What is a Top Secret Clearance?


Top secret clearance grants access to information deemed critical for national security and is granted only after a rigorous Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) and adjudication process. It is used only for compartmented information that could cause exceptionally grave damage if accessed by unauthorized personnel.


Clearance holders must complete standard forms SF86 that include questions about their personal history including drug use, foreign connections, financial issues and more. Failure to disclose these issues can result in a denied clearance.

What is a Top Secret Clearance?

A Top Secret Clearance is a security clearance granted by the Federal Government that allows a person to work with classified national security information. There are three levels of security clearances, corresponding to the sensitivity level of the information to which the person will have access: Confidential (information that could cause damage to national security); Secret (information that could damage national security); and Top Secret (information that could cause exceptionally damaging damage to national security).

The process for getting a clearance begins with completing a standard clearance application called the SF-85 or SF-85P. The applicant must also answer a questionnaire specific to the position. Some questions ask about foreign travel and contacts, as well as mental health issues. The investigative process can include interviews of neighbors, relatives and friends; public record checks; and a review of credit records, bankruptcies, criminal convictions, and civil litigation. The investigation can extend back up to ten years in some cases.

Federal offices can request an interim clearance to allow a new employee to begin classified work on a temporary basis while the PSI is underway. Interim clearances are based on some limited checks, the completion of the clearance application and initiation of a PSI. The issuance of interim clearances is governed by Security Executive Agent Directive 8.

Who is eligible for a Top Secret Clearance?

Generally, anyone who needs access to classified information in the course of their work must obtain a personnel security clearance. That includes federal employees in national security positions, as well as private sector workers on contracts with government agencies such as the CIA, State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency. In order to be granted a clearance, an individual must prove that they are trustworthy, of good moral character and of good conduct. They must also have a “bona fide” need to know the classified information.

The process for obtaining a clearance is different for military personnel 흥신소 and civilian federal employees. However, the overall process is similar. The applicant must submit a completed Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86, SF86) and a release of information form. There are additional forms that may be required for specific types of clearance, including financial disclosures and supplemental foreign contact forms. The amount of personal identifying data requested on the SF86 is extensive and can include information about your family, friends, associates and employers; credit history; criminal and driving records; drug and alcohol use; foreign connections; travel; and a number of other subjects.

After the SF86 is completed, the investigator performs background checks. The investigator interviews a wide range of people to get a complete picture, including your neighbors and coworkers. This is known as the “whole-person concept” and is a core principle of the clearance adjudicative process. Once the investigation is complete, the adjudicator makes a decision to grant or deny the clearance. If denied, an individual has the right to appeal the decision to a DOHA AJ or panel of AJs.

What is the process for obtaining a Top Secret Clearance?

The vetting process for clearances differs depending on the level of security required. In general, all tiers require a criminal and credit check. The higher the level of clearance, the more thorough the investigation is. For example, a candidate for a Top Secret clearance will have a more detailed audit of their financial history. The investigator will look for any information that is not easily discovered through automated systems, such as outstanding debt that could be used by a foreign agent to compromise the national security.

Confidential: Unauthorized disclosure of the material this level covers can be expected to cause measurable damage to national security. This clearance needs to be reinvestigated every 15 years. Secret: Unauthorized disclosure of the material this clearance covers can be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security. This clearance requires a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) and must be reinvestigated every five years.

Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI): Access to this level of classified material requires a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) that can take 6 to 18 months. This is the highest level of clearance and must be reinvestigated every year. There are very few positions that have access to this information. Typically, this level of clearance is granted to intelligence professionals and contractors working with the government on highly sensitive projects.

What are the benefits of obtaining a Top Secret Clearance?

A Top Secret clearance grants access to information that could have the most serious consequences for our nation’s security if compromised. Obtaining this level of clearance requires the most intense investigation. Clearance holders can expect to have their entire lives scrutinized, including foreign travels, assets and family relationships. They also must be prepared for more frequent background checks and re-investigations. According to a report by the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area, those with clearances can earn up to 60% more than their counterparts without clearance.

The process to obtain a TS/SCI clearance takes up to a year and involves an exhaustive investigation of your personal and professional life. Investigators will interview family, friends, acquaintances and previous employers as part of the investigation. The vetting process is designed to uncover any potential security risks and weed out applicants who are not trustworthy.

As a clearance holder, you must limit your social activities and travel to certain countries and adhere to strict handling protocols when working with classified information. Additionally, you must answer questions about drug use and sexual behavior on the SF86 form with honesty. These types of personal questions help the government weed out people who may be trying to leak national security information for financial gain. Unpaid debt can also disqualify you from obtaining a clearance but bankruptcy is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.