CIA Security Clearance Process for Contractors

By John V. Berry, Esq.,

This article discusses the security clearance appeals process for government contractors applying for clearances (or attempting to keep them) with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As we have discussed in other articles, the U.S. Government security clearance process is not administered by one federal agency, but individually by each one.  The clearance appeals process generally falls into 2 main groups of federal agencies (with some exceptions), one run by the Intelligence Community (IC) and those run by the Department of Defense (DoD). That said, each federal agency has their own internal security clearance process with their own variations. The CIA is one of those federal agencies with its own, very unique, security clearance process.

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NSA Security Clearance Appeals

By John V. Berry, Esq.,

Pursuant to Executive Order 12968, the President of the United States has delegated security clearance determinations to each federal agency.  As a result, each federal agency security clearance process tends to be unique but they tend to share some similarities. These different federal agencies are supposed to follow the same Executive Order and Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4.

These federal agency processes are not centralized and vary somewhat. Some federal agencies tend to focus more on foreign influence (CIA) and others more on drug usage (FBI).  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 the NSA

The security clearance appeals process at NSA is similar to the procedures for DOD employees, but there are some differences. The NSA follows the intelligence community (IC) 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 usual steps in the security clearance review process for NSA clearance holders or applicants when they are confronted with security clearance issues.

First Step : Revocation / Denial Letter Issued by NSA

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 complete response by the individual. With other intelligence agencies, an individual must usually request this file. The investigative file will usually include documents, reports and/or other items relevant to the security concerns.

Second Step: Response to the NSA Revocation / Denial Letter

During the second stage of the clearance appeals process at the NSA, the individual will respond to the NSA revocation or denial letter. A response should address the security concerns at issue, e.g. Guideline B, Foreign Influence, Guideline B, Personal Conduct, Guideline J, Criminal Conduct or other issues and focus on the potential mitigation of the security concerns. It is very important to provide documentation, such as declarations, character letters, declarations, affidavits, and other documentation relevant to the security concerns or the character of the individual.

Third Step: Decision by Office of Personnel Security on First Appeal Review

Once the first appeal by the individual is received by the NSA, the NSA Office of Personnel Security will issue a decision as to whether or not the security concerns have been dismissed or otherwise mitigated. If so, the matter is usually then resolved and the clearance or special access restored. If not, the individual will be provided a decision, usually a page or two in length, discussing the reasons why the first level 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. There is a short timeframe in which to appeal, typically 15 calendar days from receipt of the initial decision.

Fourth Step: Meeting and Review by NSA Access Appeals Panel

The next step in the NSA security clearance process is for the employee to meet with 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. The panel is staffed fully, normally with 6-7 people present.  The panel may ask questions or sit patiently and listen to the arguments. In most cases, I have found that the panel asks a fair number of questions about the security concerns at issue.

Fifth and Final Step: 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. If a denial is issued, the individual may re-apply for a clearance or access a year later. Typically, a decision from the NSA has taken 2 to 6 weeks for a decision which is relatively quick for IC cases.


When an NSA employee or government contractor is facing security clearance issues at NSA 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 or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Our Facebook page is located here and our Twitter page here.

DOHA Hearing Security Clearance Tips

By John V. Berry, Esq.,

If you are a federal employee or government contractor whose security clearance is under review (commonly referred to as the Applicant or Clearance Holder) and you are in the process of having your case heard before the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA), there are a number of considerations to take into account as you move forward to the hearing.

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Security Clearance Issues Regarding Personal Conduct

By John V. Berry, Esq.,

Guideline E of the Adjudicative Guidelines, located in Security Agent Executive Directive 4, is one of the most commonly used guidelines by the government for denying security clearance applications, renewals or upgrades. This guideline covers general misconduct. This article discusses Guideline E Personal Conduct cases in more detail.

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Clearance Tips Before the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals

By John V. Berry, Esq.,

A topic that often comes up in our law firm’s security clearance practice involves the issue of how to best prepare for an upcoming administrative hearing before an administrative judge with the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA).  While this topic could cover several chapters, I have assembled a few basic tips in the process from our practice in this area of law.  DOHA administrative judges make final decisions of security clearances for government contractors and recommended clearance decisions for federal employees.

Keep in mind that it is important to obtain an experienced lawyer familiar with security clearance practice to best assist individuals approaching a DOHA hearing.  Counsel can best advise an individual in how to prepare and present their cases in order to give the best possible opportunity for a successful outcome. A successful outcome often means putting in significant preparation ahead of time. This article discusses some basic tips.

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Security Clearance Upgrades Can Lead to Loss of Existing Clearance

By John V. Berry, Esq.,

When an individual with a security clearance is submitted for a security clearance upgrade, any previously existing security concerns are scrutinized once again, but at a higher level.  For instance, if an individual has been previously approved for a Secret level clearance and is then submitted for a higher level Top Secret (TS) level clearance by their employer, that individual could be denied based on the same concerns that existed when he or she was previously approved for a Secret level clearance.  This more frequently happens when an individual holds a Top Secret (TS) clearance but is applying for Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) access, “TS/SCI.”

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Financial Security Concerns for Clearance Holders

By John V. Berry, Esq.,

Financial considerations security concerns are the most common issues which can result in the inability to obtain or the loss of a security clearance. As a result, it is very important that when a clearance applicant or holder runs into financial issues that they have counsel to assist and advise them with respect to the security clearance process.  In security clearance cases, financial issues are generally referred to as Guideline F cases. In Guideline F cases,  the government’s concern is generally focused on how a person has handled his or her finances and/or his or her vulnerability to financial manipulation given a pattern of overspending or debt.

The criteria in Guideline F cases has somewhat changed over the last year with the introduction of Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD 4) (the new Adjudicative Guidelines governing security clearances).  This article discusses some potential tips for those facing financial concern issues in the context of a security clearance matter.

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