Vindictive exes, CAC disputes, (Il)legal marijuana: Security clearance questions answered

Lindy Kyzer, senior editor for, helps you get to the bottom of challenges you and others may have with regards to security clearances.

Have a question about the security clearance process, federal suitability or cleared careers? Post your question in the comments or email it to The Advisory Council will help you navigate the ever-changing security clearance process.

The ex and the interview

Hello. I am undergoing a single scope background investigation (SSBI) to obtain a top-secret security clearance and I am terrified at what my ex-wife is going to say about me. Let’s just say things didn’t end amicably. How much weight is given to an ex-spouse’s comments?

All’s fair in love and background investigations. False allegations made by an ex aren’t likely to be an issue. Statements that may be supported by facts are another story. If you have a history of bad credit and your ex tells the background investigator you’re a louse who overspends and makes poor financial decisions, that can absolutely have a negative effect. Security clearance attorney Sean Bigley notes that what’s even more important than what’s said in an interview is what may be backed up in legal documents.

“As part of your background investigation, the government will interview any ex-spouse divorced within the coverage period of your investigation and also review the records of the court case,” said Bigley. “My experience as a former investigator was that frequently, by the time a subject’s ex-spouse was contacted, it was several years out from the divorce and tempers had cooled down considerably. On the other hand, the legal filings are done in the midst of divorce with passions running high and major issues like child custody and spousal support at stake. This often translates into baseless allegations that would be considered defamatory in other contexts.”

If it has been years since your divorce, make sure to review any legal filings related to your divorce (just as you should review your credit history). Then make sure to mitigate any issues that may come up in the “additional comments” section of your SF86 or by providing additional (recent) character references. Fortunately, the government is most interested in the person you are today and not who you were when you had a messy split with your ex.

Waiting to inhale

I live in Colorado and I have a security clearance. My adult son lives with us and smokes marijuana (which is now legal in Colorado). Am I placing my clearance in jeopardy by allowing him to smoke in the home, even if I don’t?

Drug use is still illegal under federal law. The issue here isn’t what your behavior — it’s that you’re associating with someone who is violating federal law. Guideline E of the adjudicative criteria covers personal conduct. Among the disqualifying conditions is knowingly associating with someone involved in criminal conduct. It’s difficult to say if you would actually lose your security clearance for your adult son’s actions, but it’s not outside of the realm of possibility. The good news is you may finally have a great excuse to tell your son to find a place of his own (your job is at stake, after all!).

CAC conundrum

I recently accepted a position with a defense contractor. The position requires a National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI). When the investigator verified my employment as a part of the investigation, my prior company provided derogatory information. Now I’m unable to obtain a common access card (CAC) or work on the Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET). Do I have any recourse?

Anyone who is denied a CAC has procedural due process before the CAC can be finally denied, notes William Henderson, co-founder of the Federal Clearance Assistance Service (FEDCAS). If the government decides not to issue you a CAC, you will receive a statement of reasons (SOR) explaining the unfavorable decision, as well as the rebuttal and appeal process. “If this happens, I strongly recommend you obtain professional assistance in responding to the SOR,” noted Henderson.

Lindy Kyzer is a senior editor for Have a question about the security clearance process, federal suitability or cleared careers? Post your question in the comments or email it to This article should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.

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