Foreign Influence and Security Clearance Determinations

07.11.06 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The House Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing July 13 on the role that considerations of foreign influence play in decisions to grant or deny security clearances for access to classified information.

One of the principal considerations leading to denial of a security clearance is when the applicant has relatives or relationships or other ties abroad in countries of concern, and particularly in the Middle East and the Far East.

This approach, if applied too rigidly, can be counter-productive since the best linguists and the most accomplished area experts will almost invariably have “relationships” of one kind or another with persons in their region of expertise.

But the process for adjudicating disputes over clearances seems distinctly skewed against the applicant.

In a new report (pdf), attorney Sheldon Cohen identified a peculiar anomaly in the performance of the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA), which rules on disputed clearance matters for the Defense Department. In the large majority of disputes presented to it, he found, DOHA has consistently ruled against the applicant.

“If Department Counsel appeals a decision granting a clearance, it is virtually assured that the Appeal Board will reverse. Yet, if an applicant appeals a decision involving a foreign connection denying a clearance, the Appeal Board will assuredly affirm the denial,” found Cohen, who specializes in security clearance cases.

See “Appeal Board Decisions of the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals: Are They Arbitrary and Capricious?” by Sheldon I. Cohen, July 10, 2006.