Did I mess up my security clearance by confirming other citizenship?
July 21, 2015 11:50 PM   Subscribe

I didn't know I was a citizen of another country, as well as of the US, at the time I got a position of public trust clearance. I now know that I am, and I know because I asked the other country and they said "yep, sure are." Did I screw up my clearance?

A few (less than five) years ago, I applied and was confirmed for a position of public trust clearance. I am not a federal employee. My employer provides services to the federal government and I am one of several people at my employer who has a clearance so we can do work on that contract.

At the time of the application, one of my long-running, oft-neglected side projects was looking into whether or not one of my parents is still a citizen of a certain country. We've recently been informed, after an application to that country's internal "department of paperwork," that yes, my parent is and, because of jus sanguinis, so am I.

My public trust clearance was done on form SF85P but neither my parent nor my possible other citizenship was noted on there by myself when I applied. My parent's place of birth in the other country is given. I recall the interviewer and I briefly discussing it but it wasn't more than a few words and I don't remember the content.

The other country is an ally of the U.S. and many U.S. citizens live and work there (it is not Canada, but I'd rather keep the country name anonymous). Were I to have lived there myself in the past for many years, I strongly doubt any security clearance interviewer would object.

All I did was ask for a certificate proving or disproving citizenship. I'm not getting a passport, I can't vote there--nor have I tried, I just read the rules--and I will be telling the department at my company that deals with security clearances about it shortly (I'm off work right now). But, before I do, does anyone have any experience in this area? As an aside, does anyone know how this might affect getting a higher clearance in the future?

Thanks for your help. I know you are not my security investigator.

Anonymous because I've asked questions about this country, but not about my security clearance, in the past. I have revealed nothing private about why I have the clearance and it's a well-known, very low-level cleared state, but I'd rather not link all of them together.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you clarify through a mod if you *are a citizen* or are just *eligible for citizenship*. I am from a country (possibly the country) where there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are eligible for citizenship if they wish to apply, but obviously the government has no record of them, their birth, etc, and they are not counted to the population.
posted by Iteki at 11:57 PM on July 21, 2015

I'm a dual citizen myself, and what I was told is that if security clearance became an issue then the dual citizenship would be evaluated as one of the possible factors for denying security clearance. I was also told that there was no blanket rule, but it would be handled on a case by case basis.
posted by frumiousb at 1:22 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you need to inform whoever approved your clearance that you just became aware of this, and if necessary, renounced the other citizenship.
posted by kschang at 1:30 AM on July 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

There is no way we can answer this question for you. My guess is that it won't be a problem, or it will be a fixable problem. You'll find out in two years... or if you can't stand not knowing, call OPM and find out what to do.
posted by zennie at 2:25 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Who is your security officer at work? The one to whom you have to report changes in relationship status, etc? That's who you should notify.

I worked with a lot of dual nationals at a U.S. defense contractor and I'll be eligible for dual citizenship myself through marriage some day, so I know a bit about this. It does depend on the country, but for your average friend to the U.S., the major implication is that you may only travel on your U.S. passport and you have to give your other one to your security officer to hold onto in the meantime. And you should definitely report the change in status if you are indeed considered a citizen.

But agreed that there's a difference between "citizen of" and "eligible to become a citizen of". My daughter was born to me, an American, overseas, and there was a lot of paperwork and a consulate visit involved before she was officially a U.S. citizen. If I never did that, she wouldn't be eligible to vote, have a U.S. passport, etc. So verify what the requirements are for citizenship and honestly, if there's any question, just report it at work.
posted by olinerd at 2:55 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

A friend who is a dual citizen (US/UK) worked for a government/nat'l security contractor with low-level security clearance without issue. However, he was told he would not be able to move up in the company as that would require a higher level of clearance and he wouldn't be eligible for that b/c of his dual citizenship (he holds both passports; has close family living in the UK).

My husband technically holds four citizenships by birth. When I looked into whether that would cause clearance issues for me, should I want to enter some kind of government service, it seemed as though it would not foreclose lower-level clearance, but would be an issue for higher levels (not necessarily an automatic denial, but would warrant many extra levels of scrutiny and investigation).
posted by melissasaurus at 5:07 AM on July 22, 2015

Is it that your parent lost citizenship during a war and has subsequently been given the right to restore it? In that case I don't think you were a citizen at the time you got your clearance. The citizenship came when your parent got theirs restored this year. But since you have now been informed by a government agency that you are now a citizen then I would say you should consult with an employment lawyer with federal clearance experience.
posted by yarly at 5:42 AM on July 22, 2015

If the government found out about it and didn't mention it after your full background check, it is probably not an issue. They most certainly looked at your parents and their records and would definitely have found out about their countries of origin.

For your own peace of mind tell your security officer but I wouldn't fret.

As for future (higher) clearance it probably won't be a problem unless you are from a country that the US suspects of anything related to terrorism.

Some other general tips for keeping your odds good of getting higher level clearance;
Stay out of debt
Keep your own records in order (housing and employment history most importantly)
Stay away from drugs (duh)

Really anything that would put you in a situation where a foreign power could put pressure on your personal life for any reason is a big no no and one of the primary things a background check is looking for along with criminal history, and anything you may have lied about in your interview(s).
posted by deadwater at 6:28 AM on July 22, 2015

What's relevant to US clearance status isn't dual citizenship per se, but "foreign preference", which is assessed by whether someone retains and uses a foreign passport, spends time or holds assets in another country, and so on. (The list of adjudications is, as ever, interesting reading.) Confirming a citizenship isn't the same as benefitting from it. You're doing the right thing by talking to the people who handle clearances, and that should guide you towards whether you need a formal renunciation.

What is your parent planning to do with his/her newly-discovered citizenship: anything or nothing? If it involves returning to the motherland permanently, that might raise a flag or two for future clearances.

there's a difference between "citizen of" and "eligible to become a citizen of". My daughter was born to me, an American, overseas, and there was a lot of paperwork and a consulate visit involved before she was officially a U.S. citizen.

This may sound like splitting hairs, but there was never a point where that child wasn't a US citizen: the distinction there is between being a citizen by the letter of the law and being demonstrably a citizen to people in authority. OP is ajus sanguinis citizen of Anonymia, without any official way of proving it right now, but if OP were to go to Anonymia on holiday with just a US passport, there could be circumstances where the government there would treat OP as a citizen, and OP wouldn't be able to seek consular protection from the US.
posted by holgate at 6:52 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

nthing talk to your FSO (facility security officer) about this. It wasn't a lie when you filled the paperwork out and obtained your clearance, but it's new information that should be disclosed.
posted by k5.user at 7:46 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
To clarify, my parent and I jointly made an application to this country's internal administrative department to find out if we are citizens, mostly out of historical curiosity. It is that country's equivalent of asking the United States for an N-600. That country told us, yes, we both are, and has issued the relevant paperwork (not a passport or that kind of travel document) stating as such. Like holgate wrote, we confirmed the existence of citizenship that has, it seems, been held from birth.

Thanks for all of the replies.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:52 AM on July 22, 2015

Yep, make sure you let the facility security officer know about this. Even if having dual citizenship isn't a big deal (and it probably isn't based on what you've told us about the relationship between the US and the other country), if they find out that you have it and didn't disclose it, that can be a problem because it might raise questions about your personal conduct, which is a reason why you can be denied clearance.
posted by Fister Roboto at 8:49 AM on July 22, 2015

You have not done anything illegal: You filled out your SF-85P to the best of your knowledge, using the information you had at the time. Therefore, you have not falsified any information on your SF-85P. From this day forward, however, you are legally obligated to put that dual citizenship information on any SF-85, SF-85P, or SF-86 forms, since you know this information now.

For a Position of Public Trust, dual citizenship probably doesn't matter. For Secret, it may, for Top Secret and higher, it definitely does. However, it also depends on the country and the US's relationship with that country. I have a friend, for example, who maintains dual US and Swiss citizenship and still holds a Top Secret clearance. If the second country is, for example, the UK, they will likely not care as much as if the second country is, for example, Iran.

You are legally obligated to contact your FSO, and have them forward the new information on to OPM. You certainly must do this if you ever want/need to obtain a higher level of clearance.

In the worst-case scenario, you will be asked to formally renounce your citizenship in the other country.
posted by tckma at 8:54 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my half-educated opinion, this falls under "adverse information", i.e. in between annual rechecks of the SF85P, when you do something that would be reportable (like foreign travel, getting arrested, getting a new non-citizen BFF, etc) you are supposed to contact your security officer immediately with the update. Updating to say "gosh, I just found out my parent is a dial citizen, and I found out I may be too" isn't likely to lose you your clearance (thus your job). But you should report now, not next form cycle.
posted by aimedwander at 9:16 AM on July 22, 2015

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