Can a Felon Get a Security Clearance? -
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Can a Felon Get a Security Clearance?

Can a Felon Get a Security Clearance

There is a lot involved for anyone that wants to get security clearance. This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can get security clearance.

  • What is a Security Clearance?
  • Getting a Security Clearance
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action

What is a Security Clearance?

A security clearance is the eligibility to access classified information and is basically a license issued by the government to access that information. Military personnel and defense contractors are the largest groups that require a security clearance.

Additionally, those working in the medical, telecommunications, education, and financial fields sometimes require some type of a security clearance.

The Bureau of Human Resources determines if a Department of State position requires a security clearance because of the duties and responsibilities of the position.

There are three types of security clearance. These are confidential, secret, and top secret. Each of these levels allows someone to access information up to and including that level.

  • Confidential security clearance gives access to information that could cause damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.
  • Secret security clearance allows access to information that might cause serious damage to national security if revealed without authorization.
  • Top secret security clearance provides access to information that may cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.

Getting a Security Clearance

A security clearance is granted to someone who has completed an appropriate personnel security background investigation. The investigation determines whether a person’s personal and professional history indicates loyalty to the United States through:

  • Strength of character
  • Trustworthiness
  • Honesty
  • Reliability
  • Discretion
  • Sound judgment

Generally, candidates must display a willingness to abide by regulations for the handling and protection of classified information. A security clearance will be issued only when there is a clear indication of someone’s protection of the national security interests of the U.S.

To obtain a security clearance, someone must first get a job that requires one. This is typically either the Federal government or a government contractor. Someone must be sponsored by a government agency for position that requires access to classified information.

After leaving a job that requires security clearance, that clearance may be revoked by the government.  For example, someone leaving the military service may only keep his or her clearance for a period of two years after leaving.

Applying for a security clearance involves three main steps:

  • Application
  • Background check
  • Adjudication

The process typically takes six months to a year to complete. Temporary clearances are rarely granted.  Top secret clearances are reviewed every five years while secret clearances are reviewed every 10 years and confidential clearances are reviewed every 15 years.

In addition to reviewing background information for an applicant, an essential step is a face-to-face interview with a Department of State investigator.

An Opportunity for Felons?

Three categories of persons who are forbidden from gaining a clearance are those that:

  • Are addicted to a controlled substance
  • Are deemed mentally incompetent by a licensed professional
  • Have been dishonorably discharged from the military

Employees of any federal agency, government contractors or active duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps convicted of a felony, sentenced to a prison term exceeding one year, and incarcerated for more than a year are disallowed access to restricted data.

If a government position only requires confidential or secret clearance, a felon may still receive clearance regardless of his or her record depending on certain mitigating factors. The current law only restricts a felon access to top-secret clearance.

Federal agencies may look into mitigating circumstances to determine whether the candidate is eligible for security clearance. If the felony was committed many years ago, the agency may sign a waiver and grant the candidate clearance. The agencies will immediately disqualify a candidate who lies about his criminal record.

A felony conviction will not automatically disqualify someone for a security clearance. However, a criminal record could be especially difficult to achieve if other factors reflect negatively on a person’s background and character.

Felony crimes that are problematic involve:

  • Dishonesty like theft or embezzlement
  • Substance abuse like a DUI
  • Possession of controlled substances

The following are positive factors for an applicant:

  • The felony was not recent.
  • The crime was an isolated incident.
  • Someone was coerced into committing the crime.
  • Someone did not voluntarily commit the crime.
  • Acquittal was granted.
  • There is clear evidence of rehabilitation.

Obtaining a security clearance will depend on the particular offense. Even if the criminal record is expunged, all charges within the past seven years must be disclosed when applying for a security clearance. Someone must disclose information regardless of whether the record was sealed, expunged, or dismissed.

The following felonies that are older than seven years must also be disclosed:

  • Violent crimes
  • Domestic violence
  • Firearm-related offenses
  • Crimes involving Explosives
  • Alcohol- or drug-related crimes

Failing to disclose crimes in any of these categories will lead to permanent denial because that would constitute a felony. Of course, that is something a felon does not need as it would lead to being incarcerated again.

Another challenge will be in finding a position that requires a security clearance. It is important to be honest when applying for this type of position. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check this constitutes fraud and is punishable by jail time. It is a crime to falsify an application, which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful in obtaining a security clearance, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already seen as being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in getting a security clearance. Expungement of a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It is a major challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to get a security clearance. To give him or herself the best chance for success, his or her record should be expunged. He or she should also document any additional education.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life and achieve his or her goal no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get security clearance with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

2 responses to “Can a Felon Get a Security Clearance?”

  1. Lisa Wilson says:

    Need to know if my husbands felony in 1992 would stop him from getting security clearance? It was for possession of a firearm, he was 18 years and hasn’t gotten more than a seat belt ticket since.

  2. Eric says:


    I had 2 felony convictions in 1993. One was a “Manufacturing explosives without a permit” (made a small “pipe bomb”) and the second was “Grand theft” (car stereo). Since my conviction, I’ve only received one speeding ticket. I had my felonies expunged in 2014. The Grand theft was a “wobbler” and was reduced to a misdemeanor prior to the expungement. Since then, I have held high level engineering jobs, own my home, etc. I even possess a concealed carry license.

    I’m wondering if I would be able to pass the background test, and also what information I would need to disclose on the forms, since the conviction is over 25 years old, and the expungement happened 6 years ago. Thanks!

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