Foreign Contacts and Security Clearances: Understanding the Risks and Responsibilities

November 16, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Failure to disclose foreign contacts is one of the most common reasons that security clearances are denied. Unfortunately, many federal workers and contractors underestimate just how important it is to be candid on this point. Failure to disclose foreign contacts can be highly problematic, even if it was an oversight. Understanding the purpose behind this requirement and the extent of your responsibilities can help you make the right decision. If you have questions about your disclosure requirements, a federal security clearance lawyer can provide you with the guidance you need. 

The Risk: Denial or Revocation of Your Security Clearance

To put the bottom line up front, failure to disclose foreign contacts can jeopardize your security clearance and result in a denial or revocation. Obviously, this can have a very negative impact on your career. As a result, you should be very careful in this part of your application and be very thorough in your disclosures. 

Honesty and Trustworthiness

The purpose of the security clearance process is to determine whether people who will have access to sensitive information are trustworthy. Failing to disclose pertinent information will immediately call your trustworthiness into question if it is discovered (and it probably will be). In other words, dishonesty is not limited to lying for purposes of obtaining a security clearance – dishonesty can include withholding information, being less than candid, or not being completely forthcoming. For these reasons, failure to disclose foreign contacts would be considered dishonest and, therefore, jeopardize your security clearance. 

Inadvertent or unintentional failures to disclose can also be problematic. If you realize that you made a mistake in your interview or filling out your application, you should contact a federal employment lawyer to discuss the next steps. 

Loyalty to the United States

The reason why you are required to disclose your foreign contacts is that investigators are gauging your loyalty to the United States. The rationale behind this disclosure requirement is that they want to know whether you are at risk of being exploited by people of foreign influence. Knowing who you have contact with allows them to assess potential threats before the worker or the information they have access to is compromised. 

While there is a risk that your foreign contacts may invite additional scrutiny, failure to disclose some or all of your foreign contracts will almost certainly result in a denial. Not only does it call your honesty and trustworthiness into question, but it also raises questions about your loyalty. If you have concerns about disclosing certain relationships that you have, a federal employment lawyer can talk with you about your situation. 

What Foreign Contacts Do I Need to Disclose? 

Federal regulations require federal workers and contractors seeking a security clearance to disclose foreign contacts  who fall into either of two categories: 

  1. “Continuing association with known foreign nationals that involves bonds of affection, personal obligation, or intimate contact;” or
  2. “Any contact with a foreign national that involves the exchange of personal information.” 

An example of the first category could include a close friend or an in-law that you have regular contact with. The second category is far more broad, and the language suggests that it can include people that you only had contact with one time. 

While these regulations seem clear, it can be difficult to determine how they apply to your particular relationships. Keep in mind that both categories could include people you have contact with in both your professional and personal life, which may make a significant difference in the number of contacts you need to report. 

Over-Disclose Rather Than Under-Disclose

Ultimately, it is better to err on the side of caution. Whether it is a friend or family member, any foreign contacts you have a continuing association with should be disclosed. If you had only one contact with the person but exchanged personal information, that contact should be disclosed. Some people use the “two-minute rule” – the contact should be disclosed if you spoke with that person for more than two minutes. If you are unsure or worried about making a mistake, a federal security lawyer can help. 

Contact a Federal Employment Lawyer Today

Security clearances are not easy to obtain. Unfortunately, failure to disclose foreign contacts can jeopardize your clearance, even if it wasn’t intentional. If you have questions about the security clearance process, a federal employment lawyer at the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford can provide invaluable guidance. Contact us today by calling 410-514-6099 to schedule a consultation to discuss how we can help.