Security Clearances and Security Violations

Airman processing security clearance

A security violation or infraction is any breach of security regulations, requirements, procedures or guidelines, whether or not a compromise results. No matter how minor, any security infraction must be reported immediately to the security office so that the incident may be evaluated and any appropriate action taken.

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The following are examples of security violations:

  • Leaving a classified file or security container unlocked and unattended, either during or after normal working hours.
  • Keeping classified material in a desk or unauthorized cabinet, container or area.
  • Leaving classified material unsecured or unattended on desks, tables, cabinets or elsewhere in an unsecured area, either during or after normal working hours.
  • Reproducing or transmitting classified material without proper authorization.
  • Losing your security badge.
  • Removing classified material from the work area in order to work on it at home.
  • Granting a visitor, contractor, employee or any other person access to classified information without verifying both the individual's clearance level and need to know.
  • Discussing classified information over the telephone, other than a phone approved for classified discussion.
  • Discussing classified information in lobbies, cafeterias, corridors or any other public area where the discussion might be overheard.
  • Carrying safe combinations or computer passwords (identifiable as such) on one's person, writing them on calendar pads, keeping them in desk drawers or otherwise failing to protect the security of a safe or computer.
  • Failure to mark classified documents properly.
  • Failure to follow appropriate procedures for destruction of classified material.

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Major Violations

The significance of a security violation does not depend upon whether information was actually compromised. It depends upon the intentions and attitudes of the individual who committed the violation.

An ability and willingness to follow the rules for protection of classified information is a prerequisite for maintaining your security clearance. Although accidental and infrequent minor violations are to be expected, deliberate or repeated failure to follow the rules is definitely not. It may be a symptom of underlying attitudes, emotional or personality problems that are a serious security concern.

The following behaviors are of particular concern and may affect your security clearance:

  • A pattern of routine security violations due to inattention, carelessness or a cynical attitude toward security discipline.
  • Taking classified information home, ostensibly to work on it at home, or carrying it while in a travel status without proper authorization.
  • Prying into projects or activities for which the person does not have (or no longer has) a need to know. This includes requests for classified publications from reference libraries without a valid need to know, or any attempt to gain unauthorized access to computer systems, information, or databases.
  • Intoxication while carrying classified materials or that causes one to speak inappropriately about classified matters or to unauthorized persons.
  • Deliberate revelation of classified information to unauthorized persons to impress them with one's self-importance.
  • Copying classified information in a manner designed to obscure classification markings. This may indicate intent to misuse classified information.
  • Making unauthorized or excessive copies of classified material. Going to another office to copy classified material when copier equipment is available in one's own work area is a potential indicator of unauthorized copies being made.
  • Failing to report requests for classified information from unauthorized individuals.

Failure to report a security violation is itself a security violation and may be a very serious concern. After the arrest of Navy spy Jerry Whitworth, who was part of the infamous John Walker spy ring, interviews with Whitworth's work colleagues identified one who had noticed classified papers in Whitworth's personal locker, another who had observed Whitworth monitoring and copying a sensitive communications line without authorization, and a third who knew Whitworth took classified materials home with him but believed he was doing it only to keep his work current. Failure to report these violations enabled Whitworth's espionage to continue.

Storing classified information at home is a very serious concern as it may indicate current or potential future espionage. At the time of their arrest, many well-known spies were found to have large quantities of classified documents at their residences. CIA spy Aldrich Ames had 144 classified documents at his home, while Edward Moore had 10 boxes of CIA documents at home. Of various Navy spies, Jonathan Pollard had a suitcase full of classified materials, Michael Walker had 15 pounds of classified material, while Samuel Morison had two portions of Navy documents marked Secret.

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