Clearances 101

Myth Busters

You may be concerned about things you’ve done in the past raising red flags for investigators. Perhaps you smoked marijuana or you were caught shoplifting or you made a fool out of yourself after drinking too much. If that’s happened to you, your chances for a security clearance are not squashed. Everyone makes mistakes and the government knows it. But officials will look at each incident carefully and determine the circumstances, the intent and the frequency of your mistakes. All that is taken into account when reviewing your life during this process. Remember, honesty is the best policy.

Look below for myth busters about security clearances. Hover or click on the word BUSTER to learn the truth about each scenario.

MYTH 1: If you have previously experimented with drugs, had a DUI or consumed alcohol while you were underage, you will be unable to obtain a security clearance.


What’s important in this situation is that the applicant is able to demonstrate that the behavior is clearly in the past and not something he or she intends to be involved with in the future. While each applicant’s situation is different, in many cases the applicant may ultimately be approved despite the prior misconduct.

MYTH 2: In cases where charges have been dismissed or the applicant was given probation before judgment, there is no need to disclose that information for the application.


It is in the applicant’s best interest to disclose all involvement in illegal activity, to include both conduct involving criminal charges and criminal activity for which he or she was not charged. Generally, the investigative process will uncover criminal activity and failure to disclose such information would exacerbate the offense and bring the applicant’s honesty, integrity and judgment into question. The applicant will be provided with an opportunity, during the investigation, to provide a full explanation for any involvement with criminal activity.

MYTH 3: Because you lived in the United States for a period of time and graduated from a college or university here, you would be eligible to take a position that requires a security clearance even if you are not a U.S. citizen.


One of the most important criteria for a security clearance is U.S. citizenship and no applicant, regardless of where he or she attended school, or how long he or she has been in the United States, will be considered for eligibility for a security clearance unless he or she is a U.S. citizen.

MYTH 4: To obtain a high-level security clearance, an applicant has to be perfect, or close to it.


A person must be stable, trustworthy, reliable, of sound judgment, and of course, completely loyal to the United States. However, that does not imply that a person’s background needs to be devoid of ANY missteps or instances of poor judgment.

MYTH 5: To ensure you have the potential to be hired for a position requiring a security clearance, you can request and pay for a security clearance application and investigation prior to being hired.


There are no procedures in place to allow individuals to request or pay for their own background investigation.

MYTH 6: There are several different levels of security clearances and not all levels require that the applicant go through the investigative process.


All candidates, regardless of which level of clearance being obtained, will go through some type of investigation process. The information gathered will ultimately be adjudicated in accordance with the established criteria for the clearance being sought.

MYTH 7: Once a candidate has obtained a security clearance, they can easily be granted a higher clearance level if promoted and not have to worry about going through the process again.


All employees with a security clearance must go through the process at specific intervals based on the clearance level, again completing the SF86 and re-investigation.

MYTH 8: When an applicant goes for a security clearance, they should expect to be tripped up, surprised or even tricked by the investigator or polygrapher.


Each person an applicant deals with in the security process, including polygraphers and investigators, can be expected to act professionally and convey clear expectations to the applicant. They aren’t trying to make the process difficult or test you. Further, the reason an applicant is being processed for a security clearance is that someone with the appropriate authority has determined that the applicant has the skills and background needed for a job. Adjudicators are happy to grant an individual a security clearance when the information gathered is favorable.