SF86 Drug Sale / Handling Question

Hi everyone - I’ve been working on the SF86 for a State Department internship for the last couple days and only recently remembered an incident that happened a bit more than ten months ago.

In a conversation with a group of friends, the topic of drugs somehow came up and I mentioned offhand that my roommate from freshman year bought a bunch of tabs of acid online. One of these friends asked several times if I could get a tab for him, and while I ignored him at first, I eventually agreed to do so. My freshman year roommate was concerned about being known as a dealer on campus, so I took my friend’s money and exchanged it for the acid without making any profit. I never used any acid, nor did I seek to create such an arrangement again. My friend asked a few weeks later if I could get him acid again and I flatly refused.

Other than experimental use of marijuana a few times, as far as I can tell I do not have any other red flags on my SF86. I am largely disassociated from my freshman year roommate at this point and have had less and less contact with him since after we were randomly assigned as roommates my freshman year. I also have had less contact with the friend who asked for acid and have made clear that I have no intention of repeating such an arrangement. However, I’m now very worried that this incident will be wholly disqualifying and I’ll have sacrificed an excellent opportunity for an incredibly dumb mistake.

The language “In the last seven (7) years, have you been involved in the illegal purchase, manufacture, cultivation, trafficking, production, transfer, shipping, receiving, handling or sale of any drug or controlled substance?” strikes me as very broad so I am under the impression that I should report this incident but please let me know if that is somehow not the case.

Simply put, what are my chances of outright rejection? Is there any space for circumstantial mitigation or is this an straightforward disqualification given the recency / nature of the incident? Thank you very much in advance for any / all insight and I greatly appreciate the help!

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“trafficking, production, transfer, shipping, receiving, handling or sale” I think your actions clearly come under trafficking, transfer, handling or sale. Your roommate was more trafficking, but you aided and abetted. You definitely did transfer, handled and assisted in a sale. I would not submit the SF86 for a minimum of three to 5 more months. Why? You need 12 months minimum for the MJ. Acid is a higher category drug, as is selling or transferring. Though very much a part of college life it remains what it is…transfer and sale of drugs. You said 10 months and some change between when it happened and now, and limited contact with the buyer and seller. That is a mitigation, removing them from your life. So that is in your favor. Was that deliberate because you don’t want drugs in your life or just happenstance? If deliberate that can very well be your saving grace. But you did transfer and assist a sale and transfer of a dangerous drug. Do yourself a favor, wait at least 3 months so you have 13 plus months since the event and do not lie or play it down. That would only come back to haunt you when you seek higher clearances

Nothing is going to result in a clear denial. You can likely get cleared now (remember the process takes months anyway) but you have made the process much more complicated. The fact that it was a one time occurance and is not at all likely to recur, the fact that you no longer hang with your freshman roommate OR the person that asked you to acquire the acid both play into your hand.

Here’s a question . . . How sure are you that what you handled, what your roommate bought online was actually LSD and some crappy, weak, substitute?

Hi amberbunny - thank you very much for the insight. I have read elsewhere that 6+ months is adequate for marijuana (I believe in a 1992 adjudication criteria document but I suppose I do not know if that is used in reality) although I have also seen the one year figure referenced many times - do you know if this varies by agency?

As for disassociation, I cannot claim that to be the only reason for my separation but it certainly was a large motivating factor.

As my e-Qip is due January 2nd and my failure to submit it would constitute a rejection of the internship, is a denial of my security clearance essentially assured if I do not wait until 12+ months have passed and instead submit by the end of the month? I know this is likely a tough question that cannot be easily answered, but I’m essentially trying to weigh sacrificing the internship entirely versus the odds of a security clearance denial. I would really hate to pass up the opportunity I’ve been given if there is a chance of getting a clearance but I also do not know how heavily a denial weighs on future security clearance applications.

Ed - thank you for your insight as well. I truly have no idea as to the nature of the LSD acquired - my knowledge was entirely circumstantial in that a different friend told me that my roommate had bought “lots of acid” online but I don’t know anything else and in fact before making this post had to google if LSD and acid were the same thing.

Make clear on the SF86 the exact last use, perhaps even include “will be 12 months no use on XX date, no intent to use again.” If they have any wiggle room, and all other factors being equal…they may consider time taken to clear you in reaching 12 months. My client follows a strict policy of 12 months minimum. I am tracking a few re-investigations of cleared people who had what they claim are “one of” issues using while cleared. It has been almost 24 months there but I am interested to see if this will result in a revocation.

Hi all - brief bump @EdFarmerIII @amberbunny Just received word that while my security clearance had not yet been completed, my candidacy has been terminated on the basis of suitability review for the position. I guess I was not even aware that suitability review was a process that interns went through as well rather than just FSOs? In any event, I am at a bit of a loss for where to go from here. I haven’t been able to find any other examples of interns being denied in suitability review and while I have 15 days to appeal with any ‘answers or documents’, I do not really know what I could include to make my case if the explanations I have provided have not been sufficient. Character references? Further statements of continued abstention from drugs / drug handling? Any advice would be beyond appreciated although maybe I’m out of luck with this one.

I am glad to see the process working. Selling drugs is a serious indicator of trust. Add using to the mix…

You’re in a tough spot. A suitability denial is different from a clearance denial. In the long, it’s better for you but in the short run you are pretty much stuck. If DoS doesn’t want to move forward on your clearance, you’re going to run out of time with an appeal.

I reread this thread and I think that I must have missed that this had happened only 10 months before. Obviously, the State Department questions your judgement and you haven’t put enough time between you and the incident to show that it was a one time thing.

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This is unfortunately what I feared. I do appreciate that in the long run it is better to avoid having a clearance denial on my record but it is certainly unfortunate in the short run. In any event thank you for your help and insight throughout the process - it is certainly much appreciated.

You can still put together an appeal but if you have less than 12 months since last use, if there was extensive dealing, or heavy use, higher category of drugs, you could still be denied a clearance if you win the appeal and get past the suitability denial.

None of the above is the case. That said, I’m not really sure what I have at my disposal in order to appeal. All usage was more than 12 months ago and only a few times in total, but I have not entered a rehabilitation / counseling program in the time since and therefore do not have much to go on beyond my own word. Would they put any stock into character references or statements from others? I am struggling to understand how I can craft an effective response to the suitability denial if my arguments for mitigation were not accepted the first time around. My interview with the background investigator did not go particularly well so maybe there is room to more effectively articulate myself in a written response, but even so I feel like I am grasping at straws here.

Thank you again for the continued advice and I recognize these questions are becoming increasingly specific and difficult to answer.

When you say the interview with the “background investigator did not go particularly well,” can you clarify? Once cleared those interviews are almost like rote behavior. If you have significant adjudicative behavior violations it can be a difficult interview, or if you seem to hedge your answers it can be difficult. Being a part of a transfer or sale of a higher category drug is different than casual MJ use. Many police departments will not allow you to ever work as an officer if you used Acid even one time. I would simply put in writing you have not used for X months and state your future intentions, if you plan to not use again. If it has been more than 12 to 18 months you have a chance. As I see it they had X amount of slots, and Y plus 1 amount of Intern applicants. Meaning they had one too many and needed a reason to eliminate the 1 extra person applicant. Perhaps the others did not have the drug use you had and that became the discriminator?

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I successfully reversed a suitability denial at State recently and received my clearance, but it was expensive (I used an attorney), and for a lesser issue. I would call an attorney if you are serious about putting together an effective response (not referred to as an appeal). They will talk to you and give you a sense as to whether it is worth it, but if you do decide to use an attorney, expect to spend about $3000 on the attorney and (if necessary) drug evaluation. If you don’t get an attorney, you will want to get letters of reference (preferably sworn statements, and preferably from people currently in positions of trust who know you personally and can attest to the fact this is not your current life), as well as evidence of a healthy lifestyle (gym membership, race bibs, etc.), evidence of good performance at work/school, evidence of volunteer/community work, etc. While suitability review is more vague that clearance adjudication, and the response process is one-off, my experience (no one was questioning the facts, all derogatory info volunteered by me during the investigative process) is that the Personnel Review Panel does take a similar, whole person approach, and gives you a chance to mitigate in a way not dissimilar to that of a clearance denial appeal. That said, I am aware of another individual who had recent (<2 years) use of a hard drug and was unsuccessful in responding to a suitability denial (with an attorney). If I had to venture, I would say that it is unlikely they will reverse this decision simply because you are talking a harder category of drugs and an activity they classify as trafficking. Finally, a response to @amberbunny (who is obviously far more knowledgable about these things than me): in my exhaustive/obsessive work on my suitability response, it became clear that State is very different than other agencies. The suitability review / clearance adjudication processes are both done in house and one of the voting members on the PRP is from DS (https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fam/03fam2150.html). In the event there is a favorable decision and the file is sent back to DS for final adjudication, my understanding is that it is highly unlikely for a subsequent clearance denial to occur. If there is no path to overcoming the derogatory information and adjudicate your clearance favorably, the DS rep will make that clear when the PRP reviews your response to the suitability denial and you won’t be successful in getting them to overturn the initial decision. Good luck.


Thank you Harry. A more perfect response could not have been submitted. I think 3K is a great price to pay considering your earnings now. Like State, I took a similar approach when I started in my current position. Previous, the company threw hundreds of people into the clearance process, endlessly clogging the system, frequent denials, low quality hires and a tremendous amount of walk offs. I took my considerable background in Personnel Security and heavily screened all applicants, rejecting up to 95% at one time. I made every department manager angry at one time or another. However, fast forward to now, rarely do we walk an employee off, only 2 clearances were denied in the past 3 years, and we have experienced a major culture change at our site. All brought about by hiring more higher tier people. By higher tier I only refer to those with slim to zero violations of adjudicative behavior.

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I think that you are missing the issue here: The OP didn’t USE LSD . . . He SOLD LSD . . . Only 10 months before his application . . .

The use was MJ, combined with the aiding, abetting, transfer, handling, sale…yeah that will be a different category. Only 10 months earlier? Higher hurdle. My experience is MJ use is easy to overlook as foolish behavior. Add in higher category drugs like LSD…add in selling, transferring etc…the situation increases by several magnitudes of order. Even though even casual use of MJ requires someone to buy, handle, transfer etc…rarely does personal use MJ ever come down to clearance folks delving down into who bought it unless it is a large amount, repeated purchases, extended period of time (there are exceptions to that). Make it a higher category drug, suddenly that becomes a huge part of wanting to know the ebb and flow of the item. I would surmise, use of two drugs, and handling, sale, transfer etc…means this would get denied a clearance as well. Certainly for it only being 10 months as you point out.

Thank you to everyone once more for the very helpful responses.

@amberbunny From my perspective, I did not feel like the interview went well because the tone from the interviewer felt somewhat antagonistic from the beginning. Maybe I did not explain particularly well what I perceived to be mitigating factors on my EQIP or maybe that was just the background investigator’s style, but at times I felt as if my responses were going to be attacked no matter what I said. I was completely truthful and up front during the interview and I did not hedge my answers, yet the process was stressful and I left feeling as if the interviewer was not likely to describe our conversation favorably.

Otherwise I’d like to clarify / reiterate a few points at the risk of repeating what has already been established. I have never used LSD and have never had any intention of doing so. I was, however, clearly a part of its sale and transfer now 14 months ago. I view this as a particularly circumstantial and one time happening, but I understand how the government sees it otherwise. The other red flag on my application was the use of marijuana a few times, with all instances more than 12 months ago. I am not sure I understand what you are saying in regards to intern applicants. I received a conditional offer for the position in December and therefore am not sure that the suitability denial is for numbers purposes.

@HarryHood Thank you once more for this invaluable insight. Unfortunately I do not think $3000 is something I can afford as a student, particularly given that this internship is unpaid. However, I will certainly reach out to an attorney if there is one willing to give a free consultation.

There is an attorney for everything it seems. There shouldn’t be for clearances. If you have issues, THEY are your doing and you need to own them. Time should be the only thing that helps you. If the issue is serious enough, you should never have a clearance. There are too many people who have clean records for anyone to use someone with past issues.

QQ1, Thor’s last sentence sums up the point I was making. If they gave 4 conditional offers to 4 candidates, and three have none of the issues you speak to…they would obviously make it through that level of screening. Can you overcome this? Absolutely. I would seek an uncleared internship, and consider trying the cleared world in another year or 2. If it was truly a one of situation it will remain so. If you have other dips and valleys along the way, it was never meant to be. Obviously whoever it is you applied to for the internship…it matters to them if a person involved themselves in the transfer of drugs , even if it was a one time thing. All part of adulting, learning from our mistakes, overcoming and pressing ahead in life. I would not push back much on the internship. Focus on finding an uncleared one, excel there and try again later.

The biggest reason that the fact that this is an internship matters is that your sponsor doesn’t have 12 months for you to get through the clearance process. If they don’t think that you can be cleared in the few months that they have before you start, they are going to do you the favor of giving you a suitability denial instead of paying to get you cleared after the internship timeframe is over.

Retaining a lawyer isn’t a matter of not “owning” your errors. Remember, the government has buildings full of lawyers whose job is to fight for denials despite the application of mitigating factors, errors or poor presentation. Being represented by an attorney who understands the ins and outs of this process and how to properly present a case to an adjudicator or ALJ is often the difference.

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