By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
As we have mentioned in other articles, the U.S. Government security clearance process is not centralized and varies somewhat between federal agencies. In addition to security clearances processed by the Department of Defense (DOD), other federal agencies have their own procedures and personnel that process their own security clearance decisions for federal employees and government contractors (e.g. DOS, DHS, DOI, NGA, DOE, NRO, CIA, etc). The National Security Agency (NSA) is an agency with its own security clearance process. This article addresses the security clearance process at the NSA for security clearances and Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) access.
The Clearance Process at NSA
The security clearance process at NSA is somewhat similar to the procedures for DOD employees, but there are some differences. The NSA follows the intelligence agency policies regarding the processing of security clearances and SCI access. These policies are referred to in the Intelligence Community Policy Guidance (ICPG). The following are the normal steps in the security clearance review process for NSA clearance holders or applicants when they are confronted with security clearance issues.
Step 1: Revocation / Denial Letter
When a federal, military or contractor employee has a security clearance or SCI access issue with NSA, they will receive a revocation or denial letter from the NSA, listing the background and security concerns at issue. The background will list the specific security concerns at issue. The individual will usually then be given 45 days in which to request a review of the security concerns and respond to the security concerns. The investigative file, upon which the denial is based, will usually be included as well to facilitate a response by the individual. The investigative file will usually include reports and/or other items relevant to the security concerns.
Step 2: Responding to the Revocation / Denial Letter
At this stage, the individual responds to the revocation or denial letter from the NSA. A response should address the security concerns at issues, e.g. Guideline E, Personal Conduct, or other issues and focus on the potential mitigation of the security concerns. It is important to provide documentation, such as declarations, affidavits, and other documentation relevant to the security concerns at issue.
Step 3: Decision by Office of Personnel Security on First Appeal Review
Once the appeal by the individual is received, the NSA Office of Security will issue a decision as to whether or not the security concerns have been dismissed or mitigated. If so, the matter is then resolved. If not, the individual will be provided a decision, usually a page or two in length, discussing the reasons why the First Appeal was denied and of the right to a final appeal. The First Appeal may indicate that some of the items have been mitigated, but that others have not been.
Step 4: Review by NSA Access Appeals Panel
The next step in the NSA security clearance process is for the employee to appeal to the NSA Access Appeals Panel. This is an in person appeal where the individual can be represented by counsel in presenting evidence and argument as to why the security clearance or SCI access decision should be overturned. During this personal appearance before the Access Appeals Panel, the individual can present documents in support of keeping their security clearance to the panel.
Step 5: NSA Access Appeals Panel Decision
Following the personal appearance, the NSA Appeals Panel issues a decision, either granting the clearance or access at issue or a denial. There is also the process of re-applying for a clearance after a waiting period following a denial.
When an individual is facing security clearance issues at NSA or in another organization it is important to obtain legal advice and potential representation. Our law firm advises individuals in the security clearance process. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Our Facebook page is located at http://facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.