"He can have a Force 12 nervous breakdown while he stands next to you in the bus queue and you may be his best friend but you'll never be the wiser. Which is why some of our best officers turn out to be our worst. And our worst, our best. And why the most difficult agent you will ever have to run is yourself," wrote the spy author John Le Carré about Britain’s post-imperial upper class spies in the late 1950s.
The UK has changed a lot since then but the stigma around mental health that permeated all classes, cultures and professions has only recently been challenged to encourage openness and understanding in how we feel and what support we need.
There is an enduring myth that people with mental health conditions who want to work in national security will be exposed through developed vetting and unable to secure jobs or develop in their careers. This is not true. Your emotions, vulnerabilities, the way your brain works, lifestyle and personality make you a valuable asset to protecting the United Kingdom and our work overseas.
State-sponsored enemies, organised crime groups and other agents want to prey on your perceived “weaknesses” and “shame” to get leverage over you and access to government information. Our aim is to stop that from happening.
This is why vetting is an essential part of recruitment and retention; vetting allows us to know that everyone with access to protectively marked material has a high level of integrity, and is unlikely to be blackmailed or extorted. National security is becoming more inclusive and diverse in its personnel and thinking, and as the Civil Service diversifies, we expect more and more people from all walks of life to apply for higher clearances. So let’s clear up the myths around developed vetting to help people decide if they want to undergo this process for a rewarding career.
What is developed vetting?
All roles in the Civil Service require some level of vetting, such as BPSS, CTC, SC, or DV. The process itself is handled by UKSV, there’s lots of information on their website here.
Developed Vetting, or DV, is the highest level of vetting we have and allows you access to TOP SECRET information. Only a small proportion of Civil Service jobs require DV. There are lots of exciting roles that don’t require access to TOP SECRET information.
Is it intrusive and embarrassing?
Like all levels of vetting, DV asks about you, your family and your finances. The only difference is that you have an interview with a vetting officer. This interview isn’t an interrogation, and shouldn’t feel like one. There will be uncomfortable questions on sexual history and preferences, drug and alcohol use and watching pornography.
Mentally prepare yourself for a very frank and open conversation. The interviewer is not there to make a moral judgement. They are professionals who have heard it all before and will not discuss your interview with anyone else.
If you would prefer an interviewer of the same gender, ethnic background, or religion, ask the vetting team to arrange this.
Should I be open about my mental health?
Your mental health is just like your physical health. If a mental health issue is holding you back, your line manager would want to know so they can help you.
The vetting team wants to know how you manage your mental health and triggers for emotional distress and other difficulties so you can protect our assets.
If you’re considering applying for a DV role, there should be a named contact on the application who can answer any queries.
What happens if I refuse to disclose personal information?
At its core, the DV process is about seeing if we’re comfortable with allowing access to the most sensitive information that we hold. If you chose not to disclose something that comes to light later, it might not change the outcome of your vetting but it might raise a few questions around your integrity.
It’s best to disclose everything during your interview or on paper rather than have to have some follow up questions or interviews.
Who sees my personal information and is it secure?
Your case is normally handled by one vetting officer who has sole access to your personal information. On some occasions a small number of additional staff in the vetting process may be involved, but only for specific reasons. Vetting officers handle so many cases, that they probably will forget everything you’ve told them once they’ve shut your file. They won’t be discussing your interview with anyone else.
In very rare cases, they may ask someone in a departmental Security Team to look over your file and make a final decision on whether or not to grant clearance. If this happens, only the Senior Security Advisor in the department you’re joining will see your information, no one else.
Our vetting officers will handle your application with care, and you will be treated with respect at all points of your application. Don’t be put off applying for roles that require DV just because you think you’d be a square peg in a round hole. The Civil Service needs and wants more interesting and diverse people on our side. We need people like you.