NSA Job Interviews With a Twist

Those that have an interest in intelligence agency (eg, NSA, CIA, FBI, DIA, NIMA, etc) jobs or careers might find the following paper informative. The appendix has been updated with information and links submitted from readers on security adjudication guidelines and appeal cases – material highly recommended to better understanding of the security clearance process. For those simply looking for an unusual story, it should still provide entertainment and a few laughs.

The paper was first announced via the Federation of American Scientists ”˜Secrecy News’ e-newsletter.



“The polygraph examination was conducted in a small locked room.”

It may sound like Hemingway, if he had applied to work for a U.S. intelligence agency. But it actually comes from an unusual first person account of the process of applying for employment at the National Security Agency, from the initial interview to the psychological exam to the background investigation and the polygraph test.

The author, writing under the pseudonym Ralph J. Perro, provides a detailed, chatty and somewhat irreverent narrative of the stages of evaluation of incoming NSA employees. In his case, the three and a half month clearance process led to his rejection on unspecified security grounds.

See “Interviewing With An Intelligence Agency (or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Fort Meade),” November 2003:


The Story

“Shhhh! There is a test in progress”

We had been shushed by the test proctor. And for the second time. This might not sound unusual, but I was at Friendship Annex (FANX) – the NSA facility near the Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) airport where applicant processing takes place -being interviewed by a division manager and several of his direct reports for a systems-development position. We were sitting in a large room directly behind the computerized testing facility where there were a gaggle of applicants taking foreign language tests. Naturally, I had assumed that the walls were all copper-lined to prevent inter-room electromagnetic emissions, slathered with Jello (on the inside), and insulated with bubble-wrap, with “Tunes of the Amish” piped-in to confuse any bug-planting Russkies. The walls would be watertight too, in case they need to Dog The Hatches – although that might only be applicable on things that float and sail. But in actuality, these were ordinary office-walls. Our voices had carried through as in any ordinary office setting. For the most part, this was a reasonably standard office building except for the guns, soldiers, barbed wire, and an abnormally high number of locked doors. Welcome to the National Security Agency.

It’s a good sign when your hosts are making as much or more noise than you are, but I said “Sorry, we’ll keep it down.” On the shelves in our room I spied several foreign language dictionaries and thought “I am having way more fun than the people in the next room.”

How Did I Get Here?

I was in a period of professional transition and I had a brainstorm that I wanted to work for the National Security Agency. It was a little bit of a lot of things: from the pre-NSA World War II crypto successes that I read in my youth (e.g., “AF is short of freshwater”) ”“ being a history nut, recent developments in world-events (e.g., 9/11), to the simple fact that it is the largest intelligence agency in the world. And the agency has historically measured computing resources in acres. Acres! One can only imagine the top-secret high-tech synthesis of agricultural and computer science phraseology: “Go out and data-mine the back-40. Harvest the intelligence. We had a problem with the combine on last night’s batch job.” Awesome!

But the agency had issues. A late 1999 external management review cited a technological gap with commercial practice, a broken Requirement & Delivery process, and poor stakeholder relations (with quotes such as “when people say the NSA doesn’t get it, they just talk louder”). Too insular, and by inference, too in-bred. Ouch. From the report there were, no doubt, large numbers of smart people in the organization, but perhaps not enough people just crazy enough to believe they can break through the bureaucracy and crank up whatever they do a notch or ten.

“Hey, I can help with that!” I thought. “Wouldn’t it be cool to not only work there, but to help make it better!”

And I even managed to get an interview.

But actually getting to the NSA isn’t easy – in more ways than one. To become an NSA employee, one must follow a process that can be as involved as the most invasive medical procedure ending in “-oscopy.” For experienced personnel, the first step is to have a pre-screen interview, which is usually conducted over the phone. If that goes well, an “operational interview” is scheduled with a hiring manager and other members of the team. Each staff position to be filled is referred to as a “billet” ”“ in the private sector this would be referred to as a position, position requisition, etc. The hiring manager interviews several applicants to fill the billet, and if the interview goes well, a Conditional Job Offer (CJO) may be issued. The CJO will specify jobgrade and salary, however it will not contain a start-date ”“ because it’s very much a conditional offer based on clearance.

Security forms are distributed and if the applicant decides to proceed the forms are returned. The forms go through “forms review” to check completeness and once the forms are deemed “complete“ the action begins (timing note: even this reasonably simple step can take several weeks.) An important difference between the private sector and intelligence agencies is that multiple CJOs may be issued per billet. The first to finish the clearance process gets the job.

Some things can be explained but not completely appreciated unless they are personally experienced. Interviewing with the NSA is one of those experiences. Hunter S. Thompson probably said it best with this description of a different event: “There is no way to understand the public reaction to the sight of a Freak smashing a coconut with a hammer on the hood of a white Cadillac in a Safeway parking lot unless you actually do it”¦ and I tell you it’s tense.”

Hunter was on his way to Las Vegas, and he was trying to convince his publisher for an extra-large expense account for some outrageous mescaline-enhanced adventures. Me? No drugs, thanks. But hopefully I would be off to Fort Meade, and I needed to convince the NSA that I was an OK Guy.

Where Are We Going?

But first, I needed to get to the interview. Like physically be there. The NSA’s travel agency booked me on a cross-country flight from San Francisco to JFK, with a 45-minute layover to catch a puddle-jumper to BWI. I reread the itinerary: “45 minute layover at JFK.” It was an aggressive schedule for certain. And naturally, the initial flight was 44 minutes late taking off. Making my connection was still a mathematical possibility.

But nobody just lands and parks at JFK. When the wheels hit the tarmac on the way down there is the obligatory screeching-and-slowing-down period as is expected from any jet aircraft, but then only at JFK does the airliner truly double as an over-gown taxi as it taxies for about 20 minutes in an around the airport, past the Concorde with its swept-back wings, over several highways, past few more planes. And of course, periodically sitting still behind other planes, emulating Manhattan traffic.

After 5 hours in the air, losing 3 hours due to the coast-to-coast time-change, and a scenic plane-taxi tour, by the time I sprinted to the gate my flight to BWI had long since departed. Or maybe it was on the tarmac, they weren’t sure. Regardless, they said I couldn’t get on whether the plane was in the air or on the ground.

“Note to Self: should the need arise in the future, always double-check the NSA travel plans.” I had the biggest interview of my life the next morning, it was late, and I might be stuck in New York City.

So I smiled as wide as I could and dropped my voice an octave or two and said “I just missed my connection. I need to get anywhere near Washington D.C. by tonight. I’ll take care of the rest.” I gave her a knowing nod on the last part, because as far as I was concerned parachuting was an option. The airline employee could also see that I had wheels on the bottom of my overnight bag and I wasn’t afraid to use them. So she handed me a ticket and said “Get on that plane.”

I had no idea where I was going but I was flying somewhere. And I almost missed that flight because they were in the process of closing the gates. I was the last person to get on the plane. Once seated, I had to turn to the passenger next to me – a tourist from Finland – and ask “Say”¦where is this plane going to land?”

The answer: Reagan National.

So I took a 35-mile cab ride from Reagan to the hotel near BWI for $60 after shopping around for the best price (these were my tax dollars at work and I had every intention of expensing this unexpected leg of the trip).

Whew. But I got there.

Kiitos to my Finnish co-passenger. But rest assured, we Americans aren’t normally this confused when we travel.

Agents In Training?

Even before I flew out for my operational interview, secrecy was a part of the program ”“ a hallmark of any intelligence agency, and particularly the NSA. When I called the travel agency to schedule my flight, I was told that when I called I should not identify myself as a NSA applicant on the phone, but by a different acronym. Let’s say “XYZ applicant“ for the sake of discussion. And when I flew out for my interview, all I had was a department code number. I had absolutely no idea what the department did. And in the morning of the interview, all the applicants (for all types of positions) were handed temporary badges and told very solemnly to shield this badge from prying eyes, and not advertise that we were interviewing with the NSA.

“Now this is what interviewing with an intelligence agency is supposed to be like!” I thought.

But large enterprises are comprised of individuals, and as individuals can be as human as the next, a few parts of the interview process were unintentionally more Get Smart than Mission: Impossible. For example, after calling up and booking my hotel and flight giving the alias organization name over the phone, my confirmation email stated my room-type as “NSA” in clear-text. A minor oops.

At the hotel, the hostess greeted every person coming to breakfast with the question “Are you an XYZ applicant?” because she needed to know if she should charge for fruit & cereal (which were free for the applicants). By itself, it doesn’t seem that funny unless one were to sit back in the corner of the dining room watching 20 or so applicants nervously entering for breakfast responding with a tentative “yes” as if the hostess was going to rip off her disguise and reveal herself to be in the employ of the NSA. The secret tunnel to Fort Meade is located behind the wafflemaker, single-file please.

Periodically, businessmen would enter, shake their heads at the “applicant” question, and state that they just wanted coffee.

Concurrent with my hotel and plane scheduling, when I received a confirming email of my interview schedule the email stated 4 times I should be at FANX at 7:30am. Thus, I planned my arrival at the requested time. However, the email also stated that my interview started at 12:30pm (which I did think was odd). Still, I arrived at 7:30am because, on a percentage basis, the confirming email stated “7:30am” 4 times more often than my actual interview time of “12:30pm”. When I arrived, after passing through the metal-detector, and swiping my badge and punching my security code as I went through the turnstile, I was told that I was indeed really early but I could have a cup of tea if I liked. The tea-maker in the waiting-area of FANX was a machine where the user placed plastic cartridges in a black chamber that swung out when a button was pressed. At least I think it was automated, and it definitely looked like it was from the future. While my tea brewed, I gazed around the room. Through the 1-way glass on the other side of the room I could see the parking lot (and the razor wire beyond), and the white wall to the right of the window held 3′ x 4′ collages of the Washington, DC. area. The royal blue and white wall I was standing in front of was decorated with signs of classic NSA professions (e.g., “language”, “signals intelligence”, “mathematics”) set on black backgrounds. The profession-text was white and capitalized, but compensated stylistically, as I recall, by being set on a 15-degree angle. The mathematics sign had equations and symbols for effect ”“ although no doubt declassified. Behind me, next to the coat rack, was a recruitment poster that said “For your eyes only”¦” When my tea was finished I realized it was indeed from the future: a future where over-steeped, tepid, tea was freely available from quasi-futuristic machines. I was thirsty, so I quaffed it. I hoped that my future would be more appealing.

On my return trip on the hotel shuttle I managed to hide my temporary badge from a couple of tired airline pilots.

A Leap of Faith

When I did have my operational interview, I was impressed. Four people interviewed me at the same time, which I very much preferred, as the interviewers could play off each other’s questions and not repeat each other. Likewise, I got to speak to all of them at the same time. Nothing is worse than having 4 back-to-back 1-hour interviews with each interviewer asking the same questions as the previous, and in fact, this was quite the opposite. They asked thoughtful, probing questions, and they were, above all, nice people.

At the end of the day, they were prepared to make a CJO. In one day? Is this my government? I couldn’t believe it.

In addition, the interview went well enough that the division manager said he was going to hold the position for me and not interview anybody else for the billet, clearance pending, of course. It’s been said that working at the NSA is a leap of faith. So I leaped. I returned my carefully completed forms detailing the last 10 years of my existence on this planet, along with a notarized fingerprint card.

One point that was oddly reassuring was submitting the expense check for my interview. The expense forms were photocopies of photocopies of photocopies of forms originally produced in the late 70’s or early 80’s, stapled in a wad of paperwork to my travel orders, and paper-clipped (and probably additionally stapled) to a return envelope. The address on the envelope was something big and vacuous like “PO Box 123456789, Savage Road, Fort Meade.” And Savage road? Was that really necessary? I remember chuckling “It’ll be 6 months before I see this money” when I mailed it. At the same time, I also turned in an expense report for my contracting gig. That expense form was a fancy Excel spreadsheet with auto-calc-this and auto-sum-that. Which expense check got paid first? Take a guess. The NSA paid first. The NSA expense process was creaky, but mostly functional.

Me (An Interlude)

The first car I bought was a Plymouth Acclaim. An authentic Iacoccan K-car. Functional but affordable. The airconditioner broke twice, and it leaked rainwater on the passenger side. Sure, my friends made fun of it, but I loved it. It was my car. American, and proud of it! It was the ultimate in automotive cognitive dissonance. Perhaps I was pre-destined for government work and didn’t realize it at the time.

I’d consider myself a hard working individual, and a reasonably level-headed Midwestern guy. Goal setting, achieving, stuff like that. I earned my master’s part-time over 3 ½ years while working full-time. Professionally, I have a decade of experience that includes mission-critical enterprise systems development at a Fortune 500 company, as well as software development work in Silicon Valley. I absolutely make no claims about being the next Don Knuth (or even his next cousin, professionally speaking), but I have a respectable resume. I never smashed anyone’s mailbox when I was kid, nor did I kick anyone’s dog. Honesty es mi nombre, or at least the middle one. Have I been a smartass at least once in my life? Yes. But that’s not a crime, only a function of relatively infrequent poor judgement, and it’s addressed with experience and maturity.

Lest the reader think a too-rosy and goodie-goodie picture is being painted, honesty combined with a forward style of communication cuts both ways. As electricity can be used to power kitchen appliances for dinner, it can also shock the bejeezus out of people. These attributes, combined with the willingness to state things that I feel need to be said, means that a few extra amps are occasionally delivered with the metaphorical turkey tetrazini. I do strive to be constructive, though, and I’ve found that honest direct communication works both professionally and personally much better than hidden agendas and BS, and direct-ness is preferred by most.

I’ve never been convicted – let alone arrested – of any misdemeanor or felony, I don’t do drugs, and I don’t even have any points on my driver’s license (knock on wood). Stable marriage, couple of kids. Get along with the neighbors, etc.

I thought “Hey, I’m a decent person. Clearance should be pretty straightforward. What could go wrong?”

P.J. O’Rourke posed the following question in his book Parliament of Whores: “Our Government: What the f#ck do they do all day, and why does it cost so [email protected] much money?”

The security clearance process is a partial answer to that question, and in-turn the government ponders a similar question about you.

(Note: P.J. O’Rourke used real curses. The reader is free to read them as proxies or the actual profanity depending on the reader’s exposure to truck stops, professional football games, or Quentin Tarantino films. Or the book).

Psychological Exam

What Does My Mother Have To Do With National Security?

When I flew in for my operational interview I had lunch with another applicant in an NSA cafeteria. The other applicant was an engineering student from a state university in the Midwest and was interviewing for an internship.

He had already had his psychological (psych) exam on a previous visit and was back for more processing. So I asked him what the psych-exam was like in-between bites of my declassified pizza while I alternated glances across to my lunch-partner, down to my off-white cafeteria tray emblazoned with the National Security Agency emblem, and up at the signs hung from the ceiling that said “SHHH! No Work Talk!,” or some equivalent. His reaction was hard to misinterpret: a cocked head, a look off into the distance, and an answer that trailed off at the end. “Kinda strange”¦” he said. “They asked about how I got along with my mother”¦ and stuff like that.” It was a description of a process that, while not necessarily painful, was a tad uncomfortable and bewildering. It was also described as a black-hole evaluation process, where the applicant reveals all sorts of information but receives very little feedback (Evaluation Hawking Radiation?), save for “continue” or “you’re done.”

I think the single-most unnerving part is that the applicant has little idea how they are being evaluated. In a language exam, it’s vocabulary, verb conjugation, and competence in written and verbal communication, etc. In computer science, its knowledge of core data structures, algorithms, and implementations. Psychology? Are they evaluating my sanity? What’s going on here?

To the psychologically unwashed (me at the time), crazy people were”¦ Crazy. Crazy people jump on tables and cluck like chickens. Those people are crazy. Crazy people believe that they are receiving Special Orders from Outer Space. Crazy people wear tin-foil, a lot of it, and badly. People who are habitually violent are crazy. I wasn’t crazy. No way. That’s about all I knew of psychology. And how do they test craziness? Crazometers?

But the psychological examination process does have a structured collection process. Here’s what happens:

First, a questionnaire approximately 10 pages in length is distributed to each applicant to fill out while waiting in the lobby. The applicants are given about 30 minutes to fill them out by hand.

Next, applicants will take a computerized psychological exam of 500+ true/false questions. I recall mine having about 567 questions. I am not certain whether the test is fixed in length, of if more questions get added based on certain conditions in test-answers, so consider “567” one of many possible data-points. However, “about 500” seems to be a consistent response from others I’ve spoken with.

While the applicants are in the testing facility taking the test (which can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours), the psychologists are reviewing the handwritten answers and highlighting anything that looks “interesting.”

Finally, there is a 1:1 interview with a psychologist to review the test results and the handwritten portion.

The Handwritten Questionnaire

The handwritten questionnaire asks for a lot of information already supplied on the security forms, such as:

Name, age, education, marital status, children (if any), etc.

The more interesting questions were (as best I can recall):

  • Describe the relationship to your mother
  • Describe the relationship to your father
  • Describe your parent’s relationship to each other intelligence_interview 8
  • Have you ever had psychological counseling? (when/how long, etc.)
  • Have any relatives ever had psychological counseling?
  • Have you ever attempted suicide?
  • Have you ever had a substance abuse problem?
  • Do you drink? If so, how many drinks per week? per day?
  • When was the first time you drank alcohol?
  • Have you ever had interpersonal issues at work? (e.g., work relationships)
  • Have you ever had disciplinary issues at school/military?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor/felony?
  • Have you ever been questioned by the police/authorities? (N.B., this would appear to be the catch-all, in case someone wasn’t convicted)
  • Do you have any relatives that were in trouble with police/authorities?
  • Have you ever taken something that was not yours? (This may have been worded as something slightly different. but this was the intent)
  • Have you ever committed computer abuse? (N.B.: whether deliberate or not, I recall the term ”˜abuse’ being left unspecified, ostensibly leaving the door open for all sorts of self-reporting ranging from checking personal email at work, to having used Napster/Morpheus etc., to writing viruses, hacking websites and stealing credit cards numbers.)
  • Have you ever been the victim of a violent crime?
  • Have you ever clucked like a chicken? If so, did you scratch backward or frontward?
  • Describe your relationships to chickens. The last page had about 20 sentences for the applicant to complete. Some that I remember were”¦
  • Men should ____
  • Women should ____
  • I get angry when/because ____
  • Chickens should ___

Given the theme, I would hazard a guess that the other sentences were ones that touched on potentially strong emotional reactions like “I most regret,” “If I only could”, “I won’t” and things like that.

The Computerized Test

As close as I can remember, these were some of the actual questions on the test. (true/false)

  • I would like the job of a forest ranger
  • I hear voices in my head
  • I read the crime reports in the newspaper
  • I have a mortal fear of earthquakes
  • I have neck/hand pain
  • I usually know what’s going on (with my circle of friends)
  • People are out to get me
  • I would like the job of a librarian/florist (I can’t remember which one it was, and it might have been both)
  • I often feel that I can’t get out of bed
  • If someone has their possessions stolen from their unlocked car they had it coming.
  • I like/enjoy children
  • “Animal-relationship”-type questions (e.g., “I enjoy animals”, “I don’t enjoy animals”, “I like hurting animals”, “It bothers me when I hear about animals getting hurt” etc.)
  • I am totally insane and like to stand on tables and cluck like a chicken

A few previous questions might not have actually been on the exam or the handwritten portion, but you get the point. The questions went on and on.

The Interview

The psychological interview was conducted in the psychologist’s office. It lasted about 15 or 20 minutes and felt somewhat stiff. Think of a really serious doctor visit but there’s no couch like the stereotypical psychiatrist on TV and the lights are not dimmed and absent is a soothing Enya CD filling the room from a Bose-wave stereo placed discreetly behind a large potted plant. The psychologist and I sat looking at each other from across the his wooden desk, while he lobbed personal questions across in monotone and I volleyed back honest-and-succinct personal answers.

The interview began with the psychologist asking me to confirm the demographic information on the handwritten psychological forms (e.g., name, education, age, etc.).

Regarding “stiff”:

Psychologist: “What is your name?”

(Psychologist glances up from other side of a big desk while holding notepad and applicant’s handwritten forms)

Applicant: “John Doe.”

(Psychologist looks down and scribbles answers on notepad)

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. The entire interview was pretty much like this.

The psychologist then presented a printout of the results of the 500+ test questions. A graph was briefly placed in front of me and stated “Based on the test results, you’re low to medium risk.” And then he circled some lines on the graph and made a few brief summary statements on my personality and emotional whatever. He may have also told me that I was a Cocker Spaniel based on the test results, but most of my brain was trying to process what exactly the X and Y axis in the graph had to do with the price of the paper clip and my choice in dog food. Woof.

I left thinking “Well, I’m not really sure how that went. Kinda strange”¦”

Analysis (or “What, Me Worried?”)

What appears to be never explained to the candidate is the method of evaluation. And it remained a mystery to me for some time. Until I saw The Picture.

Here’s how it happened”¦ One of the favorite outings I have with my kids is to go to our favorite pizza joint and then visit the university medical bookstore a block down the street. The bookstore contains all sorts of medical equipment, clothing, books, models, and other goodies. A pipe dream of mine is to put on an in-store puppet show with the Skeleton, the Giant Eyeball, and the Brain. What fun that would be! But shopping decorum ”“ and the hefty model pricetags ”“ has so far prevented such theatre from taking place, so we have to admire-without-touching, and then move onto the tuning forks and rubber knee-whappers (aka Neural Reflex Hammers) which were fair game for hands-on enjoyment.

But one day I browsed through the sizable stack of Psychology texts. And then I saw it:

N E O A C N1 N2 n.. E1 E2 e.. O1 O2 o.. A1 A2 a.. C1 C2 c..

Very High High x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x Average Low Very Low

It looked a lot like the type of picture I saw in the office. But what does it mean?

It was a graphical representation of something called the Five Factor Model of Personality. Whoa!! I stood there dumbfounded, as if I had suddenly acquired the power to converse with whales like Aquaman or read Sanskrit like… well, someone that reads Sanskrit. It was an “Ah-Ha!” moment, but not in the style of the similarly-named 80’s Euro-band with Fabulous Hair, this was actual understanding.


Each of the computerized test questions maps to one of the “Five Factors”: Neuroticism (N), Extraversion (E), Openness to Experience (O), Agreeableness (A), and Conscientiousness (C). Those are the bold N, E, O, A, C letters in the upper left-hand corner, and below each of these letters is the overall quasi-numerical ranking for that Factor. The rest of the letters across the top are the facets for each factor, called respectively N1, N2, E1, E2, etc. Below each facet is a data-point as well. It’s possible a percentage of the test questions are “chaff” and are not scored, however, the principle still remains the same. Specifically, the each test question maps to a facet within a Factor, and the overall Factor rating is based ”“ I assume ”“ on the average of the Factor’s facets.

Factor Facets “Too High” Issues “Too Low” Issues
Level of emotional adjustment and instability
Anxiety (N1)
Angry Hostility (N2)
Depression (N3)
Self-consciousness (N4)
Impulsiveness (N5)
Vulnerability (N6)
Chronic negative affect, irritability, anger, dejection, difficulty inhibiting impulses, unrealistic expectations, difficulty dealing with stress Lacks appropriate concern for potential problems in health or social adjustment, emotional blandness
Quantity and intensity of preferred interpersonal interactions
Warmth (E1)
Gregariousness (E2)
Assertiveness (E3)
Activity (E4)
Excitement Seeking (E5)
Positive Emotions (E6)
Talks excessively, inappropriate self-disclosure, inability to spend time alone, attention seeking, overly dramatic Social isolation, lacks joy and zest for life, shy, reluctant to assert
Level of active seeking and appreciation of experiences for their own sake.
Fantasy (O1)
Aesthetics (O2)
Feelings (O3)
Actions (O4)
Ideas (O5)
Values (O6)
Preoccupied with fantasy and daydreaming, lacks practicality, eccentric thinking, social rebelliousness that can interfere with vocation Difficulty adapting to social or personal change, shows a low tolerance or understanding for different points of view, insensitive to art and beauty, excessively conforms to authority
The kind of interactions that a person prefers along a continuum of compassion to antagonism.
Trust (A1)
Straightforwardness (A2)
Altruism (A3)
Compliance (A4)
Modesty (A5)
Tender-Mindedness (A6)
Gullible, indiscriminant trust of others, excessive candor and generosity to the detriment of self-interest, easily taken advantage of. Cynical and paranoid thinking, inability to trust friends, is exploitative and manipulative, rude and inconsiderate manner alienates friends, inflated and grandiose sense of self, arrogant
Degree of organization, persistence, and motivation in goal-oriented behavior
Competence (C1)
Order (C2)
Dutifulness (C3)
Achievement Striving (C4)
Self-Discipline (C5)
Deliberation (C6)
Overachieves, workaholic to the exclusion of family, social & personal interests, compulsive, rigid, over-scrupulousness Underachieves, does not fulfil intellectual or artistic potential, poor academic record, disregards rules and responsibilities, lacking in self-discipline

The handwritten portion bolsters or augments the model constructed from the computerized test. With respect to this portion some relevant hypotheses are:

  • Applicants that have parents where the parent-child relationship was coercive and manipulative may have a tendency to be coercive and manipulative in relationships themselves.
  • Applicants whose parent’s relationship (i.e., the parents to each other) is cool and distant may be themselves withdrawn and may have trouble forming emotional attachments.
  • Those that start drinking early (and often) are risk-takers and may have a poor self image
  • Those that are in a lot of fights or had trouble with the law may be low in A, or have a lot of unresolved anger (high N).
  • Those that have persistent workplace issues may be too high in C or too low in A.

The parent-child relationship is complex and has filled many a psychology book. I don’t pretend to do it justice with just a few bullet points, but if the reader find’s themselves in such an interview consider all replies in the context of the model, likewise one’s background.

Balance is probably an important point to bring up. Just because somebody is introverted (Low E), or conscientious (High C) doesn’t mean they have terminal issues. Someone slightly anxious doesn’t necessarily need a lifetime supply of extra-strength Prozac. But excessive anything seems to be the trigger, and reasonable one, for discussion ”“ even NSA aside.

In terms of interpretation, no single question should mark an applicant as one thing or another. An example from my own experience was the question about “liking children.” As a parent, I checked “true” without thinking about it. But in the lobby after the test but before the interviews, I heard a few college-aged male applicants discussing whether if checking “true” would mark them in a category for a potential pedophile! The person who said that might have been over-thinking a bit, but what is important from what I’ve read is the pattern of answers, not necessarily any specific answer.

Should the reader ever find themselves in a similar interview, they would do well to remember the model in which they were being evaluated, which is not necessarily based on professional experience (i.e., work) but how one reacts to the experience. Be very careful about what you say, but relax! (if that makes any sense) Crazy people are still Crazy, but there are far more shades to crazy than I realized. And according to the texts, it would seem that apparently everybody is crazy”¦ it just depends on what type of crazy you’re looking for.

On that note, Rosenhan’s 1973 study On Being Sane In Insane Places is worth a mention. 8 pseudo-patients checked themselves into 12 hospitals complaining of faux psychiatric problems, and only once was admission refused. Once admitted, they acted “normally” with the hopes of quickly being released. The study found that while several patients and visitors got wise to the fact they were faking, no pseudo-patient was ever diagnosed as being “sane” by the staff, and quite a few normal behaviors were cited as being deviant. While it shouldn’t be taken as a general condemnation of psychiatry, it is a call for caution on looking for Crazy and expecting it everywhere.

Anyone can become institutionalized. In this case it was the staff.

Check out the appendix for even more detail on testing Crazy.

Polygraph – The Interview

The polygraph examination was conducted in a small locked room. At the NSA, it is done in the context of a hallway of locked rooms, each with a little sign that says “interview in process” that can be flipped out near the top of the door. It would appear to be the intelligence version of a hotel’s “do not disturb.” A polygraph hotel, in this case.

I sat across from the examiner (also called a polygrapher) in a sturdy black textured chair (at least mine was like this ”“ who knows how often they change the furniture). The arms of the chair were extra-wide and flat to accommodate the arms being stretched out and the palms being placed flat. The chair felt heavy, had no wheels and did not swivel. Like the psychological interview, the examiner is also sitting behind a desk, except in this case it was a regular cheap-o office desk. Also, unlike the psych-interview it wasn’t the examiner’s full-time office.

The examiner first asked “Do you know how a polygraph works?” He then explained that it measured certain physiological metrics such as blood pressure, breathing, and skin response. He then explained that it measures the body’s “fight or flight” response when the body responds to a lie. From a process perspective, he explained that he will not be the one making the final determination but rather “quality control” will review all of the polygraphs and make a determination.

Before being hooked up to the machine, the he reviewed my security forms, question by question, with me. “Is your name John Doe?” “Is this your current address?” If it’s about being questioned by the police, he asks for specific incidents. Drug use? How many times, smoked-but-not-inhaled, and when, etc. And he seemed to particularly be interested in drug questions. Buy it? Sell it? Transport it? Collate it? Stare at it? Stack it? Pack it? Train-track it?

The stated purpose of this preparatory interview is two-fold:

  • reduce question ambiguity for the applicant on the polygraph test
  • collect additional information on the applicant

Then the polygraph test starts.

My chair is rotated 90 degrees to the right to face the door. All I remember is that it was a really, really plain door.

I’m not in the habit of staring at doors for long periods of time, but if I would begin such a habit this portal would not be at the top of the list. The examiner was now on my left, approximately at 8:00 (i.e., if 12:00 is directly ahead). Sensors are placed on my right hand (pointer and middle-finger), and two tubes are placed across my torso ”“ one across the chest and another on the diaphragm. A blood-pressure cuff is attached to my left arm.

The polygraph test is divided into two sections: counter-intelligence and lifestyle. Each section was repeated four times. Counter-intelligence questions included whether I had ever had a security clearance before, ever passed confidential information to another party, ever worked for a foreign intelligence agency, etc. Lifestyle basically includes the information from the applicant’s security forms (e.g., “were you born in the state of XXX?”, “is your name John Doe?”)

My instructions were to keep my feet flat on the floor, and basically don’t move because that would screw up the test.

During the first round of my counter-intelligence questioning (which was the first of the two sections) my anxiety was through the roof. I had read about the NSA’s historically invasive polygraph questioning in Bamford’s Body of Secrets, and I was a bit on-edge. It must be said, though, that I found the pre-test interview much more straightforward than I had expected. It was pretty much the information on the security forms and without any EPQs (embarrassing personal questions).

After getting hooked up, examiner’s instruction that I kept repeating in my head was “don’t move, because that could screw up the test.” I dutifully kept still. I must have had a “dentist’s chair response” because after the first round of questioning the examiner said “look, something is really wrong here. You didn’t breathe for about 20 seconds.” To which I responded, quite truthfully, “but you told me to stay still!”

So then I concentrated on regular breathing and also not moving.

I didn’t have any other advice from the examiner other than to be told that I was the most nervous person he had ever seen in the chair. And please try to relax. While I appreciated his candor, that didn’t calm me down but I took his comment at face value.

At the end of the examination, he left the room for several minutes to talk to someone (either his supervisor or someone in “quality control” ”“ the group that will make the actual determination on the applicant’s chart). While he said I didn’t have any “specific responses” on any questions indicating “deception,” I was clearly more nervous than what he wanted to see, and asked me if there was anything else I would like to “get off my chest or if anything else was eating my confidence.” I said “other than the fact that I’m having a polygraph, no.” The whole thing (pre-interview, plus hook-up) took somewhere between 2 to 2.5 hours.

Analysis (or, “Lying? Nervous? Indigestion?”)

What I learned after I began reading about the polygraph was that both of my actions ”“ to be very still and not breathe (to satisfy the requirement of not moving), and breathing extremely slowly (to breathe but in a relaxed way and still not move) ”“ are both considered polygraph countermeasures. Doh! The average individual breathes 13 to 18 times per minute, and breathing either over or under those limits can be viewed in a negative light by the examiner.

I was so clueless about how the polygraph worked (and I mean really worked) and I was also largely oblivious as to how my actions to address my anxiety ”“ and my earnest attempt to cooperate – were being interpreted by the examiner. And in the back of my mind I think that I actually believed that machine was imbued with Special Powers. Why, I don’t know. Chalk it up to nerves.

There is an urban legend about cops putting a colander on a suspect’s head and attaching a wire to a copy machine where it would magically print out “He’s Lying” whenever they thought they heard something fishy. I’m not that stupid, but I would estimate that it is a common belief that if people actively learn about the polygraph, they must be “cheating,” or have a desire to do same. After all, it’s a Lie Detector, isn’t it?

Information From The Field

In the spirit of the scientific method, after my exam I searched for information that explained how polygraphs work, and also for information both “pro” and “against” their effectiveness and usage. I’m sure that the majority of polygraph examiners are hard-working, tax-paying, jury-duty-serving, home-and-yard-maintaining citizens, and the business of verifying an applicant’s background is very serious indeed. But there is a great deal written about the polygraph and very little of it supports its usage from a scientific standpoint. Its effectiveness in an exam is significantly (and so far, intractably) linked to the examiner’s performance, many an applicant’s belief in the infallibility of the machine, and the fact that the machine scares the crap out of people and gets them to talk.

But its record in counter-intelligence is unfortunately disappointing. A statistic frequently cited is that no spy has ever been caught by a polygraph examination.

An issue even larger than not necessarily being a deterrent to espionage is the result of “false positives” cast upon innocent examinees. In addition, there exists the potential (I should stress potential) for abuse or manipulation by the examiner, and the result-interpretation is additionally subjective. One TES (Test for Espionage and Sabotage) laboratory experiment done at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute showed an average false-positive rate of approximately 9.4%. It should be noted that was a laboratory experiment, and the persons in the study had nothing to lose (e.g., their jobs). It is a reasonable expectation that the false-positives would be higher in the field due to increased anxiety of the participants. The National Academy of Sciences 2002 report on the polygraph states that confidence in a 90% accuracy rate is “not warranted” in practical applications, and “many committee members would place this upper bound considerably lower.”

A 1997 statistic of FBI pre-employment applicants showed a 20% failure rate (i.e., the applicants were “determined to be withholding pertinent information”). A statistic from 2002 showed a failure rate of 50%. And according to “The Lie Behind The Lie Detector” the consequences of failure are quite severe: the applicant is finished. A 50% failure rate? I found this distressing because the examinees are potential FBI employees who already received CJO’s, not random individuals from the street or from the FBI’s own Most Wanted List.

The examiner has a variety of techniques at their disposal to elicit confessions, the first of which will be convincing the examinee of the machine’s infallibility, and potentially bluffing, and/or “jacking-up” (stimulating and overstimulating) an applicant.

In defense of the examiner, it’s not like he did anything outrageous like threaten to bite the head off a parakeet if he thought I was lying, or when he was asking me the drug questions like putting a huge water bong in the middle of the table asking “I can’t remember how this thing works, can you help me?” with the intent of catching the onetoke- over-the-line applicant unawares. Although he did say that 80% to 90% of the applicants had experimental drug usage in their background. Hmmm”¦. Maybe that bong stunt isn’t so outrageous. But anyway, there are less outrageous things that can still affect an exam. One person informed me that on their last NSA polygraph that the examiner started off the interview by saying: “If you’re telling the truth I’m your best friend. If you’re lying I’m your worst enemy.” This was, at best, a gratuitous use of the examiner’s position. And in the let’s-see-what-kindof- blip-we-can-put-on-a-chart category, another told me that it was not uncommon for the examiner to ask in a loud voice “AND NOW, THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION ON THE EXAM”¦” What was important, I’m told, was not the actual answer but how one reacted.

Intelligence agencies certainly have an affinity to the polygraph machine, though. “The Lie Behind The Lie Detector” cites that in 1993 the NSA wrote to the White House “over 95% of the information the NSA develops on individuals who do not meet federal security guidelines is derived via [voluntary admissions from] the polygraph process.” And the Joint Security Commission noted in a 1994 report content that many polygraph proponents are“content that as long as the polygraph elicits admissions to screen out unsuitable applicants and actual security risks, the questions about the polygraph’s validity remain academic.”

Additionally, as has been cited by a former CIA polygrapher (and it would appear to be reasonable to make as a base-assumption for all polygraphers) “our performance is evaluated on the number of admissions we obtain and the amount of information developed from those we test.” Quite literally, it is an examiner’s job to get the interviewee to talk.

I would highly recommend the reader check out at least the executive summary of the 2002 National Academy of Science’s 420-page report on the polygraph, which casts the machine’s usage for pre-employment screening in an unfavorable light based on its scientific underpinnings. Likewise the paper “The Lie Behind The Lie Detector” available from antipolygraph.org. It’s all interesting, but especially the part on Countermeasures (e.g., how “guilty” and “truthful” people are expected to act, mind games the examiner may play, breathing and cardio/electrical countermeasures, etc.) Lastly, the DoD’s Polygraph Institute’s manual on interrogation is worth a scan.

Philosophically, I can’t say that I support the use of countermeasures because using deception in a process based upon inconclusive science won’t really keep America safer or a make it a better place to live. But should the reader ever find themselves in a position to be polygraphed, I do think that it would be responsible to understand the common interrogation techniques and also response techniques that might be construed as potentially being deceptive.

Background Investigation

The background investigation is where investigators will pore over the applicant’s security forms and personally verify the authenticity of the information provided. This investigation started after the polygraph and psychological examination.

Friends, former managers, neighbors”¦ everything is fair game. As it probably should be for an investigation at this level.

I had alerted nearly everybody on my forms that an investigator might be coming around so that nobody would think I did anything wrong or was in trouble. I subsequently got progress reports from said individuals when investigators stopped by.

Our neighbors were interviewed for approximately 10 minutes apiece (so they tell me, it’s not like I was hiding in the bushes eavesdropping.)

The most common questions were”¦

  • How long have you known him? Describe the relationship. How often do you see him?
  • Is he happily married? Any issues that you know of?
  • Does he gamble? Do drugs? Have a drinking problem? Any strange behavior lately?
  • Would you consider him trustworthy?
  • Does he know any foreign nationals? Who? How often does he see them?
  • Can you provide a name (or two) of someone that might also think this way? Of the 5 neighboring houses in our cul-de-sac, the local investigator stopped by 4 of them for a chat.

Interviews with work-relations (e.g., former managers) were a bit longer. I’m told that the interviews were anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.

The background investigation collection-phase is capped with a Security Interview with the applicant. I was working at home one day and someone identifying themselves as a DoD investigator called and said “mind if I come over in an hour?” I said “sure.”

The investigator invited me into her tan Cadillac, her “office” as she called it. She sat in the driver’s seat, and I sat in the passenger’s seat. I was expecting a K-car (like the K-car I used to have), but the security interview subsequently commenced in a General Motor’s luxury automobile at the end of my driveway.

We exchanged morning pleasantries, and I asked “how do you know it’s really me?” as I tried to display as many non-verbal clues that I was really joking and not being deceptive. The investigator answered “ We know. I’ve been here before. Now go get me two forms of ID.” So I got out of the car and ran into the house and came back with my driver’s license and passport.

The security interview is basically like a polygraph examination without a polygraph, and it must have taken at least 2 hours. The investigator reviews all the information I provided in the forms, plus confirms any clarifications I stated in the polygraph examination, and then ostensibly anything else that turns up, either in the investigation or in Local or National Agency Check with authorities (e.g., local police or FBI). The investigator also showed me a copy of my credit report and asked me to individually identify each card & account on the report. It was actually quite impressive, as I had never seen a copy of my own credit report. It even had the Banana Republic card I used exactly one time to get a 15% in-store discount on a shirt 3 years earlier (it’s still in style, honest!)

The interview-in-a-sedan was physically awkward. The natural inclination of a body when sitting in the front-seat of an automobile is to sit back and look through the windshield. However, if I kept my eyes to the front the investigator would be 90 degrees to my left ear and that would probably look really deceptive. But if I kept my shoulders to the seat and only turned my head to the left I would probably look like a freak, if not an uncomfortable freak. So I recall opting for rotating my body about 45 degrees counter-clockwise to the left, with my left elbow resting on the top of my seat, but not extended that my arm reached over to her seat, lest I look too friendly.

The investigator had a stack of papers on her lap and in her hands. She wrote on a pad of paper braced firmly against the steering wheel, and I wondered if one of my responses was going to cause her to press a little too hard and lay on the horn (like an automotive polygraph, where the stress levels are measured in decibels). The tempo of the interview was in some ways like the psychological exam in that she was unable to maintain eye contact for very long, but different in that I was only about 18 inches from the questioner when answering.

(investigator’s head and eyes are forward reading the question) “is this your current residence?”

(investigator’s head then turns 90 degrees to the right to see my response) The questions were mostly the same as the polygraph examination, but with a few new ones:

“Have I ever denied anyone their civil rights?” No. But the mind races: if I did, which ones? The 6th Amendment ”“ The right to fair and speedy public trial? The 9th – Excessive bail? The 21st ”“ The repeal of prohibition, by grabbing the last beer out the fridge at a party? Pursuit of happiness? But seriously, what they appeared to be most interested in this constitutionally sweeping question is bombing/over-the-line protesting at abortion clinics, which I concur is no laughing matter.

“Have I ever engaged in wife-swapping?” No.

When she asked this question I thought “I’m sitting in a Cadillac at the end of my driveway talking to a DoD investigator about whether I’m a swinger. It simply cannot get any weirder than this.”

But in defense of the of the investigator’s questioning, Robert Hanssen, the FBI spy who sold secrets to the Russians, was into some over-the-top sexual escapades. It’s probably a fair question given current events.

The only question that was mildly contentious was when she asked about foreign topics. Appropriate foreign contacts are an obvious area of concern for an intelligence agency, and the concern is warranted. Applicants must list all close-and-continuous foreign contacts and any foreign travel in the last 10 years in their security forms.

However, instead of asking what I would consider a hard-to-misinterpret question in the polygraph examination that went something like “have you ever supported an organization, financially or otherwise, that supports the armed overthrow of the United States Government?”, she asked:

“Do you have any foreign interests?”

I responded “What exactly is a foreign interest? A financial interest, like owning an international mutual fund?

Having a desire to travel?” Which I thought was a reasonable clarifying question. The intent of my response was “what specifically would you like to talk about?” She responded with:

“You’re getting defensive”¦”

That didn’t go well. So I said “yes” to foreign interests and that I owned an international mutual fund and I had an occasional desire to travel. And she didn’t ask a follow-up question. I think that was a blunt approach to a complex subject, because as I lived in a highly internationalized area of the country unless the applicant was a xenophobe there would inevitably be some “foreign interests.” What would have been more constructive, I thought, was to cite a few types up front, and of course add a “and anything else significant” or some other catch-all.

Below is a chart with foreign interests and a “continuum of relevance” of my own understanding. This is how I was trying to frame my answer:

Sample Foreign Interest Types Probably Benign Gray Area Probably Suspicious
Contacts Co-workers
Local Judo instructor
”¦ Active members of foreign intelligence or military friends who are frequent travelers to nations known to harbor terrorists
Equipment Toyota Camrys ”¦ Chinese Anti-Aircraft Missiles
Media Telly-Tubbies (they are English) The Purple Telly-Tubbie Terrorist Training and Recruitment Films
Financial International Mutual Funds
ADRs (American Depository Receipts)
”¦ Poppy fields In Thailand
Cocaine processing plant in Columbia
Travel Desire to see the Canadian side of Niagara Falls ”¦ Taliban-era visits to Afghanistan

I don’t mind any of this being up for discussion, but I’m either in the “benign” column or in the left side of the gray -scale. And I’m wayyy left of the “suspicious” column. And while Tinky-Winky does carry a snappy red handbag, that’s his fashion choice and I respect it ”“ although his hat does make him look like a lavender Flavor-Flav of the rap-band Public Enemy. And the triangle on his head? Hey, not that there’s anything wrong with that”¦ Additionally, one the interview questions was “how do I handle stress?”

Then I remembered she was driving a Cadillac. And Safeway was around the corner. And I had a hammer in my garage. Anybody have a coconut? How do I handle stress, you asked? ”˜Scuze me while I jump on the hood.

Wham! Wham! Wham!

Just kidding. That last part didn’t actually happen. But it certainly was a unique experience.


Jump to the present”¦. after 3 ½ months of clearance processing I was rejected by security. Game over. Thanks for playing.

The most important lesson I learned was that for the purpose of life-planning the applicant should regard the CJO as a personal souvenir, nothing more. That harsh reality must be recognized, and it is not stated with any disrespect to the agency, and it also does not mean that the hiring manager wouldn’t want the applicant to start as soon as possible. But the hiring manager has no control over the clearance process. From the standpoint of checks-and-balances perhaps that’s for the best (or at least the original intent), but those are the facts.

There are scores of things that can go awry with the clearance process or at the very least slow it down to a crawl.

One must be prepared to wait the process because the resulting answer might not be in the applicant’s favor.

With respect to my own process, I was caught in a catch-22 of my own making. I was in a period of transition from my old job ”“ the startup I was working for was running out of money and 1/3 of the company was laid off, me included. I turned down a private-sector full-time offer with a salary significantly higher than the NSA offer for a short-term contracting gig so that I could wait out my clearance. I was going to Save The World, or at least the American part of it. Based on the information I had at the time, it was a path that certainly wasn’t risk-free, but it seemed an acceptable risk.

Unfortunately, as the process dragged on I got more and more nervous because I had passed up full-time work to”¦to wait. It didn’t help that I was doing a lot of the contracting out of my house ”“ by myself. And in retrospect, the pressure I placed on myself during the polygraph & psychological examinations was immense. I really wanted, and needed, them to go well. And I would hazard a guess that my nervousness wasn’t interpreted in ways conducive to my getting cleared. It was ”“ to invoke the overused phrase ”“ The Perfect Storm.

Then there was an additional delay after the psych/poly examinations. I could see the end of my consulting contract approaching, and then I started getting feedback that there was a much greater possibility of bad news than I had previously believed. I was seriously stressed. “I turned down solid work over 3 months ago for this?” was a thought that went through my head with uncomfortable frequency. In fairness to the NSA, it’s stated quite clearly in the CJO that there is attrition in the clearance process. My biggest strategic error was not in acknowledging risk areas, but in the ability to quantify them with appropriate probabilities. But it’s not like you can go to Vegas and get the odds. And the applicant can’t just call the security group and ask “so, what’s on your mind?”

Had I known in the beginning that rejections were up significantly from pre-9/11 clearances, or that the last 3-4-5 consecutive candidates to get CJOs had been rejected, there is no way in heck I would have taken the same path and waited. But that wasn’t information I had at the time. The division I interviewed with had not actually hired anybody in 5 years (no budget), so the while the insights I received about the process were accurate, they were accurate for 5 years back. And the division had no other current candidate experiences to share when I started the process. It isn’t their fault either, because that was the only information they had at the time, and the operational folks don’t talk to security folks, etc.

In absolute terms of All Things Stressful (not a National Public Radio program, but perhaps it should be), this experience is certainly less stressful than being shot at in anger in a war-zone, or having a rocket-propelled grenade targeted at your vehicle. And also less stressful than being an emergency room doctor or nurse, or losing a spouse or child to cancer. But given the circumstances surrounding my specific experience, I’d have to estimate it might be in the next tier or two not because of any single stressful incident but due to the aggregate stress over the period. Being in-limbo takes its toll, and “roller coaster” only begins to describe it.

For me, the NSA was the right idea but at the wrong time, and a lot like finding a coupon on the ground for “50% off on any house in America” only to realize that the coupon expired the day before.

I took a leap of faith”¦ and landed on my face. But I had to try it. My wife should get a Nobel Prize in the category of Eternal Patience and Understanding for letting me try this, living through it, and still wanting to stay married. Thanks.

Special thanks for the division manager for making this adventure possible on the other side of the fence. You tried, and I appreciate it. Thanks also for two people in NSA recruiting for not only tolerating my requests for information & status, but providing speedy responses. You know who you are.

However”¦. After the process was over, I was talking to one of my references – a veteran Silicon Valley software executive, and former manager of mine. My reference commented on what transpired “That’s disappointing. If they can’t hire you, I have no idea who they can hire. That process seems to be designed to retain only the most bland.”

The ”˜bland’ comment might be a bit severe, however, considering the 1999 External Management report it would appear that the agency would appear to need creative thinkers & problem-solvers more than ever.



Personality Disorders and the Five-Factor Model of Personality 2nd Edition, Costa & Widiger, American Psychological Association, 2002

Puzzle Palace, James Bamford, 1982

Body of Secrets, James Bamford, 2001

The Lie Behind The Lie Detector, PDF from antipolygraph.org

Contemporary Psychology, 1970

Fear and Loathing in America, Hunter S. Thompson, 2000

Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke, 1992


(Federation of American Scientists) www.fas.org

(NSA External Management Review) http://www.fas.org/irp/nsa/106handbk.pdf

(NSA New Enterprise Recommendations) http://www.fas.org/irp/nsa/new_enterprise.pdf

(International Personality Item Pool ”“ interesting 5-factor stuff) http://ipip.ori.org/ipip/

(National Academy of Sciences) www.nas.edu

(NAS Polygraph Report) http://www4.nas.edu/news.nsf/isbn/0309084369?OpenDocument www.antipolygraph.org

(“Lie Behind The Lie Detector”) http://antipolygraph.org/lie-behind-the-lie-detector.pdf

(National Academy Polygraph executive summary) http://antipolygraph.org/nas/exec.pdf

(DoD Interrogation Manual) http://antipolygraph.org/documents/dodpi-interrogation.pdf www.stoppolygraph.com

(Doug William’s Site) www.polygraph.com

(DoD Polygraph Site) http://www.dodpoly.army.mil/

(American Polygraph Association) www.polygraph.org

“The Truth About Polygraphs” http://www.boston.com/globe/magazine/2003/0803/coverstory_entire.htm

(Defense Security Service Adjudication Guidelines) http://www.dss.mil/nf/adr/adjguid/adjguidF.htm

(DoD Security Adjudication Appeal Cases) http://www.defenselink.mil/dodgc/doha/industrial/

(Freedom of Information Act) http://www.usdoj.gov/04foia/


A Little More On The Five Factor Model

I would guess (or rather, hope) that there is no single “right” profile to work at the NSA. But there are probably a
few profiles that might raise a red-flag (one can only guess if the ”paranoid “ profile is really a liability at the NSA.)
While I did not recall them initially, I recognize most of the questions on the right as being from the computerized
test. The associations of questions to ailments are cited from a psychological text. Do not consider this an
exhaustive list of potential profiles, as I just picked a few interesting ones.
Profile Simplified Factor
You might be if all of these apply”¦
(applicant's test answer in parentheses)
Pervasive pattern of
distrust and
suspiciousness of others
such that their motives are
interpreted as malevolent
Low A ”“ especially
High N ”“ especially
Angry Hostility.
(true) There are persons who are trying to steal my thoughts
and ideas
(true) I have often thought that strangers were looking at me
(true) I feel that I have often been punished without cause
Pervasive pattern of
instability and
relationships, self-image,
and marked impulsivity
Excessive N (all facets),
plus Low A ”“
specifically low
Compliance, Trust.
(false) I am not easily angered
(true) I get mad easily and then get over it soon
(true) I sometimes feel that I am about to go to pieces
Pervasive pattern of
detachment, plus
cognitive or perceptual
High N ”“ especially
Anxiety and Self-
(true) I have strange and peculiar thoughts
(true) I have had very strange and peculiar experiences
(true) I often feel as if things were not real
Pervasive pattern of
Low E ”“ especially
(false) I like parties and socials
(false) I enjoy social gatherings just to be with people
(false) I am a good mixer
Pattern of grandiosity,
need for admiration, lack
of empathy
Low A ”“ especially
Modesty, tough
Often high in
Achievement striving
(false) When in a group of people I have trouble thinking of
the right things to talk about
(true) If given the chance, I would make a good leader of
(true) I have no dread of going into a room by myself where
other people have already gathered and started talking
Preoccupation with
orderliness and
perfectionism at the
expense of flexibility
Primarily Excessive C
(all facets)
(true) I frequently find myself worrying about something
(true) I must admit that I have at times been worried beyond
reason over something that did not matter
(true) I have met problems so full of possibilities that I have
been unable to make up my mind about them
Excessive emotionality
and attention seeking
Extreme E. Often
combined with Extreme
O ”“ especially Fantasy
(false) I find it hard to make small talk when I meet new
(true) While in trains, buses, etc., I often talk to strangers
(true) I like to go to parties and other affairs where there is
intelligence_interview 21
lots of loud fun
Pervasive pattern of
disregard for the rights of
Low A ”“ especially
Altruism, Compliance,
Low C ”“ specifically
(true) In school, I was sometimes sent to the principal for
cutting up
(true) As a youngster, I was suspended one or more times for
cutting up
(true) If I could get into a movie without paying and be sure I
would not be seen, I would probably do it.
Pervasive pattern of
fearing that one will cluck
like a chicken
Outrageous C ”“
especially Crunchiness.
(true) I sometimes feel that I am about to go to pieces ”“
specifically, pieces shaped like Chicken Tenders dipped in
honey mustard sauce
(false) I have no dread of going into a room by myself where
other people have already gathered and started clucking
(true) As a youngster, I was suspended one or more times for
cutting up”¦ chickens
If the reader has any questions on the above material, consult a textbook, website, or professional. Don't take my
word for it”¦ look for yourself!
After a process like this, I think anybody would be justified on answering ”˜true' to”¦
I have had very strange and peculiar experiences
”¦ but the $64,000 question is whether you would be Schizotypal if you thought this was a “peculiar” experience, or
some other form of crazy if you didn't? (But it's just one question, isn't it?)
Excerpt From Academy Executive Summary Report On Polygraph
The following is what I consider a salient excerpt from the National Academy of Sciences report on the Polygraph.
Basic Science
Almost a century of research in scientific psychology and physiology provides little basis for the expectation that a
polygraph test could have extremely high accuracy. Although psychological states often associated with deception
(e.g., fear of being judged deceptive) do tend to affect the physiological responses that the polygraph measures,
these same states can arise in the absence of deception. Moreover, many other psychological and physiological
factors (e.g., anxiety about being tested) also affect those responses. Such phenomena make polygraph testing
intrinsically susceptible to producing erroneous results. This inherent ambiguity of the physiological measures used
in the polygraph suggests that further investments in improving polygraph technique and interpretation will bring
only modest improvements in accuracy.
Polygraph research has not developed and tested theories of the underlying factors that produce the observed
responses. Factors other than truthfulness that affect the physiological responses being measured can vary
substantially across settings in which polygraph tests are used. There is little knowledge about how much these
factors influence the outcomes of polygraph tests in field settings. For example, there is evidence suggesting that
truthful members of socially stigmatized groups and truthful examinees who are believed to be guilty or believed to
have a high likelihood of being guilty may show emotional and physiological responses in polygraph test situations
that mimic the responses that are expected of deceptive individuals. The lack of understanding of the processes that
underlie polygraph responses makes it very difficult to generalize from the results obtained in specific research
settings or with particular subject populations to other settings or populations, or from laboratory research studies to
real-world applications.
intelligence_interview 22
Evidence on Polygraph Accuracy
Scientific evidence relevant to the accuracy of polygraph tests for employee or preemployment screening is
extremely limited. Only one field study, which is flawed, provides evidence directly relevant to accuracy for
preemployment screening. A few additional laboratory studies are relevant to preemployment or employee
screening, but they are more analogous to specific-incident investigations than to screening because the deceptive
examinee is given a precise recent incident about which to lie.
Estimates of accuracy from these 57 studies are almost certainly higher than actual polygraph accuracy of specificincident
testing in the field. Laboratory studies tend to overestimate accuracy because laboratory conditions involve
much less variation in test implementation, in the characteristics of examinees, and in the nature and context of
investigations than arises in typical field applications. Observational studies of polygraph testing in the field are
plagued by selection and measurement biases, such as the inclusion of tests carried out by examiners with
knowledge of the evidence and of cases whose outcomes are affected by the examination. In addition, they
frequently lack a clear and independent determination of truth. Due to these inherent biases, observational field
studies are also highly likely to overestimate real-world polygraph accuracy.
CONCLUSION: Notwithstanding the limitations of the quality of the empirical research and the limited ability to
generalize to real-world settings, we conclude that in populations of examinees such as those represented in the
polygraph research literature, untrained in countermeasures, specific-incident polygraph tests can discriminate lying
from truth telling at rates well above chance, though well below perfection. Because the studies of acceptable quality
all focus on specific incidents, generalization from them to uses for screening is not justified. Because actual
screening applications involve considerably more ambiguity for the examinee and in determining truth than arises in
specific-incident studies, polygraph accuracy for screening purposes is almost certainly lower than what can be
achieved by specific-incident polygraph tests in the field.
The accuracy levels in the four screening simulations in our sample, which include a validation study of the Test for
Espionage and Sabotage (TES) used in the employee security screening program of the U.S. Department of Energy
(DOE), are in the range reported for other specific-incident laboratory studies. The one field study of actual
screening presents results consistent with the expectation that polygraph accuracy in true screening situations is
intelligence_interview 23
Sample Clearance Process Definition
Below is a sample process definition for clearance of my own documentation. Processes may vary by agency, so
consider this a straw-man, but all intelligence careers involve some sort of clearance process. A significant point to
consider is that wherever there is a step that says “wait” the applicant should remember that the minimum unit of
measure is “weeks,” and not “days” (unless one is willing to multiply by 7). For some agencies it might be
“months.” For example, it might take 3-4 weeks to schedule a polygraph, and then 3-4 weeks to process the results.
Going in with this expectation helps to reduce surprises.
Notice the potential loop from steps 7 to step 11. Based on the findings in the National Academy of Science's report
on the polygraph, a polygraph examination is largely a non-deterministic (i.e., random) exercise. Some people get a
“clean” result on one try, others need 2, 3, 4, etc., even though the applicant says the exact same thing each time, and
it can happen to anybody. It's best to know this in advance and plan accordingly. (I'd like to point out that I think
honesty is the best policy, but honesty is not always polygraph compatible)
1. Submit Security Forms
2. Wait for forms-complete
3. If forms-complete, then proceed to 4, else goto 1
4. Schedule Psych
5. Wait for Psych
6. Do Psych
7. Schedule Polygraph
8. Wait for Polygraph
9. Do Poly
10. Wait for poly results
11. If not-clean, return to 7
12. Conduct Background Investigation
13. Wait on BI
14. Have Security Interview
15. Wait on BI
16. When BI is concluded, wait on Adjudication
17. Adjudication
Freedom of Information Act
One of the important aspects of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is that applicants are entitled to request
obtain copies of their own background investigations. It might take a while, but they are legally obligated to provide
This site contains FOIA contacts for all Federal agencies, such as the NSA, CIA, FBI, DIA, NRO, etc.
intelligence_interview 24
DoD Security Adjudication Guidelines
This is a very good document prepared by the Defense Security Service outlining adjudication guidelines. This
document is located at: http://www.dss.mil/nf/adr/adjguid/adjguidF.htm (Also cited in Bibliography)
Just in case this document is removed, I have included it for reference:
B. Adjudicative Process
1. The adjudicative process is an examination of a sufficient period of a person's life to make an affirmative
determination that the person is eligible for a security clearance. Eligibility for access to classified information is
predicated upon the individual meeting these personnel security guidelines. The adjudicative process is the careful
weighing of a number of variables known as the whole person concept. Available, reliable information about the
person, past and present, favorable and unfavorable, should be considered in reaching a determination. In evaluating
the relevance of an individual's conduct, the adjudicator should consider the following factors:
a. The nature, extent, and seriousness of the conduct;
b. The circumstances surrounding the conduct, to include knowledgeable participation;
c. The frequency and recency of the conduct;
d. The individual's age and maturity at the time of the conduct;
e. The voluntariness of participation;
f. The presence or absence of rehabilitation and other pertinent behavioral changes;
g. The motivation for the conduct;
h. The potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation, or duress; and
i. The likelihood of continuation or recurrence.
2. Each case must be judged on its own merits, and final determination remains the responsibility of the specific
department or agency. Any doubt as to whether access to classified information is clearly consistent with national
security will be resolved in favor of the national security.
3. The ultimate determination of whether the granting or continuing of eligibility for a security clearance is clearly
consistent with the interests of national security must be an overall common sense determination based upon careful
consideration of the following, each of which is to be evaluated in the context of the whole person, as explained
further below:
a. Guideline A: Allegiance to the United States
b. Guideline B: Foreign influence
c. Guideline C: Foreign preference
d. Guideline D: Sexual behavior
e. Guideline E: Personal conduct
f. Guideline F: Financial considerations
g. Guideline G: Alcohol consumption
h. Guideline H: Drug involvement
j. Guideline J: Criminal conduct
k. Guideline K: Security violations
l. Guideline L: Outside activities
m. Guideline M: Misuse of information technology systems
4. Although adverse information concerning a single criterion may not be sufficient for an unfavorable
determination, the individual may be disqualified if available information reflects a recent or recurring pattern of
questionable judgment, irresponsibility, or emotionally unstable behavior. Notwithstanding the whole person
intelligence_interview 25
concept, pursuit of further investigation may be terminated by an appropriate adjudicative agency in the face of
reliable, significant, disqualifying, adverse information.
5. When information of security concern becomes known about an individual who is currently eligible for access to
classified information, the adjudicator should consider whether the person:
a. Voluntarily reported the information;
b. Was truthful and complete in responding to questions;
c. Sought assistance and followed professional guidance, where appropriate;
d. Resolved or appears likely to favorably resolve the security concern;
e. Has demonstrated positive changes in behavior and employment;
f. Should have his or her access temporarily suspended pending final adjudication of the information.
6. If after evaluating information of security concern, the adjudicator decides that the information is not serious
enough to warrant a recommendation of disapproval or revocation of the security clearance, it may be appropriate to
recommend approval with a warning that future incidents of a similar nature may result in revocation of access.
Guideline A
Allegiance to the United States
The Concern. An individual must be of unquestioned allegiance to the United States. The willingness to safeguard
classified information is in doubt if there is any reason to suspect an individual's allegiance to the United States.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. Involvement in any act of sabotage, espionage, treason, terrorism, sedition, or other act whose aim is to overthrow
the Government of the United States or alter the form of government by unconstitutional means;
b. Association or sympathy with persons who are attempting to commit, or who are committing, any of the above
c. Association or sympathy with persons or organizations that advocate the overthrow of the United States
Government, or any state or subdivision, by force or violence or by other unconstitutional means;
d. Involvement in activities which unlawfully advocate or practice the commission of acts of force or violence to
prevent others from exercising their rights under the Constitution or laws of the United States or of any state.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The individual was unaware of the unlawful aims of the individual or organization and severed ties upon learning
of these;
b. The individual's involvement was only with the lawful or humanitarian aspects of such an organization;
c. Involvement in the above activities occurred for only a short period of time and was attributable to curiosity or
academic interest;
d. The person has had no recent involvement or association with such activities.
Guideline B
Foreign Influence
The Concern. A security risk may exist when an individual's immediate family, including cohabitants, and other
persons to whom he or she may be bound by affection, influence, or obligation are not citizens of the United States
or may be subject to duress. These situations could create the potential for foreign influence that could result in the
compromise of classified information. Contacts with citizens of other countries or financial interests in other
countries are also relevant to security determinations if they make an individual potentially vulnerable to coercion,
exploitation, or pressure.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. An immediate family member, or a person to whom the individual has close ties of affection or obligation, is a
citizen of, or resident or present in, a foreign country;
intelligence_interview 26
b. Sharing living quarters with a person or persons, regardless of their citizenship status, if the potential for adverse
foreign influence or duress exists;
c. Relatives, cohabitants, or associates who are connected with any foreign government;
d. Failing to report, where required, associations with foreign nationals;
e, Unauthorized association with a suspected or known collaborator or employee of a foreign intelligence service;
f. Conduct which may make the individual vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, or pressure by a foreign
g. Indications that representatives or nationals from a foreign country are acting to increase the vulnerability of the
individual to possible future exploitation, coercion or pressure;
h. A substantial financial interest in a country, or in any foreign owned or operated business that could make the
individual vulnerable to foreign influence.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. A determination that the immediate family member(s) (spouse, father, mother, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters),
cohabitant, or associate(s) in question are not agents of a foreign power or in a position to be exploited by a foreign
power in a way that could force the individual to choose between loyalty to the person(s) involved and the United
b. Contacts with foreign citizens are the result of official U.S. Government business;
c. Contact and correspondence with foreign citizens are casual and infrequent;
d. The individual has promptly complied with existing agency requirements regarding the reporting of contacts,
requests, or threats from persons or organizations from a foreign country;
e. Foreign financial interests are minimal and not sufficient to affect the individual's security responsibilities.
Guideline C
Foreign Preference
The Concern. When an individual acts in such a way as to indicate a preference for a foreign country over the
United States, then he or she may be prone to provide information or make decisions that are harmful to the interests
of the United States.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. The exercise of dual citizenship;
b. Possession and/or use of a foreign passport;
c. Military service or a willingness to bear arms for a foreign country;
d. Accepting educational, medical, or other benefits, such as retirement and social welfare, from a foreign country;
f. Residence in a foreign country to meet citizenship requirements;
g. Using foreign citizenship to protect financial or business interests in another country;
h. Seeking or holding political office in the foreign country;
h. Voting in foreign elections; and
i. Performing or attempting to perform duties, or otherwise acting, so as to serve the interests of another government
in preference to the interests of the United States.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. Dual citizenship is based solely on parents' citizenship or birth in a foreign country;
b. Indicators of possible foreign preference (e.g., foreign military service) occurred before obtaining United States
c. Activity is sanctioned by the United States;
d. Individual has expressed a willingness to renounce dual citizenship.
Guideline D
Sexual Behavior
The Concern. Sexual behavior is a security concern if it involves a criminal offense, indicates a personality or
emotional disorder, subjects the individual to coercion, exploitation, or duress, or reflects lack of judgment or
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discretion. (see footnote) Sexual orientation or preference may not be used as a basis for or a disqualifying factor in
determining a person's eligibility for a security clearance.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. Sexual behavior of a criminal nature, whether or not the individual has been prosecuted;
b. Compulsive or addictive sexual behavior when the person is unable to stop a pattern of self-destructive or highrisk
behavior or which is symptomatic of a personality disorder;
c. Sexual behavior that causes an individual to be vulnerable to coercion, exploitation or duress;
d. Sexual behavior of a public nature and/or which reflects lack of discretion or judgment.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The behavior occurred during or prior to adolescence and there is no evidence of subsequent conduct of a similar
b. The behavior was not recent and there is no evidence of subsequent conduct of a similar nature;
c. There is no other evidence of questionable judgment, irresponsibility, or emotional instability;
d. The behavior no longer serves as a basis for coercion, exploitation, or duress.
Footnote: The adjudicator should also consider guidelines pertaining to criminal conduct (Guideline J); or
emotional, mental, and personality disorders (Guideline I), in determining how to resolve the security concerns
raised by sexual behavior.
Guideline E
Personal Conduct
The Concern. Conduct involving questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor,
dishonesty, or unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations could indicate that the person may not properly
safeguard classified information. The following will normally result in an unfavorable clearance action or
administrative termination of further processing for clearance eligibility:
a. Refusal to undergo or cooperate with required security processing, including medical and psychological testing; or
b. Refusal to complete required security forms, releases, or provide full, frank and truthful answers to lawful
questions of investigators, security officials or other official representatives in connection with a personnel security
or trustworthiness determination.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying also include:
a. Reliable, unfavorable information provided by associates, employers, coworkers, neighbors, and other
b. The deliberate omission, concealment, or falsification of relevant and material facts from any personnel security
questionnaire, personal history statement, or similar form used to conduct investigations, determine employment
qualifications, award benefits or status, determine security clearance eligibility or trustworthiness, or award
fiduciary responsibilities;
c. Deliberately providing false or misleading information concerning relevant and material matters to an
investigator, security official, competent medical authority, or other official representative in connection with a
personnel security or trustworthiness determination;
d. Personal conduct or concealment of information that may increase an individual's vulnerability to coercion,
exploitation or duress, such as engaging in activities which, if known, may affect the person's personal, professional,
or community standing or render the person susceptible to blackmail;
e. A pattern of dishonesty or rule violations, including violation of any written or recorded agreement made between
the individual and the agency.
f. Association with persons involved in criminal activity.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The information was unsubstantiated or not pertinent to a determination of judgment, trustworthiness, or
intelligence_interview 28
b. The falsification was an isolated incident, was not recent, and the individual has subsequently provided correct
information voluntarily;
c. The individual made prompt, good-faith efforts to correct the falsification before being confronted with the facts;
d. Omission of material facts was caused or significantly contributed to by improper or inadequate advice of
authorized personnel, and the previously omitted information was promptly and fully provided;
e. The individual has taken positive steps to significantly reduce or eliminate vulnerability to coercion, exploitation,
or duress;
f. A refusal to cooperate was based on advice from legal counsel or other officials that the individual was not
required to comply with security processing requirements and, upon being made aware of the requirement, fully and
truthfully provided the requested information;
g. Association with persons involved in criminal activities has ceased.
Guideline F
Financial Considerations
The Concern. An individual who is financially overextended is at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate
funds. Unexplained affluence is often linked to proceeds from financially profitable criminal acts.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. A history of not meeting financial obligations;
b. Deceptive or illegal financial practices such as embezzlement, employee theft, check fraud, income tax evasion,
expense account fraud, filing deceptive loan statements, and other intentional financial breaches of trust;
c. Inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts;
d. Unexplained affluence;
e. Financial problems that are linked to gambling, drug abuse, alcoholism, or other issues of security concern.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The behavior was not recent;
b. It was an isolated incident;
c. The conditions that resulted in the behavior were largely beyond the person's control (e.g., loss of employment, a
business downturn, unexpected medical emergency, or a death, divorce or separation);
d. The person has received or is receiving counseling for the problem and there are clear indications that the problem
is being resolved or is under control;
e. The affluence resulted from a legal source; and
f. The individual initiated a good-faith effort to repay overdue creditors or otherwise resolve debts.
Guideline G
Alcohol Consumption
The Concern. Excessive alcohol consumption often leads to the exercise of questionable judgment, unreliability,
failure to control impulses, and increases the risk of unauthorized disclosure of classified information due to
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. Alcohol-related incidents away from work, such as driving while under the influence, fighting, child or spouse
abuse, or other criminal incidents related to alcohol use;
b. Alcohol-related incidents at work, such as reporting for work or duty in an intoxicated or impaired condition, or
drinking on the job;
c. Diagnosis by a credentialed medical professional (e.g., physician, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist) of alcohol
abuse or alcohol dependence;
d. Evaluation of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence by a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a
recognized alcohol treatment program;
e. Habitual or binge consumption of alcohol to the point of impaired judgment;
intelligence_interview 29
f. Consumption of alcohol, subsequent to a diagnosis of alcoholism by a credentialed medical professional and
following completion of an alcohol rehabilitation program
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The alcohol related incidents do not indicate a pattern;
b. The problem occurred a number of years ago and there is no indication of a recent problem;
c. Positive changes in behavior supportive of sobriety;
d. Following diagnosis of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence, the individual has successfully completed inpatient
or outpatient rehabilitation along with aftercare requirements, participates frequently in meetings of Alcoholics
Anonymous or a similar organization, has abstained from alcohol for a period of at least 12 months, and received a
favorable prognosis by a credentialed medical professional or a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff
member of a recognized alcohol treatment program.
Guideline H
Drug Involvement
The Concern.
a. Improper or illegal involvement with drugs, raises questions regarding an individual's willingness or ability to
protect classified information. Drug abuse or dependence may impair social or occupational functioning, increasing
the risk of an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
b. Drugs are defined as mood and behavior altering substances and include:
(1) Drugs, materials, and other chemical compounds identified and listed in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970,
as amended (e.g., marijuana or cannabis, depressants, narcotics, stimulants, and hallucinogens), and
(2) Inhalants and other similar substances.
c. Drug abuse is the illegal use of a drug or use of a legal drug in a manner that deviates from approved medical
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. Any drug abuse (see above definition);
b. Illegal drug possession, including cultivation, processing, manufacture, purchase, sale, or distribution;
c. Diagnosis by a credentialed medical professional (e.g., physician, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist) of drug
abuse or drug dependence;
d. Evaluation of drug abuse or drug dependence by a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a
recognized drug treatment program;
e. Failure to successfully complete a drug treatment program prescribed by a credentialed medical professional.
Recent drug involvement, especially following the granting of a security clearance, or an expressed intent not to
discontinue use, will almost invariably result in an unfavorable determination.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The drug involvement was not recent;
b. The drug involvement was an isolated or aberrational event;
c. A demonstrated intent not to abuse any drugs in the future;
d. Satisfactory completion of a prescribed drug treatment program, including rehabilitation and aftercare
requirements, without recurrence of abuse, and a favorable prognosis by a credentialed medical professional.
Guideline I
Emotional, Mental, and Personality Disorders
The Concern. Emotional, mental, and personality disorders can cause a significant deficit in an individual's
psychological, social and occupational functioning. These disorders are of security concern because they may
indicate a defect in judgment, reliability or stability. A credentialed mental health professional (e.g., clinical
psychologist or psychiatrist), employed by, acceptable to, or approved by the government, should be utilized in
evaluating potentially disqualifying and mitigating information fully and properly, and particularly for consultation
with the individual's mental health care provider.
intelligence_interview 30
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. An opinion by a credentialed mental health professional that the individual has a condition or treatment that may
indicate a defect in judgment, reliability, or stability;
b. Information that suggests that an individual has failed to follow appropriate medical advice relating to treatment
of a condition, e.g. failure to take prescribed medication;
c. A pattern of high-risk, irresponsible, aggressive, anti-social or emotionally unstable behavior;
d. Information that suggests that the individual's current behavior indicates a defect in his or her judgment or
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. There is no indication of a current problem;
b. Recent opinion by a credentialed mental health professional that an individual's previous emotional, mental, or
personality disorder is cured, under control or in remission and has a low probability of recurrence or exacerbation;
c. The past emotional instability was a temporary condition (e.g., one caused by a death, illness, or marital breakup),
the situation has been resolved, and the individual is no longer emotionally unstable.
Guideline J
Criminal Conduct
The Concern. A history or pattern of criminal activity creates doubt about a person's judgment, reliability and
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. Allegations or admissions of criminal conduct, regardless of whether the person was formally charged;
b. A single serious crime or multiple lesser offenses.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The criminal behavior was not recent;
b. The crime was an isolated incident;
c. The person was pressured or coerced into committing the act and those pressures are no longer present in that
person's life;
d. The person did not voluntarily commit the act and/or the factors leading to the violation are not likely to recur;
e. Acquittal
f. There is clear evidence of successful rehabilitation.
Guideline K
Security Violations
The Concern: Noncompliance with security regulations raises doubt about an individual's trustworthiness,
willingness, and ability to safeguard classified information.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. Unauthorized disclosure of classified information;
b. Violations that are deliberate or multiple or due to negligence.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include actions that:
a. Were inadvertent;
b. Were isolated or infrequent;
c. Were due to improper or inadequate training;
d. Demonstrate a positive attitude towards the discharge of security responsibilities.
intelligence_interview 31
Guideline L
Outside Activities
The Concern. Involvement in certain types of outside employment or activities is of security concern if it poses a
conflict with an individual's security responsibilities and could create an increased risk of unauthorized disclosure of
classified information.
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
Any service, whether compensated, volunteer, or employment with:
a. A foreign country;
b. Any foreign national;
c. A representative of any foreign interest;
d. Any foreign, domestic, or international organization or person engaged in analysis, discussion, or publication of
material on intelligence, defense, foreign affairs, or protected technology.
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. Evaluation of the outside employment or activity indicates that it does not pose a conflict with an individual's
security responsibilities;
b. The individual terminates the employment or discontinues the activity upon being notified that it is in conflict
with his or her security responsibilities.
Guideline M
Misuse of Information Technology Systems
The Concern. Noncompliance with rules, procedures, guidelines or regulations pertaining to information technology
systems may raise security concerns about an individual's trustworthiness, willingness, and ability to properly
protect classified systems, networks, and information. Information Technology Systems include all related
equipment used for the communication, transmission, processing, manipulation, and storage of classified or sensitive
Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
a. Illegal or unauthorized entry into any information technology system;
b. Illegal or unauthorized modification, destruction, manipulation, or denial of access to information residing on an
information technology system;
c. Removal (or use) of hardware, software or media from any information technology system without authorization,
when specifically prohibited by rules, procedures, guidelines or regulations;
d. Introduction of hardware, software or media into any information technology system without authorization, when
specifically prohibited by rules, procedures, guidelines or regulations;
Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
a. The misuse was not recent or significant;
b. The conduct was unintentional or inadvertent;
c. The introduction or removal of media was authorized;
d. The misuse was an isolated event;
e. The misuse was followed immediately by a prompt, good faith effort to correct the situation.
intelligence_interview 32
DoD Security Adjudication Appeal Cases
Selected 2003 cases are copied from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals:
http://www.defenselink.mil/dodgc/doha/industrial/ (cited in Bibilography)
These selected cases are from DoD contractors who got their clearances either revoked or denied, and their
subsequent appeals. There are many, many cases, and I selected an unscientific sample. Most of the appeals are
rejected, but the cases are worth scanning to see the previously stated Guidelines in practice. My editorial
comments are prefaced by [Editorial]
CASE NUMBER: 01-02046.a1
Criminal Conduct; Emotional, Mental, and Personality Disorders
An applicant's personal conduct may have security significance even though it occurs during off-duty or non-work
hours. Security clearance decisions involve predictive judgments about whether an applicant poses a security risk.
Administrative Judge analyzed certain exhibits in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Judge erred by discounting
certain exhibits for arbitrary and capricious reasons. Favorable decision remanded with instructions.
[Editorial] This one is interesting, as it is the one of the few that was in favor of the Applicant. Note the phrase:
“Administrative Judge analyzed certain exhibits in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Judge erred by discounting
certain exhibits for arbitrary and capricious reasons.” “Arbitrary and capricious” cited twice is disconcerting to
CASE NUMBER: 02-30929.h1
Foreign Influence
Applicant mitigated security concerns over foreign influence resulting from his relatives' citizenship in the Republic
of Korea (Korea): he has parents, who live in Korea, and other relatives, including his wife, who are citizens of
Korea but reside in the United States (U.S.), and he has traveled frequently to Korea. Given that these relatives have
no ties to the government of Korea, I conclude that it is unlikely that they are foreign agents or in a position to be
pressured. Further, there is no substantial likelihood that he would succumb to foreign influence if his family should
be subject to duress. As Korea is an ally of the U.S., I think it unlikely that foreign pressure on his family could
create a situation that could result in the compromise of classified information. Clearance is granted.
[Editorial] This one is interesting: close relatives were not US citizens, but clearance was granted. There are other
cases in this appendix of close family members who live in allied foreign countries where clearance was rejected.
CASE NUMBER: 02-12329.h1
Personal Conduct; Criminal Conduct; Information Technology
Applicant and his wife have been unable to conceive a child of their own. His wife's only pregnancy resulted in
miscarriage after seven months. The resulting psychological effects led Applicant to turn to pornography as an
escape. In 1994, he misused his work computer to download and store pornography. Unbeknownst to him, a small
percentage of the files he acquired in a large batch download included child pornography. Prosecution was declined
due to lack of intent to possess child pornography in violation of federal laws. Applicant resigned in lieu of being
fired, a fact he intentionally omitted from his EPSQ. However, the concerns raised by his personal conduct, criminal
conduct, and misuse of technology are mitigated through the isolation, lack of recency, and by significant
rehabilitation. Clearance is granted.
intelligence_interview 33
CASE NUMBER: 02-08558.h1
Foreign Influence
The Applicant is a native-born American, not of Chinese ancestry. His wife of four years is Chinese, but she has
filed the appropriate paperwork to begin the process of becoming an American citizen. Their marriage is not viewed
well by her family, and they have been ostracized. The contacts with her family are infrequent, and her family are
not agents of a foreign power, or in a position to be coerced by a foreign power. Adverse inference is overcome.
Clearance is granted.
[Editorial] Based on clearance case-law, the secret to marrying a foreigner would appear to be making certain that
your in-laws absolutely despise you.
CASE NUMBER: 01-26689.a1
Board cannot consider new evidence on appeal. By failing to respond to the File of Relevant Material, Applicant
waived his right to submit additional information for the Administrative Judge to consider in his case. It is irrelevant
that an unfavorable security clearance decision may result in financial hardship for Applicant because the effect of
an adverse security clearance decision does not change an applicant's suitability for a security clearance. There is no
presumption of error below and the appealing party has the burden of raising claims of error with specificity and
demonstrating factual or legal error that warrants remand or reversal. Because Applicant raised no claims of such
error, the Board need not address the Judge's findings and conclusions. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] This is an important phrase to remember: “It is irrelevant that an unfavorable security clearance
decision may result in financial hardship for Applicant because the effect of an adverse security clearance decision
does not change an applicant's suitability for a security clearance.” Like it or not, your personal problems are not
the Government's problems. Make sure you're on solid ground when going through the process.
CASE NUMBER: 02-04237.a1
Foreign Preference; Foreign Influence
The fact that Applicant has held a security clearance does not give him any vested right in retaining a security
clearance. The federal government does not have to wait until a person commits a security violation before it can
deny or revoke access to classified information. Whether Applicant is able to contribute to the national security is
not relevant or material to assessing his security eligibility. The ASDC3I memorandum concerning foreign passports
is legally binding on the Administrative Judge and the Board. Neither the Judge nor the Board can ignore, disregard
or fail to apply the ASDC3I memorandum in cases where it is applicable. Neither the Judge nor the Board can
review or pass judgment on the wisdom or desirability of the ASDC3I memorandum. Applicant's possession of a
Greek passport falls within the scope of the ASDC3I memorandum. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] Note the phrases “The federal government does not have to wait until a person commits a security
violation before it can deny or revoke access to classified information” and “Whether Applicant is able to
contribute to the national security is not relevant or material to assessing his security eligibility.” Dual passport.
intelligence_interview 34
CASE NUMBER: 02-06928.a1
Foreign Preference; Foreign Influence
The Administrative Judge is not bound by Applicant's opinion as to the meaning and significance of his conduct.
Board cannot consider new evidence on appeal. When adjudicating a security clearance case, a Judge is evaluating
the security significance of an applicant's conduct and circumstances, not ordering an applicant to make decisions
about his or her personal life. However, Applicant's freedom to make decisions about his personal life does not
preclude the federal government from deciding whether the choices Applicant makes raise security concerns.
Applicant's disagreement with the Judge's weighing of the record evidence, standing alone, is not sufficient to
demonstrate the Judge weighed it improperly. Given the record evidence in this case, the Judge articulated a rational
basis for why he had unresolved doubts about the security significance of Applicant's overall conduct and ties with
Israel. Adverse decision affirmed.
CASE NUMBER: 02-15358.a1
Alcohol; Criminal Conduct
A decision by a Hearing Office Administrative Judge is not legally binding precedent on other Hearing Office
Judges or the Board. A Statement of Reasons (SOR) is an administrative pleading that is not measured against the
strict requirements of a criminal indictment. The absence of an SOR allegation concerning an applicant's credibility
is irrelevant to a Judge's inherent authority to assess an applicant's demeanor during testimony and make a
determination as to the applicant's credibility. Alcohol abuse can have security significance even if there has been no
diagnosis of alcoholism or alcohol dependence, no habitual or binge drinking, or no alcohol abuse during duty
hours. An applicant's candor about his or her conduct and circumstances does not preclude a Judge from evaluating
the security significance of the applicant's conduct and circumstances. Harmless errors by the Judge do not warrant
remand or reversal. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] I agree that alcohol can be a problem, but this one seems a bit odd. There is no evidence of alcohol
abuse, but alcohol is still a problem? I hope there is more to this story. Note the phrase: “An applicant's candor
about his or her conduct and circumstances does not preclude a Judge from evaluating the security significance of
the applicant's conduct and circumstances.”
CASE NUMBER: 02-15383.a1
Foreign Preference; Foreign Influence
A Statement of Reasons (SOR) is an administrative pleading that is not measured against the strict requirements of a
criminal indictment. Applicant has not shown that the wording of the SOR prejudiced her in any discernable way.
The particular reasons why an applicant needs a security clearance usually are not relevant or material to an
assessment of the applicant's security eligibility. Harmless factual errors do not warrant remand or reversal. By
obtaining and possessing a Spanish passport, Applicant exercised the rights and privileges of Spanish citizenship.
There is a rebuttable presumption that the Judge considered all the record evidence unless the Judge specifically
states otherwise. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] Dual passport
intelligence_interview 35
CASE NUMBER: 02-24479.a1
Absent a showing that Department Counsel's conduct resulted in a denial of due process or unduly affected the
substance of an Administrative Judge's decision in some way, the Board need not address Applicant's complaints
about Department Counsel's conduct. Applicant waived any objection to the three-hour delay before his case was
heard by the Judge. Given the record evidence in this case, it was reasonable for the Judge to find that Applicant's
military character references were not aware of his financial problems. Government officials and employees were
not obligated to give Applicant legal advice or guidance, or tell him how to best prepare for his hearing. Applicant
was on notice of his obligation to prepare for the hearing and to present evidence on his behalf. Adverse decision
CASE NUMBER: 02-04344.a1
Foreign Influence; Foreign Preference; Personal Conduct
Board does not have supervisory jurisdiction or authority over the conduct of Department Counsel or Hearing Office
Administrative Judges. However, the Board can review claims that the conduct of a Department Counsel or a Judge
violated or prejudiced an applicant's rights under Executive Order 10865 or the Directive. Nothing in record
evidence supports Applicant's claim that Department Counsel led him to believe that he would be granted a security
clearance if he surrendered his Israeli passport and renounced his Israeli citizenship. Given the record evidence in
this case, the Judge's adverse conclusions under Guideline B are sustainable. Judge's finding that Applicant falsified
a security clearance application is sustainable. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] Dual passport. However, in this case it looks like the applicant surrendered his 2nd citizenship and was
still rejected, which seems a bit severe unless there is more to the story. Note that Guideline C could be mitigated
by “d. Individual has expressed a willingness to renounce dual citizenship”, however the applicant was undone by
Guideline B, and a claim that the security clearance application was falsified.
CASE NUMBER: 01-23156.a1
Alcohol; Personal Conduct
There is a rebuttable presumption that an Administrative Judge considered all the record evidence unless the Judge
specifically states otherwise. There is no requirement that a Judge specifically discuss every piece of record
evidence when making a decision. The Judge's finding that Applicant falsified a security clearance application is
sustainable. The Judge's finding that Applicant falsified a written statement is not sustainable. Nothing in Executive
Order 10865 or the Directive entitles Applicant to be given the benefit of the doubt. To the contrary, in security
clearance cases any doubts as to the security eligibility of an applicant must be resolved in favor of the national
security, not in favor of the applicant. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] Note the phrase: “Nothing in Executive Order 10865 or the Directive entitles Applicant to be given the
benefit of the doubt. “
CASE NUMBER: 01-22693.a1
Foreign Preference; Foreign Influence
intelligence_interview 36
Within the legal constraints of the Directive and basic concepts of due process, Administrative Judges have broad
latitude and discretion in how they write their decisions. The Board does not find persuasive Applicant's contention
that the Judge's decision was so deficient as to deny Applicant the possibility of an effective appeal. Harmless
factual errors by the Judge do not warrant remand or reversal. The Judge properly applied the whole person concept
in analyzing the facts and circumstances of Applicant's case. In general, the Judge's adverse conclusions under
Guideline B and Guideline C are sustainable. The Judge's failure to apply Foreign Preference Mitigating Condition 1
was harmless error under the particular facts of this case. The Judge did not give undue weigh to the record evidence
that Applicant moved to Israel in 1981 and worked about 10 months for a component of the Israeli Ministry of
Defense. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] Working for another country's defense industry
CASE NUMBER: 01-13965.a1
Criminal Conduct
Administrative Judge properly concluded Applicant's 1979 felony conviction falls under 10 U.S.C. 986 and
precludes a favorable security clearance decision. Adverse decision affirmed. Board does not recommend this case
be considered further for a waiver under 10 U.S.C. 986.
[Editorial] Note: This felony was 24 years ago (from the appeal). It seems that few things are” too-long-ago,”
although it's a felony conviction.
CASE NUMBER: 02-04786.a1
Foreign Preference; Foreign Influence
An applicant with immediate family members living in a country hostile to the United States has a heavy burden to
show those family ties do not pose a security risk. Official statements by U.S. State Department about foreign
relations of United States are legislative facts that can be taken into consideration by Administrative Judges and the
Board. Judge failed to articulate rational basis for his conclusion that Applicant's father was not vulnerable to
pressure from the Iranian government. Guideline B is not limited to ties of affection, but includes consideration of
ties of affection, influence or obligation. Applicant is not entitled to retain a security clearance merely because she
was granted one in the past. The absence of a foreign preference does not preclude consideration of whether an
applicant's foreign ties raise questions of vulnerability to foreign influence. Favorable decision reversed.
[Editorial] It was not the Applicant, but the Applicant's Father. Note the phrase “The absence of a foreign
preference does not preclude consideration of whether an applicant's foreign ties raise questions of vulnerability to
foreign influence.”
CASE NUMBER: 01-16098.a1
Foreign Preference; Foreign Influence
The Administrative Judge's findings of fact are sustainable. The Judge failed to explain why he concluded
Applicant's brothers in Mexico did not raise a significant security concern under Guideline B, yet concluded those
brothers raised security concerns under Guideline C. However, because the Judge's overall decision is sustainable,
no purpose would be served by remanding the case to clarify this matter. Applicant waived her opportunity to have
legal representation during the proceedings below. Adverse decision affirmed.
[Editorial] It was not the Applicant, but the Applicant's brothers
When this document was initially published I was expecting it to be read by about 10 people. Maybe 20. I was just
glad I finished it, as it was very much a cathartic experience. My primary concern was really whether it was a
quality paper. After all, who wants to read about a guy that got rejected?
Quite a few people, it turns out.
I'd like to thank FAS for taking an interest in this story. And I'd also like to thank the many reader comments that
flowed in. I was pleased that the feedback to date was that the paper was viewed to be highly respectful of the
agency while still providing constructive commentary. Whew! That was very much the intent. Particularly
gratifying was feedback from other NSA applicants who had been rejected who wrote very much identifying with
the stresses and the accuracy of the experience.
Several wrote describing frustration with the polygraph process, including one that was so frustrated that she
dropped out of the process after several “not clean enough” polygraph examinations. This might be just another
clearance statistic to the agency, but I found this profoundly sad and a waste of resources and talent. It was another
case of “I was really excited about career opportunities at the agency, but then”¦” and who have moved on to
different jobs. Feedback also came in from applicants from other government agencies (e.g., “hey, that reminded
me of the time I interviewed with . I wish I had read this before interviewing with them.” Others
feedback expressed frustration of clearance process in other agencies, including one person who's clearance
investigation expired (2 year limit), and then he had to start the entire process over again. The word “intrusive”
came up several times - as did the word “flawed” - from people familiar with the clearance process in general (i.e.,
not necessarily specific to the agency.) A question that came up from a few former applicants was “do you know if
I'll ever be eligible for a security clearance after getting rejected by the agency?” Good question, and I wondered
the same thing. Personally, I would estimate “no” for anything higher than guarding a trashcan by the Washington
Monument. It's the scarlet letter R. In this event, you either get the Gold Medal or you go hurtling off the ramp like
that 1970's Agony of Defeat ski-jumper on the Wide World of Sports, but without the notoriety or residual checks (I
hope that ABC Sports paid that guy something because that crash had to hurt.) But seriously, if anybody finds out
anything to the contrary, let me know.
The majority of readers were mostly in the category of “entertaining!” and “MAN, that was WEIRD!” And I was
surprised who came across the paper. I got several emails along the lines of “a friend of mine emailed me this link,”
but here's my favorite story to date: a printed copy was left in a Bay Area airport where it was found by a
bartender/waitress working at said facility. She picked it up and read it, and emailed me saying she enjoyed it, and
even passed it to a friend of hers who worked at a Naval installation who also read it and said same. Thanks!
Additionally, some terrific feedback (and links) came from readers on the Freedom of Information Act, Security
Adjudication Guidelines, and Security Adjudication Appeals. I've updated the appendix to include information on
all these subjects. It became clear to be that I wasn't the only one who felt like being in high-seas in a rowboat
while simultaneously under a giant microscope during the clearance process, so I've updated the document with this
information. The combination of those analogies seems nonsensical (e.g., if you're in a rowboat where does the
giant microscope come from?), but believe me, it feels like that.
To answer another question: before this was published online, I emailed this paper (under my real name) to the
recruiting division at the agency and called the division chief (again, real name) to make sure it was received. It
was. I let them sit on it for about 3 weeks. No response. Concurrently, I also asked recruiting for a copy of any
applicable NDA they thought I was under. They referred me to a person in legal. So I emailed that person with the
same request. No response. Other than renting a plane and towing a football-field-length banner over central
Maryland I'm not sure how much more straightforward I could have been, or given them more of a chance to
respond to the document. Not giving them an opportunity to review, however, wouldn't have been suitable.
To the readers who suggested I keep writing: thanks! I just need to have another really crazy experience”¦
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