Andrew P. Bakaj, the firm’s managing partner, appeared on CNN’s Smerconish Saturday, March 27, 2021, to discuss marijuana use and its impact on a security clearance. To watch Andrew’s appearance, click here or the image, below.
In February of this year, I. Charles McCullough was interviewed for two articles with ClearanceJobs.com. The first, published on February 10, 2020, Mr. McCullough discusses how a long distance relationship can impact a security clearance. The second article, published on February 24, 2020, discusses the importance on leaving a job on good terms.
To read the February 10, 2020, article, please click here.
To read the February 24, 2020, article, please click here.
Why Sharing Adderall in College Could Cost You a Government Job
By David Brown / Jun 18, 2019
Prescription drug problems are the number one thing flagging candidates during polygraph examinations these days—and not for reasons you might think. Trading prescription medications—think: sharing Adderall in college, or offering a pain pill when a friend pulls her back—can disqualify you from getting a security clearance because agencies consider that “intent to distribute illegal narcotics.” Unlike, say, experimenting with cocaine that one time several years ago—something adjudicators might still rule favorably on—handing out your Adderall is an issue, and it is snagging a lot of job candidates.
“The SF-86 covers it, but it seems like these things always come up in polygraphs,” says Charles McCullough, a partner with the Compass Rose Legal Group, and the former Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. “It pops up with onboard people during their five-year re-investigations, and it pops up with new applicants as well. If your spouse has a painkiller prescription for a dental issue, and you can’t sleep and decide to take some, that’s a problem from a clearance standpoint.”
McCullough adds that for a one-off situation like that, an onboard worker can expect disciplinary action, but his or her clearance probably won’t be revoked. A clearance applicant who has done drugs within the last twelve months, however, or who has a felony drug conviction, will almost certainly be disqualified.
HONESTY ON THE FORM
“Minimizing” answers on the SF-86, or being somehow less than truthful, is the worst thing you can do when filling out the form. It’s never a bad idea to speak with an attorney before submitting the application to find out when and how answers should be best explained. Elisions of one’s personal history can come back to haunt an applicant when he or she is strapped to a polygraph machine.
“The polygraph, whether or not it’s good science, is basically an investigative and interviewing tool and it’s very effective,” says McCullough. Examinations are high pressure situations, and when people are hooked up to a polygraph, they tend quickly to become very, very honest about themselves. “The polygraph examiner is going to sit there with a yellow pad and pen and write everything down. The whole thing is being recorded. It’s being videotaped. It’s being audiotaped. And they’re going to say, ‘The needle isn’t bouncing your way. What’s wrong? What is it you are not telling me?’ And people tend to start disclosing everything over and over and over again, and if they haven’t already disclosed it on the form—if they minimized it on the SF-86 when they first applied—now we have an integrity issue. We’ve gone from just having a drug issue to having a personal conduct issue as well.”
And that could be disqualifying. Another ghost that tends to haunt people is the SF-86 that they completed many years earlier. When you are young, you think: Well, I only need a secret clearance and I don’t have to take a polygraph… so why complicate things with messy admissions like sharing a few pills? A decade later, however, an older, wiser cleared worker with three kids and a mortgage is offered a big promotion or a job at a defense contractor… and suddenly they need a Top Secret/SCI clearance with a poly. That SF-86 that was filled out ten years ago is still around, and suddenly those minimizations years earlier are back in a big way.
“When people fill out the SF-86, they really need to make sure they get it all down,” says McCullough. Adjudicators aren’t robots; they understand that life can be a little messy, and they use what is called a “whole person assessment” when deciding whether someone is eligible for a security clearance. “Obviously someone who is trafficking in heroin is going to be disqualified. But that’s not necessarily so for people who, say, experimented with drugs in college. Adjudicators are going to ask: What was the level of experimentation? Was it truly experimentation? Was there a habit? Was there addiction involved? Did they sell it? If they bought it, where did they get it from? Did they resell it to classmates? There are all sorts of permutations that have to be looked at, and it is looked at on a case-by-case basis. There is a contemplative process that takes place.”
TRICKY LAWS ARE NO EXCUSE
Drug laws and prosecutions in general are complicated affairs, which makes your SF-86 and subsequent polygraph even more of a minefield. Steal a car from the BMW dealership, and you are probably going to be arrested for stealing a car. Prescription drug crimes have a lot more nuance.
“In the federal system, it depends entirely on the specific facts of the situation, and how it’s charged,” says Jessica Carmichael, a federal criminal defense lawyer with Ayotte, Carmichael, Ellis, & Brock, a law firm in Virginia. “Giving prescription medication to your friend could create a number of criminal liabilities, ranging from misdemeanor to felony charges.”
And the fact that you didn’t end up in a courtroom is no excuse to conveniently forget to mention your drug arrest on the clearance application. “If you are arrested and charged,” says Carmichael, “and that charge is dismissed by the prosecutor—in other words, he or she elected not to proceed with the prosecution—typically that charge is still going to show up on your record.”
In any event, Carmichael says, almost any defense attorney will tell you to never make statements without a lawyer present. “Always be polite and respectful and at the first possible opportunity, ask to speak with an attorney.”
Every year countless federal employees, members of the military, and federal contractors have their careers placed in jeopardy by having their security clearance or access to SCI suspended or revoked. Many individuals decide to respond to or appeal the recommendation/decision on their own. Many of these same individuals assume that, as an administrative proceeding, a security adjudication is somehow “less formal” and, thus, can be handled without an attorney. The reality is quite different: official documents recommend an attorney, and the loss of a clearance will certainly be far costlier when a career comes to an abrupt halt.
While no one can guarantee a favorable outcome, as each case is different (because facts matter), scoping the response to address the government’s specific concerns in light of applicable laws, rules, and regulations means the difference between winning or losing; or having a fighting chance and outright losing.
Not seeking counsel is dangerous for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, the decision is not judicially reviewable. This is because of precedent set by the Supreme Court of the United States. In other words, the ultimate decision cannot be taken before a federal court. There is no “suing.”
Second, and this is particularly true with Department of Defense clearances before Administrative Judges: if you lost before the Administrative Judge, the only way to win on appeal is to prove that the Administrative Judge erred in either fact or law. No new evidence is permitted before the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals Board. If it wasn’t addressed at the lower level, there is nothing that can be practically done. Many prospective clients have contacted the firm at that stage. Unless there is a glaring error, we can’t take the case in good conscience.
Finally, this is a legal proceeding. In some situations, the Department or Agency arguing for the revocation will be represented by an attorney who is prepared to argue against you retaining your security clearance. As such, the written response to the Statement of Reasons or Letter of Intent must bust be on point and sound.
The possible loss of a security clearance is a serious matter. When in doubt, seek counsel.
This article was prepared by Thomas Toman, National Security Investigations Intern.
One of the most crucial aspects of any clearance investigation is the SF-86 form that all applicants are required to fill out. It is an imposing, 127-page document that covers everything from past living addresses to foreign contacts. Because of the central role it plays in clearance adjudications, the SF-86 is not a form that should be taken lightly. The document itself has become a topic of media discussion after it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose contacts with the Russian Ambassador on his SF-86. The discussion of the issue was short lived, however, as it was later revealed that Sessions’ staff had contacted the Department of Justice. Reportedly, Department of Justice attorneys instructed that he omit the contacts.
We at Compass Rose Legal Group believe that the affairs surrounding the Attorney General’s SF-86 serve as a valuable example of how to, and how not to, approach the SF-86. While the average clearance applicant will not face the same issues or media scrutiny as Jeff Sessions, his case provides a cautionary tale for all applicants. Accordingly, consider the following:
- Fill out your own SF-86 form. Once you sign and submit the form, you become responsible for its contents. This is not dissimilar from a tax form or contract. While it might be tempting to let a staff member or secretary handle the SF-86 for you, the level of detail required requires personal attention.
- Pay close attention to the wording of all questions: certain information is not required to be reported, and the questions note this. When in doubt, seek counsel. Similarly, for all applicants the SF-86 contains a section on mental health counseling. Depending on the section, an applicant may or may not be required to provide that information. Read this section carefully.
- Take time to fill out the form completely, accurately, and then re-examine it thoroughly before submission. Omissions, particularly if purposeful, can be a crime. Even if the omissions do not result in a criminal referral, missing information results in a weighty issue that security adjudicators can latch on to and question.
- When in doubt, seek counsel.
This article was prepared by Thomas Toman, National Security Investigations Intern.
National Security Law & Security Clearances Are Directly Impacting the White House
The current issues impacting the Trump White House have brought national security matters, the Intelligence Community, and security clearance adjudications into the spotlight simultaneously. Compass Rose Legal Group, PLLC is a law firm specializing in representing the Defense and Intelligence Communities, and we believe this overview will help simplify the chronology of events that have led to this increasingly complex matter unfolding as publicly as it has.
Notwithstanding the political implication surrounding these events, the facts are materializing into a case study of what federal employees, contractors, and members of the military ought not to do.
Who is Michael Flynn?
Michael Flynn was President Trump’s first National Security Advisor and former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (“DIA”). Flynn was removed from his position as DIA Director by then-President Obama, who cited policy disagreements between Flynn and the larger Intelligence Community. Subsequently, in 2016, Flynn was appointed as the National Security Advisor by Donald Trump; he served only 24 days before being asked to resign.
Flynn is currently at the center of a Justice Department investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Moreover, he is also under heightened scrutiny for accepting (and not reporting) money to lobby on behalf of Turkey. Reportedly, it is this information that he failed to disclose on his SF-86. His failure to report has provided prosecutors with leverage to force Flynn’s cooperation in the ongoing investigation.
Here is a brief timeline of the events that have led to his removal by President Trump, and the subsequent appointment of a Special Prosecutor:
- On December 10, 2015, Michael Flynn allegedly receives money from Russian officials during a trip to Moscow. The payment triggers a subsequent investigation by the Pentagon Office of Inspector General in April 2017.
- On August 9, 2016, Michael Flynn receives $530,000 dollars for lobbying work on behalf of a Turkish firm with strong ties to the Erdogan government in Ankara. The money was intended to go toward the production of a pro-Turkish government film, but no film is ever produced. General Flynn does not report this activity to federal lobbying authorities or register as a foreign agent until March of 2017.
- On November 8, 2016, Michael Flynn writes an op-ed in The Hill that supports the Turkish government’s crackdown on (allegedly) seditious elements. According to press reports, he shared a copy of this article with the Turkish firm behind his August payment before publishing it.
- In December 2016, Flynn begins communicating regularly with the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
- On January 4, 2017, the Trump transition team is first informed that Flynn is under investigation by the Department of Justice.
- On January 10, 2017, Flynn blocks a plan to arm Kurdish Rebels against ISIS, contrary to the recommendations of the Obama White House. This was viewed as a massive policy victory for Turkey, who opposes the Kurds. After Flynn’s resignation, the Trump White House began to arm the Kurds again.
- On January 26, 2017, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warns White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn has allegedly lied about his discussions with the Russian Ambassador. Yates reportedly supplied evidence that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the ambassador, which he had vehemently denied.
- On February 9, 2017, a Washington Post report reveals that Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador by assuring him that sanctions were never discussed.
- On February 13, 2017, Flynn resigns following intense media scrutiny.
- On May 17, 2017, the Department of Justice appoints former FBI director Robert Mueller III to lead an independent probe into the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.
This chronology of events was prepared by Thomas Toman, National Security Investigations Intern.
Compass Rose Legal Group’s Managing Attorney Andrew Bakaj is quoted in a LawNewz article discussing the ramifications of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s SF-86. The SF-86 is the form that federal employees and contractors must complete in order to obtain a security clearance.
Andrew discusses the ramifications of Flynn’s failure to disclose his foreign contacts; foreign activities; and foreign business, professional activities, and foreign government contacts on his SF-86. He is quoted saying:
“Given that there are multiple ongoing investigations, perhaps even a criminal investigation, the false official statements can be used as leverage by a federal investigator and the Department of Justice to obtain a guilty plea to a lesser crime or, in the alternative, to compel cooperation in the event he’s not the ‘biggest fish’ in an investigation.”
You can read the full article by clicking here.