By John V. Berry, Esq.,www.berrylegal.com
We often meet with federal employees and government contractors who are faced with security concerns or potential security concerns in obtaining, applying for or retaining a security clearance. These employees often ask for us assistance in responding to a security clearance denial or revocation. No matter the security concerns at issue, we find that it is always important and helpful for the individual to respond with character letters which help define the character of the clearance holder or applicant to the adjudicator. This article focuses on the benefit of character letters in the security clearance process.
The Whole-Person Concept
The Whole-Person Concept is very important in security clearance cases. The Whole-Person Concept, in sum, is just an analysis of the person that is under review and their character and background. This Whole-Person Concept evaluation focuses on whether the individual, even with security concerns, should be deemed an acceptable security risk. This is where the concept of using character letters comes in. According to Security Executive Agent Directive 4 (June 2017) (SEAD 4), the Whole-Person Concept is best described as follows:
The adjudicative process is an examination of a sufficient period and a careful weighing of a number of variables of an individual's life to make an affirmative determination that the individual is an acceptable security risk. This is known as the whole-person concept. All available reliable information about the person, past and present, favorable and unfavorable, should be considered in reaching a national security eligibility determination.
Adjudicators sometimes have the opportunity to personally meet applicants or clearance holders and sometimes they never meet them. An adjudicator therefore needs some sort of basis on which to judge an individual's character. We have seen administrative judges that are very grateful that they have some independent observations of an individual's character. This is especially true where there is a clearance issue involving a person's character or something about character that is at issue (i.e. alleged truthfulness in completing an SF-86).
What is a Character Letter?
A character letter is a letter usually drafted by a colleague, friend, family member, co-worker, community leader or just about anyone that one can think of that can describe the good character of the person undergoing the security clearance appeal or retention process. Character letters can come in many forms, such as affidavits, sworn declarations or just plain old letters of support. They should, at a minimum, be signed. I have found that emails tend not to be weighted too heavily in a review. The document itself should be personally signed by the reference. The idea behind character letters is that a security clearance adjudicator does not know the person under review and need assists in determining their character. A character letter helps them better understand the person that they are evaluating. The more detail a character letter can provide about the person, the better. The more character letters that one can prove, the better. I find that it is helpful when an adjudicator is presented with numerous affidavits, declarations or letters confirming the good character of a clearance holder or applicant.
What Should be Provided in a Character Letter?
A character letter should have significant detail, if at all possible. Additionally, it is important that the letters not all sound the same or similar. The last thing that an adjudicator wants to see is a number of boilerplate letters that say the same thing or that say very little. A character letter needs to explain specifically how the individual knows the clearance applicant or holder, the period of time they have known them for, their observations of the clearance applicant or holder and if possible why they feel that the individual is worthy of a clearance even in light of any security concerns. To the extent that each letter can tell a unique and positive recollection from the clearance holder's background, the better. I often find that character letters citing specific prior examples of observed integrity or good behavior are often very helpful. A good character letter can go a long way towards mitigating security concerns that have been raised. This is especially so if integrity or honesty is at issue.
Typical Types of Character Letters
While there are many types of individuals in one's life that an employee can approach to write a character letter, the four below seem to be the most common:
1. Letters from supervisors about good character at work;
2. Letters from friends or family about how a person who has had a security concern has changed (why the security concern is no longer an issue);
3. Letters from friends, co-workers or family which talk about the credibility of the clearance holder or applicant; and
4. Letters from church or charitable organizations about the character or involvement of a clearance holder or applicant.
How to Approach a Friend or Colleague About a Character Letter Request
Often times friends or colleagues would like to help with submitting a character letter, but sometimes they are scared to do so. Many times colleagues are also cleared so they fear that they might suffer some sort of retaliation if they write a letter in support of a clearance applicant or holder. That is simply not true. These character letters are appreciated by adjudicators (and administrative judges) and have no effect on the writer. The entire goal is to evaluate the applicant or clearance holder. Sometimes, where appropriate, it is helpful to explain the background of the clearance case and why you need a character letter from an individual ahead of time; it often helps them in writing a better and more comprehensive letter.
When an individual is facing security clearance concerns it is important to obtain legal advice and legal representation. Our law firm advises individuals in the security clearance process and can assist with the character letter process. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Please visit our Facebook page.