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How to Write an Appeal for a Denied Security Clearance

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The Department of Defense uses security clearances to determine who is eligible to view classified information. This eligibility can be an important factor in gaining employment in both public and private sector jobs. For example, a contractor for an airplane manufacturer might need clearance to work on U.S. government planes. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that there is not a right to a security clearance, which means that the options for appealing a denial are limited and you're not entitled to a free appointed attorney. You can, however, appeal your denial. If you effectively address the reason for the denial, you may still be able to get clearance.

Review Your Statement of Reason

In most cases, the Department of Defense's Defense Security Service should issue a statement of reason (SOR) along with your denial letter. The SOR itemizes the specific reason or reasons your security clearance was denied, and should offer some insight into whether an appeal is possible. For example, if you were denied because of a previous felony, you can't do much about that, but if the SOR contains inaccuracies or misunderstandings of your past, you may be able to rebut these.

Follow Rebuttal Protocol

You have 20 days to write a letter rebutting your denial. You might also have to follow additional protocols. For example, if you applied for security clearance through your employer, your employer might require that you send a copy of all rebuttal-related documents to human resources, or that you notify a company representative of your rebuttal. If you don't follow protocol, you may lose your right to appeal. Draft your initial rebuttal, keeping your prose short, direct and to the point. Do not offer opinions or character evidence. Instead, state specifically and succinctly why your denial should not have happened. For example, if the denial was due to inaccurate information, you can provide counter evidence, while a denial due to an incomplete record demands that you supplement the record.

FORM Response

After the Defense Security Service receives your rebuttal, it will send you a packet called a File of Relevant Materials (FORM). The FORM provides specific documentation evidencing why you were denied security clearance, and may also challenge some of the claims in your initial rebuttal. You have 30 days from the date you receive this packet to draft an initial rebuttal. This rebuttal should include documents that undermine or clarify documents included in the FORM, as well as evidence that material in the FORM is irrelevant. Keep your rebuttal short and to the point, and avoid casting blame or offering opinions.

Request a Hearing

In your rebuttal to the FORM, it's wise to explicitly request a hearing with the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals. Without a clearly noted request in your rebuttal, you might not receive such a hearing. A hearing means you'll get to offer evidence, challenge claims made by the Defense Security Service, and get a fresh review of any evidence against you. If you're granted a hearing, you'll need to be prepared with evidence that backs up your claims in your rebuttal. A lawyer can help you ensure that your claims have legal merit.


Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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