Social media vs. your security clearance?

I’m not asking folks to say ‘Oh yeah I’m on Twitter and I have a clearance!” but what I am trying to find out is whether it’s true that being on Twitter will jeopardize one’s security clearance, as several people in a workshop I’m at today said was true. Or any social media group, for that matter, since I’m very involved in trying to get more people using these tools in the organization I work for, AFCEA International.

Tossed this question out on Twitter itself and got some interesting responses, including “Well, maybe we don’t want to answer your question because people don’t want to talk about their clearances on Twitter.” But it’s also true that there is a wonderful community from the Intelligence world on Twitter, and they are directly responsible for me finally understanding the power of Twitter.

So anyhow, links to any blog entries you’ve seen on the topic or any stories you can safely share would be helpful for me as I try to wrap my brain around how we get better engage our leaders in social media, because in turn I think that will help them discover new leadership. And if you’re not familiar with AFCEA, please check out http://www.afcea.org for information.

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Jeffrey Levy

I’m baffled. I don’t have a clearance, so admittedly i’m commenting out of ignorance. But if I did, and I was allowed to use a telephone, or even talk to people, how would tweeting non-work stuff relate to a clearance?

One suggestion, since apparently people are skittish about posting online: offer your telephone number.

Henry Brown

Have had some involvement with the security clearance process over the past several years (both as a holder and having some involvement with investigations…) In a lot of cases some of the current investigators are somewhat weak on the power of social media. I would offer that if one was using Twitter for contact with foreign nationals, or to engage in an attempt to overthrow the government then the usage of Twitter COULD be a possible concern. As Jeffrey said “tweeting non-work stuff” shouldn’t have any relationship to a security clearance.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Just to Henry’s point about contact with foreign nationals: I believe that Tweets are visible to anyone with a Twitter account, so you must mean the use of Twitter to communicate one-on-one with foreign nationals, correct?

Henry Brown

Yes I meant the use of Twitter to communicate one-on-one. and the operative term(s) are “COULD be a POSSIBLE” concern”

Linda Robinett

I am not a member of Twitter (and will not be one until I retire) because the threat to a security clearance makes sense. I know that some people use twitter to tell their friends where they are and what they are doing. My personal habits could be found out using my “tweets” and I could then become of victim of exploitation by folks who do not have my country’s best interests in mind. Also, I wonder if people have ever had their “tweets” used against them by criminals.

Helen Mosher

Dannielle, it was an internal workshop for some of our leaders during which use of social media came up.

Thanks for all the comments. I will follow up once i’m back at a computer instead of my iPhone.

Adriel Hampton

A bit off topic, but your Safeway Club Card and your joint property deed are more dangerous than Twitter. And if the information is valuable, it’s just as easy to follow someone as it is to track their social networks (in fact, depending on which networks, much easier).
This kind of paranoia is regressive and contrary to common sense.
If I was working covert, I’d always be broadcasting mundane details of life (no witty remarks called for, Helen).


Interesting argument. I’m obviously pro information-sharing. I think they will eventually figure out but (no offense if security folks are here) security people’s mindsets are so far behind the times I bet they are more worried about if you got an underage drinking citation when you were 19 (no I didn’t).

I remember when I got my clearance and they harrassed me at length about foreign national friends. My basic response – have you been to grad school lately? Half my class was from abroad. Not scary places like Iran even. But France, Spain, Mexico, etc.

As the world becomes flat, security folks need to update the standards. I can imagine asking a 22-year old these questions and they go “Well I play world of warcraft and lead a tribe of people around the globe, my college classes had people from 20 different countries, I went to a happy hour and my friends had friends from a bunch of different countries, I help edit the heidegger article on wikipedia with 20 other core people from around the globe, and I twitter/comment/FB all over the web.”

Times are changing and security needs to evolve. Yes, there are risks. But you have to face reality as well. People today aren’t like you were when you got into X agency – where you only knew people from your neighborhood, the neighborhood probably didn’t have many foreigners, and there was no Internet.

Helen Mosher

This is all very very helpful. I’ve gotten some good emails that will be helpful too! That said, I’m pretty sure I’ll never get a clearance. Heh.

Jean-Paul, very nice to run into you here. I knew you had left SRA, alas! Since last we talked I’ve gone off to grad school for my MPA.

I am going to try and work this into a memo (without citing anyone directly) to distribute to our team, that will then get forwarded to the people who believe that social media presents this problem. But I think it’s an interesting conversation to have and one that will most likely come up during one of our cyber intelligence/warfare conferences, so I very much appreciate you all sharing.


That is why government organizations deploy their own use of social communications to promote collaboration and ensure security. Think worse case scenarios and try to manage the risk to an acceptable level. Also learn to separate work to enhance your personal life.


Remember the “Furby” security concerns a few years back? Why did security professionals have these toys in their “secure” office spaces in the first place? They were cute and covert recording devices.

The point with Furby and the Twitter phenomenon: technological capabilities are outstripping
the policy-makers/legislator’s ability to keep up, but not the fraudsters and others who mean to do harm! Tweet with common sense: does your audience really have the need to know? Is it really a secure network (if you have a clearance you should already know that answer)? If not, why are you tweeting that information/data? Ditto for blog posts – once it is out there, you’ll never get it back.