Denied TS/SCI by CIA for drugs and alcohol

Hello all.

I recently graduated from college. I was denied a TS/SCI by the CIA.

The letter I received summed it up to the following: I did too many drugs too often in college, and I drink too often with the intent of getting intoxicated. “Too many drugs” meant various drugs including marijuana and psychedelics. “Drink too often” meant once or twice a week. The combination of these factors led to the clearance denial.

(Funnily enough, by the time I received news of my denial, my drinking had greatly decreased in frequency. Probably something to do with not being in school anymore.)

All of this information was volunteered by me on forms or in person.

My question is: Given the denial and the nature of the denial, am I pretty much forever barred from ever getting cleared by this agency? What about the rest of the IC? And the DOD and other agencies?

Did this come as a surprise to you? Did anybody warn you that you were not likely to be granted a clearance, particularly in the IC, when you “drink too often with the intent of getting intoxicated”? Grass and psychedelics?

Nobody warned you?

Now, you’re going to have to report that you were denied a clearance every time that you apply for a clearance.

I can’t speak too much for the IC but you should be able to get cleared by the DoD at some point. You need to clean up your act. Completely. No drugs and I would suggest no alcohol. This sounds severe but it gives you the best chance of overcoming this.

You will likely need to be clean for two years before you reapply. When you reapply you’re not going to get an interim clearance so you need to plan on it taking six to eighteen month (maybe more) for your clearance to be processed. Go look for a job in the non-cleared world or work on a masters if you can. Maybe do both. Keep your nose completely clean and you should be able to get in down the road.


It depends. Did you receive a Statement of Reasons or something to that effect? Did that letter outline an avenue for you to appeal the decision? If not, you can apply whenever you see fit. If so, I strong advise you to appeal. Nonetheless, you are barred from applying for national security position with the Federal Government for 1 year of the date of denial. That is the official policy and law.

Unofficially, ouch. I share with Ed that you should’ve been better advised or should have known. Anyway, a denial is pretty much a kiss of death unless you have extraordinary skill-set that the Government needs. Ed advises you 2 years, I would advise you at least 3 years before you apply for a national security position given the issues…

Nonetheless, you should still be able to apply for a public trust position with the Government; however, I advise you to be careful when you apply with a position with a Department of Justice agency or Department of Homeland Security agency. These departments do not take drug use lightly, especially if you were denied for the very reason plus more.


How long were you in, if you ever were, adjudication for? And how recent was the drug and alcohol use?

They might have just given you a suitability denial, which won’t carry the same sort of consequences when applying for federal employment later.

1 Like

I’m not sure if CIA plays by those rules.

I am curious about the adjudicative standard :thinking: of “drinking with the intent of getting intoxicated.” I wonder what ‘intoxicated’ means. We all know that ‘buzzed driving is drunk driving’ but is getting ‘buzzed’ being ‘intoxicated?’ And if the intent is not to get intoxicated, at least to some degree, then why drink alcohol in the first place?

As the others have pointed out, time and abstention should enable you to qualify in the future. I see statements on IC job sites saying something like “no drug use within the past year” as an absolute minimum; if it was anything more than occasional ‘experimental’ use (whether or not your intent was to become intoxicated) then two years is a better timeline.

1 Like

All good inputs. The normal abstinence period is 12 months if the person is young, say 18 to 24. Caveat that with the use being experimental and intermittent. If on was a regular user, or the age went longer…18 months to 2 years would not be unusual. If the use was heavy, multiple drugs (not unusual for many in college), 3 years may be required for them to consider a person. How one answers the questions and falls into the character of the interview or poly can determine much. I find people expect the Dragnet level of disapproval and sternness. What they actually experience is a skilled negotiator/interrogator making them quite comfortable to high five and speak to all the stupidity they engaged in, perhaps even braggadocio. When the candidate shares stories of drinking until puking and getting alcohol poisoning…those things are not going to help. I like Ed’s input to focus on the graduate degree sober. Maybe imbibe in responsible wine drinking of a glass a week. Sounds boring…but boring gets cleared. You will need speak to the denial but look into mitigation such as aging out of abusive binge drinking, the need to work in the morning made you turn from the drink and drug life. Demonstrate you can live within the rules of society, and you have a chance.


CIA does. They just let those folks lavish somewhere in the 7 gates of hell. I read somewhere that CIA is one of the worst agencies when it comes to appeal process; however, the agency is one of best agencies to work for…

This reminds me of a situation MANY years ago when if it took someone three months to get a secret clearance, that was considered a long time. Anyway one kid where I worked, who was hired right out of college, must have admitted to drug use on his forms because they did a subject interview which was very rare in those days for Secret. Anyway, according to the version we heard from this guy, he had a problem during the interview because he was not sufficiently contrite about his drug use during the interview. He was denied, but eventually got the clearance after hiring a lawyer to help with the appeal.

So the message is to not reveal too much during the interview. Do not by any means lie, or try to cover things up, or become defensive, but don’t share too many stories about blacking out or buying weed on the street corner. Answer the questions truthfully and honestly… but don’t go into excessive detail.




Yes. I won’t appeal. I don’t want it that bad. There’s too much out there that doesn’t require any clearance.

I have no idea how long I was in adjudication. The process took over a year from start to finish.

I didn’t stop drinking after graduating. I continued going out with friends and enjoying myself on weekend nights. Never thought that would become such a severe issue. Had I known before, I would have adjusted my habits and waited longer before filling out my SF-86. But I can’t take that back now, it appears.

All-in-all, I don’t plan on entering the government sector again anytime in the near future. It would have been great to use my skills to serve in the government, but that didn’t work out. The private sector seems far more lucrative without placing such stringent restrictions on freedoms. Was just wondering whether a denial today gets me blackballed from the IC and the others for the rest of my life (like if I tried dipping my toes back in government work twenty or thirty years from now).

Thank you everyone for your very helpful answers.

Given that the whole process took a little over a year, sounds like you only received a suitability denial, which is much, much better than a security clearance denial.

Good luck in the future!

Concur. I would say same with all portions of the clearance. If one expects judgement and glares…but the person is suddenly warm, supportive, collegial…naturally we lower our defenses and respond warmly, likely giving away the keys to the kingdom. Answer the question, and sit through the uncomfortable pause.

Had a buddy denied a clearance and I thought he was in. Turns out he admitted to computer hacking, installing monitoring software, and capturing private data without a warrant. He checked YES to the hacking questions and offered nothing else. When I asked him about it, he said he put monitoring software on his daughter’s computer because of the chat messages she gets from adults who offer, um, inappropriate photos. Now keeping your kids safe with software is perfectly fine, but his statement and answer were not clear enough to the investigator.

Now in your case it seems a little more murky, but you can argue that your college life and activities expected a certain level of camaraderie and association with those in your class. You can also claim is as glorious days of a misspent youth, sowing your wild oats, and so on.

All that being said, simply putting it behind you may be what everyone in your shoes will do. If you want to get ahead of the pack, how about volunteering at an alcohol abuse clinic? Maybe you can interact with the school and let students know that a couple drug and alcohol weekends may change their employment outlook? Sure you have stopped doing what you did, but this may offer some more information about yourself to those looking at hiring you.

And once something is on paper, it stays there. Always check the same boxes, something cannot “unhappen.” be forthcoming with your explanations and show some maturity. Time is your friend.

Where are you in the process? There are no guarantees, but if you’ve sat for a poly(s), have been assigned a BI, and passed an initial check by Security you should be alright.

If MJ use was more than 12 months and you are just now graduating college, barring any complicating factors you likely will sign a conduct letter acknowledging that you cannot maintain that previous lifestyle. The older one gets the less you can claim youthful experimentation. That normally requires a longer period of abstinence.

It will take about 2 to 3 months to launch. From there 6 to 7 months to complete based on how many addresses you have and any charges. From there it can take another 2 to 3 months to get a Poly scheduled. From first to final poly Poly and adjudication, expect a total of 18 to 20 months. So from the date you submitted the SF86…expect 20 months, keep them drug free.

1 Like

18-20 months might be a bit optimistic. I’m 21 months and counting from last poly.

My gut instinct is that if they feel the level of drug and alcohol use is too high, they’ll give you a suitability denial sometime after the poly.

Yeah, it takes a while to get a decision back. I did say “over a year” for how long they took to get back to me, but I didn’t say how much over a year. It took forever, and they rejected me with a nice little fat packet in the mail specifying exactly why I was rejected.

I’m not bitter. National security is serious. I don’t blame them.

I’d say don’t sweat it. A rejection is pretty much a blessing. I was at a party a few weeks ago where everyone was having a great time. Some guy rolled a blunt, and a bunch of people started smoking it. I noticed that this guy I had talked briefly with, a guy who works for some contractor and admitted to me to have a clearance when I asked, literally put on his jacket and wordlessly left when he noticed. I don’t blame him… I’d hate to be in his position of jeopardizing his clearance and filing paperwork to report the incident and not being able to smoke weed too.

You’ll have more freedom in the private sector. You won’t have to fill out paperwork to travel. Won’t need to put together all those financial statements. Won’t need to ever see the inside of a SCIF with no Spotify or cell phone. And you won’t need to basically get re-cleared every five or ten years!

Also, you’ll make way more money in the private sector. The job offers I’ve gotten are something like 2-3x what I would’ve made working for the government or a contractor, and that’s just entry level stuff. If you’re in the right field and are smart/hardworking, you should be set to make ridiculous bank.

The way I’m seeing it, I might want to try to venture back into government work when I’m old, boring, already have accrued good retirement savings, and want the stability of a nine-to-five government job. Before then, honestly, no gripes about not getting cleared. There’s way too much exciting and high paying stuff out there to feel down about a rejection!

I was wondering… regarding the “in person” disclosures, was this during the security interview?

1 Like

In a similar situation… were you able to find employment in the DC Metro area? I find most if not all good jobs are government contractors.

The CIA does indeed play by their own rules. I always found it ironic that they will suspend or revoke a clearance for something like drinking or drug use when they have murderers, rapists, and child molesters on their payroll as sources. I’m sure DoD has some unsavory sources on their payroll as well (to get the information you need, sometimes you dance with the devil). In any case, my clearance was suspended but after 28 years in the IC I decided to just go do something else. I am curious, however, how difficult it would be to get back into, say, a DoD job requiring a clearance after another government agency (who plays by different rules) suspended you.