Last year, I shared my suspicions that the “Questionnaire for National Security Positions” was showing evidence for being less a means to protect national security than a popularity signaling mechanism.
ODNI News Release No. 05-13
April 5, 2013
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper today issued new guidance to support victims of sexual assault who hold or wish to hold a government security clearance, but may be reluctant to seek mental health counseling for fear they may have to disclose the counseling on their application.
The guidance which was issued on an interim basis pending formal revision of the policy, applies to all executive branch departments and agencies.
“I believe that this interim policy guidance will positively impact national security,” said Director Clapper. “The U.S. Government recognizes the critical importance of mental health and supports proactive management of mental health conditions, wellness and recovery.”
The interim guidance allows victims of sexual assault to answer “No” to Question 21 on the Standard Form 86, “Questionnaire for National Security Positions”, which asks if you have in the last seven years consulted a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition or if you were similarly hospitalized. Previously, the only exemptions were for family, grief and marital counseling unrelated to violence, and counseling for post-military combat service.
The following language will be added to Question 21.2:
"Please respond to this question with the following additional instruction: Victims of sexual assault who have consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition during this period strictly in relation to the sexual assault are instructed to answer No."
Individuals complete the SF86 when they initially apply for a clearance and then every five years thereafter while they are granted access to classified government information. The standard for classification is that the release of the information must be likely to damage the national security of the United States. The SF86 – in theory – helps the government evaluate an individuals trustworthiness for this purpose.
So . . . does mental health – or, more specifically, the seeking of mental health services – have any bearing on trustworthiness? The official answer is: maybe, maybe not. Tell the government investigators about it, they’ll look into it and make a decision.
Okay, let’s consider the alternative question: does having mental health issues involving the enumerated exceptions – the issues that are not required to be reported in Question 21 – not have a bearing on trustworthiness? I don’t actually know the answer to that question. It is certainly plausible that people can be stressed and depressed for a variety of personal difficulties for which they might seek counseling but which have no bearing on trustworthiness, while other matters like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia do have such a bearing.
What concerns me is that, based on this press release, this question wasn’t even considered. Rather, the motivation for the exception is “support[ing] victims of sexual assault who hold or wish to hold a government security clearance, but may be reluctant to seek mental health counseling for fear they may have to disclose the counseling on their application.”
Which provokes the obvious question: whom does the government want to discourage from receiving mental health counseling? But of course, that’s not the frame. The frame is that the government is that sexual assault (and “sexual assault”) is the cause du jour, and it wants to create a special immunity for it, just like it wants to create a special disability for militia members.