's hardly a "situation." All signs point to "disclose." It's not about morality, it's about calculated risks. It sounds like failing to disclose is a risk whose upside isn't worth the potential downside.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:20 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not about morality, it's about calculated risks.

Good grief, indeed. If it isn't a situation, nothing need be resolved.

Trying to separate the moral from the legal is what got the poster in this situation in the first place. The next step in risk assessment should mention the operational validity behind the idea that it's okay to lie as long as you don't get caught.
posted by mule98J at 5:54 PM on October 16, 2014

I'm fine with lying about stupid laws. I also don't think lies in and of themselves are evil- it depends on the motivation, and who would be hurt or helped by them. Are people who have lied about being gay immoral? Are the people who lie about knowing the whereabouts of persecuted populations immoral? I would say not.

Legal and moral have only a passing regard for each other. Personally, I find people who turn their moral compass over to the judicial branch of the government, thus relieving themselves of the burden of critical thinking, to be utterly immoral.

Once you decide not to do that, then yes, it's all about calculated LEGAL risks, and not morality.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:45 PM on October 16, 2014

« Older Cocktail arcade-type games for iOS designed for 2...   |   Company in turmoil; how to talk myself down off... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.