The “Foreign Influence” criterion under the “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information” affects many security clearance applicants, particularly those who are naturalized U.S. citizens or whose parents immigrated to the U.S. Others who marry (or reside with) a foreign national, who have foreign financial/business interests, or who maintain close and continuing contact with foreigners are also affected. There are two other related criteria—Foreign Preference and Outside Activities—that sometimes affect these same applicants.*
Foreign Influence has been a significant concern when considering people for security clearances. This has been due in part to changes in motivation of those who have chosen to spy against the U.S. A government study issued in March 2008 reported that since 1990 offenders who are naturalized citizens rose to 35%, those with relatives or close friends overseas increased to 58%, and those with foreign business or professional connections increased to 50%.
The Adjudicative Guidelines specify that “foreign contacts and interests may be a security concern if the individual has divided loyalties or foreign financial interests; may be manipulated or induced to help a foreign person, group, organization, or government in a way that is not in U.S. interests; or is vulnerable to pressure or coercion by any foreign interest.” The Adjudicative Guidelines further specify that “Adjudication . . . should consider the identity of the foreign country in which the foreign contact or financial interest is located, including but not limited to, such considerations as whether the foreign country is known to target United States citizens to obtain protected information and/or is associated with a risk of terrorism.” However the location of a person’s contacts or interest is not by itself a disqualifying condition.
EVALUATING FOREIGN INFLUENCE
The location, relationship, occupation, activities, and interests of the foreign person, as well as the recency, frequency and nature of the contact are all relevant. The security significance of these foreign contacts can be measure by the extent to which an applicant:
• Maintains contact with foreign friends, family members, or professional associates.
• Provides or receives material support to/from contacts outside the U.S.
• Returns to native country.
• Maintains property or financial interests (including inheritance rights) outside the U.S.
• Fails to report association with foreigners when required.
Foreign connections that “create a potential conflict of interest between the individual’s obligation to protect sensitive information and the individual’s desire to help a foreign person, group, government, or country by providing that information” are security concerns. Absent a potential for a conflict of interest, foreign connections must present a “heightened” risk of foreign influence to be a security concern. A heightened risk can be created either by the nature of the foreign contact and/or by the applicant’s perceived ability to resist foreign influence. In assessing an applicant’s ability to resist foreign influence adjudicators may consider the degree to which an applicant has assimilated American culture and displayed undivided loyalty to the United States by:
• Applying for U.S. citizenship as soon as they are eligible.
• Expressing their intention to live permanently in the U.S. even after retirement.
• Observing American holidays.
• Participating in local non-ethnic social, community, political, or charitable groups.
• Socializing with people outside their ethnic group.
Additionally, circumstances or behavior that could attract the attention of foreign intelligence are also potentially disqualifying factors.