Private Contractors and Security Clearances

Private Contractors and Security Clearances

Recent controversy regarding Afghanistan contractor pilots and their lack of security clearances will probably change some employer attitudes in this area. Read on to find out how these changes may affect you and your family.

According to an Inspector General’s report, the military often uses DynCorp helicopters to ferry official visitors between Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and points in and around the city, such as the U.S. Embassy. The intelligence analysts in charge of these missions have a secret clearance, but not a top secret clearance. Furthermore, these individuals “are not located in facilities that are suitable for processing and storing of Top Secret intelligence,” according to the report. The Inspector General expressed similar concerns about a parallel DynCorp system in Iraq. But, the Baghdad operation is considerably larger, thus magnifying these concerns.

DynCorp said it would address the problem, which also includes the fact that Kabul contractors do not have access to the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS).

The Security Clearance Process

Scrutiny is everywhere. In addition to the dust-up in Kabul, the White House is under considerable pressure to standardize its security clearance protocol and ensure that everyone who works there has the proper authorization.

So, the environment is changing. In times past, most contractors could rely on their new employers to guide them through the security clearance process. Truth be told, most employers did not bother with this step unless the private contractor worked behind a desk and used a computer. Now, almost every contractor, regardless of job duties, probably needs a top secret clearance.

Fortunately, such a clearance is not too hard to get. As someone pointed out, “top secret” sounds clandestine, but it is usually about a week ahead of the headlines in the New York Times. Making such an effort also makes you much more marketable to future employers.


There are three different levels – confidential, secret, and top secret. Technically, you may need something lower than top secret. Upgrading from one of the lower levels to top secret is much easier than starting from scratch. But since you have gone this far, you might as well go for the gold.

The SF-86 Personal Security Questionnaire is detailed, to say the least. You must provide details about everywhere you have lived and worked in the past 10 years. The form also requires specific personal information, mostly about your family members, where they work, and your relationship with them.

Do not use family members for your references, and try to name people who also know your friends. Also, give these individuals a heads-up that the government will be calling. In fact, you should probably get their permission before listing them.

Background Check

Fingerprints are usually step one. A local police or Department of Public Safety office is usually a good place to go. Call ahead and reserve a time if possible.

Next, be aware of what the investigators will examine. The list usually includes:

  • Personal references,
  • Prior education,
  • Current and former employers, and
  • Social media profiles.

You can probably make social media profiles private without raising red flags to avoid disclosure of any embarrassing information.

The main interview takes place several weeks after you file your application. Be sure to bring any documents the interviewer requests, such as a birth certificate and passport. If your application raised no red flags, the interview may only last a few minutes. If the interviewer has concerns, the meeting could be long and confrontational.

Interviewers particularly scrutinize ties to foreign countries and seditious organizations. Having a relative who works for a foreign power or living with a non-citizen does not automatically disqualify you, but these things do raise questions. “Seditious organizations” are not always easy to define, as some groups have anti-American rants or mission statements buried in the organizational fine print.

The best way to deal with this issue is to stress that you only belong to the organization because of its charitable or other work, or that you only belonged to it briefly out of curiosity. However, do not lie.

Other possible red flags include:

  • Substance abuse,
  • Emotional well-being,
  • Financial problems, and
  • Criminal history.

These items are not nearly as serious as loyalty issues, but they can still derail a security clearance application if the interviewer does not hear satisfactory and true answers.

Obtaining Clearance

In rare cases, the State Department may issue a temporary clearance. For the most part, your full clearance should arrive in about six or eight weeks. If your application is denied, you will receive a Statement of Denial. This document gives the reasons for denial and also instructions for an appeal. Seriously consider hiring an attorney for this appeal.

All security clearances are subject to periodic reviews every 15 years (confidential), 10 years (secret), or five years (top secret). If the State Department tries to revoke your clearance, you have the right to a hearing.

What to do if You are Injured

When contractors arrive overseas, they are not on their own if they are injured. The Defense Base Act provides compensation for:

  • Medical Bills: Whether the overseas contractor sustains a trauma injury, like a gunshot wound, or an occupational disease, such as hearing loss, the DBA pays for all reasonably necessary medical costs. That includes both direct and indirect expenses.
  • Lost Wages: Typically, the DBA pays two-thirds of the contractor’s average weekly wage for the duration of the temporary disabilities. Some contractors are permanently disabled and either cannot work at all or must accept a lower-paying job. The DBA provides financial compensation in these instances, as well.

DBA insurance companies often deny medical bill claims on the grounds that they are not medically necessary. They often contest lost wages claims for much the same reasons. So, it is important to have an assertive attorney in your corner at all stages of the DBA claim.

For more information on filing these claims, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.