Clapper changes clearance guidelines for intelligence officials

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Friday instituted the changes to the clearance process, which will not force applicants to admit to mental health counseling in instances of sexual assault. 

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Before Friday, the only instances where an intelligence officer could refuse to disclose such counseling was in cases of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and "family, grief and marital counseling unrelated to violence," Clapper said Friday. 

The policy change was spearheaded in Congress by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.).

"Through our combined efforts victims of sexual assault will be encouraged to seek the mental health services they may need while feeling safe that their privacy protections are strictly enforced," Clapper said. 

Traditionally, admission that an applicant seeking higher security clearance had sought counseling or other mental health services would be grounds for denial. 

Seeking counseling or therapy was seen as a red flag, according to the clearance process, indicating "a condition that could impair ... judgment, reliability, or ability to properly safeguard classified information."

As a result, victims of sexual assault or abuse would forgo treatment, "for fear they may have to disclose the counseling on their application," the intelligence chief said. 

“I believe that this interim policy guidance will positively impact national security,” according to Clapper, who noted the change still has to go through final approval at the White House and various U.S. intelligence agencies. 

“The U.S. Government recognizes the critical importance of mental health and supports proactive management of mental health conditions, wellness and recovery," he added in statement issued Friday. 

Under the new interim clearance policy, all inquiries into an applicant's mental health history will be handled "on a need-to-know basis," Clapper said. 

"Unauthorized questioning or denial of a security clearance based solely upon mental health counseling" is now considered a violation of the clearance screening process and will be met with "administrative or other appropriate disciplinary action."