WASHINGTON—U.S. Representative Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, will introduce legislation to disqualify participants in the violent assault on the United States Capitol and members of the conspiracy movement QAnon from obtaining or maintaining a federal security clearance, which an individual must possess in order to hold a national security position and to access classified information.
Before individuals can obtain a security clearance to work for or with the federal government, they are subject to a rigorous background investigation. This typically involves completing the Standard Form 86 (SF-86) questionnaire and undergoing an interview process. The purpose of the background investigation—or re-investigation, in the case of an individual who already holds a security clearance—is to examine the individual’s “behavior, activities, and associations” in order to determine whether the individual is “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the U.S.”
“Any individual who participated in the assault on the Capitol or who is a member of the conspiracy movement QAnon should be required to disclose this fact when applying to obtain or maintain a federal security clearance,” said Murphy, a former national security specialist at the Department of Defense who held a high-level security clearance. “It is highly unlikely that such an individual will be found by investigators to have shown the conduct, character, and loyalty to the United States that is a prerequisite to holding a national security position and viewing classified information.”
The 130-page SF-86 covers many topics, including an applicant’s work history, foreign activities, psychological health, and police record. Section 29 of the questionnaire asks applicants about their “Association Record.” However, Section 29 is limited in scope. Applicants are asked whether they have ever been a member of an organization dedicated to terrorism; an organization dedicated to the use of violence or force to overthrow the U.S. government; or an organization that advocates the use of force or violence to discourage others from exercising their rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Murphy’s bill, the Security Clearance Improvement Act of 2021, would direct the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to add another question to Section 29 that asks applicants whether they have ever been a member of, associated with, or knowingly engaged in activities conducted by an organization or movement—like QAnon—that spreads conspiracy theories and false information about the U.S. government.
Applicants would be asked to provide the name and address of the organization, any positions held in the organization, a description of the nature of and reasons for their involvement with the organization, the dates of their involvement with the organization, and any contributions made to the organization.
In addition, Murphy’s legislation would require the security clearance process—whether the SF-86, the interview portion, or both—to ask applicants whether they participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol or a similar “Stop the Steal” event, and the precise role they played in that event. Even if it does not constitute a criminal offense, attendance at an event designed to overturn the results of a presidential election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power raises serious questions about an applicant’s suitability for a security clearance.
Armed with this information, the U.S. government will be in a better position to make the discretionary decision about whether the applicant is “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the U.S” and thus deserving of a security clearance.
To read a summary of the Security Clearance Improvement Act of 2021, click here.