Help this person decide whether it's worth it to be politically active
February 6, 2008 9:27 AM   Subscribe

IANAL Filter: Security Clearances, Politics, and Job Security

Supposed someone is pursuing a job at a defense contractor that requires a high-level US security clearance. Suppose that this person also knows that a great majority of people at the contracting company and in the government division are Pro-war Republicans, but that they personally have been active in the Democratic party and are publicly against the war in Iraq. Further, suppose that they were certain that they would be questioned and polygraphed on whether they supported the war in Iraq, and that their family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances (up to 3 times removed) would also be questioned.

First, would it be legal for the US to deny that person a security clearance based upon their politics and/or support for the war in Iraq. Second, would it be legal for the contracting company to deny that person employment for the same or related reasons?

Follow up question: In the US is a government contractor expected to be contractor first and citizen second?
posted by brandnew to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Moreover, the courts in this country defer to the military in security matters. It may or may not be legal for the US to deny a security clearance, but there's not much chance they can win that in court. There are appeals for clearance denials, but as far as I know, they are not civilian courts. It is completely legal for an employer to deny employment based on being denied a clearance - that is standard for all jobs requiring clearance. As an "at will" employee, you can be fired for just about anything.

That said, I am a government contractor who campaigned for Kerry, is against the war, and passed a (counterintelligence) polygraph easily.
posted by saeculorum at 9:39 AM on February 6, 2008

If I may boil down your slightly cryptic question... No, your security clearance will not be compromised by your politics. When agencies perform background checks, any interviews with friends/family/neighbors have to do with potential risks you might pose as a clearance holder (e.g. if you have financial problems, that might make you a target by someone wanting to get you to share classified info).

But there is a very small chance that "bad info" about you could come out (interviewer is biased). But you could fight that legally.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:50 AM on February 6, 2008

Most of neighbors have security clearances and have been interviewed countless times when their security clearances are being renewed or updated. Their political beliefs have never been part of the interview.
posted by COD at 10:09 AM on February 6, 2008

Most of my neighbors have security clearances and I have.....

Preview is my friend. I should try it more often. Sorry about the disjointed grammar above.
posted by COD at 10:18 AM on February 6, 2008

but you could fight that legally

Not.... The whole process is secret. If you are denied they may or may not tell you why. As for an appeal, I doubt it.

I have a government contract. It's 8 pages in length. The expectations are spelled out clearly. My political beliefs are not included.
posted by Xurando at 10:27 AM on February 6, 2008

BTW, when I took the poly, the first question in the baseline phase was: "What's the worst thing you've ever done?" The answer wasn't "I voted for John Kerry."
posted by Xurando at 10:33 AM on February 6, 2008

suppose that they were certain that they would be questioned and polygraphed on whether they supported the war in Iraq, and that their family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances (up to 3 times removed) would also be questioned.

This part doesn't make sense. If politics do come up in a polygraph, it's basically with an eye towards figuring out whether you're a member of any extremist groups or movements, or are otherwise a bona fide security risk. It's not a red/blue litmus test. There's a world of difference between "I'm opposed to the war in Iraq and think it was a bad idea," and "I think it's every citizen's duty to oppose the illegitimate U.S. government, by any and all means necessary, including the use of violence in order to overthrow it." It's only the latter that will get you denied.

The things they look for in 'lifestyle polys' are mostly behaviors that will make you easier for somene to compromise. Debt, drug use, etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: I am an attorney practicing in this area of law. I have reprsented clients before the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals. Given your description, it sounds like a potential clearance would be issued under the Industrial Security Program. Whether or not a security clearance is granted is a question of whether or not the granting of the security clearance is "clearly consistent" with national security. Decisionmakers are given guidelines to decide whether or not the issuance of the clearance would be clearly consistent with national security.

The guidelines are:

Guideline A: Allegiance to the United States
Guideline B: Foreign Influence
Guideline C: Foreign Preference
Guideline D: Sexual Behavior
Guideline E: Personal Conduct
Guideline F: Financial Considerations
Guideline G: Alcohol Consumption
Guideline H: Drug Involvement
Guideline I: Psychological Conditions
Guideline J: Criminal Conduct
Guideline K: Handling Protected Information
Guideline L: Outside Activities
Guideline M: Use of Information Technology Systems

None of these guidlines cover personal political activities. Personal political activity is not generally a critera for such clearances. From the context of your question, it is unclear whether or not the polygraphing body would be the company or the government. I have never heard or been involved in a case where a member of a mainstream political party has been denied a security clearance for activity in that party.

It is highly unlikely that such questions are going to be asked by any investigators for the DSS. They are fighting through a huge backlog, and do not care about anyone's position on Iraq. Companies are scrambling for persons with available clearances and I'd expect that they will be interested in getting a warm body in a spot for which they are entitled to receive payment first.

I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice but a general explanation of the system as it works.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:15 AM on February 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

When I applied for my clearance the only thing approximating a political question was something along the lines of, "Have you ever been a member of an organization that advocated or directly worked for the violent overthrow of the government of the United States? If so, which ones and when?"

I put down my editorial position for a college alternative magazine in my job history. The magazine eventually got shut down for our rather sophomoric drug and violence related humor. I kept it running out of pocket for about a year. I still got my clearance.

Granted, this is only Secret clearance (no polygraph, no big interviews), but your politics do not much matter. Your trustworthyness does (and to that end, a bad credit score can hurt your buddy).
posted by Xoder at 11:35 AM on February 6, 2008

follow-up from someone who would prefer to reamin anonymous.
I'm currently going through the same clearance process with DSS (SSBI, though without poly) and as far as I know, no interviewers have asked about my political beliefs. I have colleagues that go to anti-war protests (though, as with you, the majority are republican). IANAL, but I believe this is the regulation you're looking for (see section C2.1.3.1) if the agency requesting the investigation is DoD (which includes the NSA). CIA has different guidelines, but I'd be surprised if they're allowed to ask about political beliefs to (I remember reading that they're no longer allowed to harangue you about your sex life). I'm not positive, but I think that contractors working with those two are the only ones that have to get polygraphed for TS/SCI clearance.

As a private company, I think the employer can hire or fire for political beliefs if they want, but I'd be surprised if they do. I work at a cool place, but no one asked or hinted about politics when I interviewed, and when I specifically asked whether I'd feel out of place as a liberal, I was told that no one would care, which has been true.
posted by jessamyn at 5:30 PM on February 6, 2008

I've been interviewed by DoD and DoJ folks on behalf of people seeking fairly high security clearances. For lower clearances, it was just a form they sent me and that I returned. For higher clearances it was an in-person interview. Most of what they are trying to do is verify that what the applicant said is true. The worst thing (besides advocating for the overthrow of the gov't) you can do is lie.

They don't care who you vote for. They DO care if you met a Bad Guy once and lie about it.

That's the government. Now if this contractor is doing their own background checks to weed out "undesirables", all bets are off.
posted by gjc at 7:30 PM on February 6, 2008

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