I'm writing a murder mystery with a diplomatic angle and an international setting. Here's the thing - my husband is a diplomat and has a top-secret security clearance. I have a secret clearance from a job I held at our last overseas post (the one where my novel is set). The State Department website says that cleared Americans have to vet materials for publication. I am not trying to reveal any secrets, I've fictionalized all details, and I'm fairly certain that this (sometimes years-long) process is more for nonfiction, memoirs, that sort of thing. If my clearance got pulled, it would be fine, but I'd rather not torpedo my husband's career (the Foreign Service is a very small, gossipy world). I'll be querying in a few months. How early should I raise this concern? Also, would an agent be the one to help me with this, or would a publisher (or its lawyer) handle it?
You want to know this NOW since you might inadvertently put your foot in it, and the stakes are a bit higher than something you'd just beg forgiveness for, instead of getting permission.
You might check into what other writers in your situation have done. A google search of "getting clearance from the state department for a novel" returned some interesting info.
Barry Eisler drew on his covert experiences to write his novels. Valerie Plame writes novels now, and she use to be CIA. You might look around for others.
This kind of thing applies to more than folks in the diplomatic corps or clandestine services. Many people who work in any kind of high-level government capacity are required to clear future publications. If you have any question about whether this applies to you, check your employment contract.
An agent can't help you with this.
And if I knew you had to clear the novel before it could be published, I wouldn't send it on submission until that had happened.
One of my favorite novels, Six Days of the Condor, draws on the reverse of this: the CIA reads novels to get ideas for tradecraft. The novel got made into a relatively terrible movie (although Robert Redford can't ever really be awful!) but the book itself is well worth the read.