Guidelines Questioned Security Clearance Query Raises Eyebrows
Blade, May 4, 2001
By Lou Chibbaro Jr.
A Gay employee association at the State Department took note last fall when
it learned that proposed new guidelines for determining whether employees are
eligible for security clearances called for asking a potentially troubling
question during routine background investigations: Has an applicant for a
clearance ever engaged in illegal sexual acts?
The group, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, joined the
American Foreign Service Association, a professional association that
represents State Department employees, in asking officials how such a question
would affect Gay or straight employees who engage in consenting, adult sexual
acts such as oral sex and who live in Virginia, where such acts are illegal.
According to AFSA attorney Sharon Papp, officials with the State
Departments Bureau of Diplomatic Security turned down a suggestion by the two
groups that investigators refrain from asking such questions. Instead, Papp
said, security officials told GLIFAA and AFSA that employees who honestly
discuss the issue of consenting sexual acts will not be adversely affected by
making such a disclosure.
The impact of sodomy laws on security clearance deliberations is not unique
to the State Department. Papp noted that the same question about
"illegal" sexual activity is posed to employees applying for
security clearances in all government agencies, including the departments of
Defense, Energy, and Justice, among other agencies. The question is part of a
series of guidelines developed by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the
National Security Council under the Clinton administration. The panel based
its proposals on a 1995 executive order issued by President Clinton that put
into effect a uniform system for approving security clearances and conducting
background investigations of employees in all federal agencies.
In addition to setting a uniform system for approving clearances, the
Clinton order makes it illegal to deny a clearance solely on grounds of an
applicants sexual orientation. Because of this, GLIFAA members expressed
concern that the questions about illegal sex if not carefully posed could be
used to screen out Gay applicants for security clearances.
"Its our understanding that, if you say youre Gay and you live in
Virginia, this wont be held against you," said Len Hirsch, an official
with the Gay federal employees group GLOBE. "We hear that under these
circumstances, they will say, Fine, no problem."
On the other hand, Hirsch noted that, if an applicant makes a false or
misleading statement or withholds information he or she is required to
disclose, the applicant could be adversely affected and could be denied a
clearance. Thus legal experts have long advised applicants for clearance to
either answer questions completely and honestly or to decline to answer a
question until the applicants seeks advise for an attorney.
Hirsch said he sees no difference in the handling of the security clearance
issue since the Bush administration took office in January.
"This has been an ongoing process that has nothing to do with the
change in administrations," Hirsch said.
Veteran D.C. Gay activist Frank Kameny, who is a nationally recognized
expert on security clearance issues, said he would have advised government
security officials to rephrase their question concerning illegal sexual acts.
According to Kameny, instead of asking a blanket question about illegal sex
acts, investigators should narrow their question by saying, "Aside from
consenting sexual acts among adults in the privacy of the home, have you ever
engaged in an illegal sexual conduct?"
Or, as an alternative option, Kameny said, the investigators should ask
about specific illegal sex actions, such as rape or acts with minors, while
not asking about consenting sexual acts.
"Its indisputable that over 90 percent of adult Americans engage in
oral sex," Kameny said. "That means that, in Virginia, over 90
percent of all adults are habitual criminals under the states sodomy
law." Because of this, Kameny added, security clearance officials should
have long ago abandoned inquiries into non-commercial, consenting sexual
conduct in the privacy of the home.
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