Security Clearance Guide

Security Clearance 101 - Guide to Security Clearance

Top SecretA security clearance basically declares that an individual is trusted to safeguard national security information. There are various levels of security clearances, all of which require different levels of investigation. Top secret security clearance is the highest level a person can obtain. The information one would be expected to safeguard with a top secret security clearance would be information that would cause exceptional damage to national security if leaked.The second highest level is secret clearance. Secret clearance is for information that would cause serious damage if revealed to the wrong sources. This is the level that most military personal are required to obtain. The lowest form of security clearance is confidential clearance. While confidential information can still threaten national security, the damage it would do wouldn’t be as grave as the damage that could be caused in the other two levels.

Each level requires an investigation to be conducted for a defined period of time, usually the last 10 years. Employees looking to obtain a security clearance will have to provide the necessary information in order for the investigation to be complete. This usually includes names of previous employers, colleagues, your spouse, family members and any other information that is pertinent to an individual’s background, such as divorces or bankruptcies. Applicants will also have to go through a series of interviews with a DS investigator. Often times, this involves polygraph tests and other forms of interrogation to determine whether or not someone can be trusted with classified information. These investigations aren’t to find out whether or not someone has done something compromising in their past, but whether or not they are willing to admit to it. This helps investigators to determine whether or not the applicant would be susceptible to blackmail or willing to divulge classified information if he or she were put into a compromising situation.

Just because someone is granted a security clearance doesn’t mean they have it for good. Each level requires reinvestigation at different times. Holders of top security clearances require reinvestigation every 5 years. For secret clearances, the reinvestigation occurs every 10 years, while confidential clearances need to be reinvestigated every 15 years.

While a majority of the security clearances granted belong to individuals who work within the government in some capacity, security clearances are also required for employees that work for companies contracted by the government. It isn’t necessarily the job that defines whether or not a security clearance is required, but rather what information the employees will encounter during their work.

In order to begin the process to obtain a security clearance, an individual must fill out a Standard Form 86, which is a questionnaire for National Security positions. It is important that the candidate provide truthful and thorough answers, as this will help to expedite the decision-making process. Once the information in the packet is verified, the interviews will begin shortly after.

Security Clearance Jobs

Security Clearance 101 - Employment Opportunities

Security clearance jobs are generally specialized positions which require a high level of confidentiality. There are various levels of security clearance jobs and each level has a higher standard in order to pass a security clearance for the employee. These types of jobs are highly sought after positions which require a lifetime of good choices in order to obtain them. Here are example of high security clearance jobs.

FBI & CIA Agents

FBIAll FBI and CIA employees are required to undergo an extensive background search in order to become an employee of these government agencies. The jobs require an extreme adeptness for keeping a low profile. Security clearance for these jobs is high level. A person seeking this type of job will need to have an exemplary criminal history, lacking any type of conviction or hint of dishonesty. Their credit rating must be in an exceptional state as well. This is just one example of a career needing security clearance.

Specialized Armed Forces

Military ForcesSpecialized armed forces personnel are required to have some level of security clearance in order to perform their duties. There are many different types of specialized forces and therefore the level of necessary security clearance can range from the lowest to the highest. For low level security clearance, a recent background check as well as credit ratings may be considered for the purpose of determining the ability to act according to instruction as well as keeping certain information confidential. The highest level of security will require a much more in-depth study of a person’s life before they are qualified for specialized positions within the armed forces.

Any civilian seeking work within the boundaries of a military base will be required to pass a minimum security clearance to maintain their job. Although it is possible to obtain employment on a military base without a security clearance, there generally comes a time when the clearance must be issued to continue employment on the base. Higher security clearance is necessary for those seeking jobs that require entry into gated areas of the base.

Police Investigators

PolicePolice investigators will require a high level of security clearance to obtain the position. Police investigators must be trustworthy to remain free from bias. They must also be gifted in gaining the trust of others. A security clearance will prove that ability.

High security clearance is extremely difficult to obtain. A spotless court record and excellent credit are absolute necessities for this type of clearance. A thorough investigation is required, including interviews with people from the past and present of the applicant. Every aspect of the life of an applicant is open to investigation and it is likely it will all be checked for truthfulness. Those who are dishonest on a security clearance application will not be cleared. The ideal candidate for any given security clearance position will be the one who is capable of passing this most invasive test.

Requirements for Security Clearance

Security Clearance 101 - Clearance Requirements

Any person whose job involves access to classified information is required to have a security clearance. In the United States, security clearances can only be issued by the federal government. Clearances may not be requested by individuals; they must be requested by an employer who does business with the government and has a need to access classified information. Clearances for non-military contractors are managed by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO.)

There are three levels of information security: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. Confidential, the lowest level, is usually the easiest one to get. Once issued, the Confidential clearance must be renewed through a reinvestigation process every 15 years. The Secret clearance requires a more thorough investigation and must be re-investigated every 10 years. Top Secret, the highest level, must be re-investigated every 5 years.

To begin the application process, the employer must submit a request to the Joint Personnel Adjudication System on behalf of an employee who has already been hired, or who has been offered a job contingent on the security clearance. The employee then fills out an online application using the Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing (eQIP.) To prepare for the online form, it is recommended that the applicant fill out the paper form SF86 – Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which requires extensive background information including employment history and residence information going back seven years, as well as character references, foreign activities, marital history and financial information. Once the application is accepted, it is passed to DISCO for the investigation phase.

The investigation will include computerized checks of national databases such as those maintained by the FBI and the Office of Personnel Management. It will also include checks of local agencies in the applicant’s jurisdiction for criminal history, verification of residence information, school and employment records. A complete check of the applicant’s financial history will also be conducted.. For Top Secret clearances, the investigation will conduct field interviews of references, including coworkers, friends, teachers, neighbors and others. A physical check of court records, employer documents, rental agreements and similar documents will be performed. An investigator will also interview the applicant.

When the investigation phase is complete, the application enters the adjudication phase. Adjudication is conducted by the specific military or government branch responsible for the classified information. Any evidence of a serious criminal record, an addiction to a controlled substance, mental incompetency or a dishonorable discharge from military service will result in an automatic rejection of the application. If any other derogatory evidence is revealed by the investigation, the adjudicator may request additional information or evidence from the applicant. Before a rejection, the application will be reviewed by a higher authority within the branch. The applicant has the right to appeal a rejection.

The time required to process a security clearance application varies from several months to over a year for a Top Secret clearance rating. This is due mainly to a backlog of requests and insufficient resources to process applications. Any errors in the application, including minor mistakes such as incorrect ZIP codes, misspellings or typographic mistakes can also delay the process.

Security Clearance Levels

Security Clearance 101 - Security Levels

When applying for a job with the government, it is important to understand security clearance levels and how the application process for each works. For most jobs, the security clearance required will be the lowest overall tier but some jobs require a higher tier and a higher level of scrutiny. An individual may qualify for one level and not qualify for another, so it is vitally important to understand the major differences between each.

The most common security level is the confidential level. This is the level that requires a level of trust that the information seen will not be shared with the general public. The information is not so secretive that it could cause harm to national security but it is still sensitive. The process for gaining this access can take a few months of investigation and requires a very lengthy application. This application will ask for a potential employee’s complete work history, residential history, and educational history. For each of these locations, the applicant will have to give three references. The catch is that none of the references can repeat. So a person can only use their mother as one reference for one part of their life.

After the application is completed, each of the references will be contacted by an investigator that will ask about the applicants life. It is considered proper to warn any references that this will occur. Some people get a little nervous when a government official says they have questions for them.

LevelsThe next level up in security is the secret level. While it is possible to gain the confidential level with a criminal history, it is highly unlikely that secret level will be granted. This does not mean a person should lie about their past. Lying on a government form is a criminal act and can result in even more prison time. This process takes a little longer because the background check is much more thorough. It becomes especially lengthy if the applicant has lived outside of the country or has immediate family that resides in another country. This status must be investigated again every ten years because the information learned in these jobs is important to the security of the country.

The final level of security is the top secret level. This is the hardest level to obtain. Obtaining this level requires a process that can take up to three years and must be investigated again every five years. Unlike the other levels, top secret requires a person interview in order to be approved. This level is so strict because the information learned is vital to national security and could damage the standing of the country if revealed.

There are many subcategories of clearance and some companies also require clearance procedures very similar to that of the government. It is important to understand all of the levels and the requirements for each before applying to a job. As long as an applicant is honest and thorough, there will be little issue with gaining security clearance.

How to Get Security Clearance

Security Clearance 101 - Application Process

There are many great jobs for which a person might need to obtain security clearance. Many of these military jobs are with the government on either the federal or state level. The term “security clearance” can have many meanings but it is generally the term used when talking about the lowest level of clearance needed to perform a job that is centered on sensitive information but not information that is vital to national security. The process for getting this clearance is pretty straight forward as long as an applicant is thorough and honest.

The questionnaire asks the potential employee to fill out every address they have ever lived at, every job they have ever held, and every school they have ever attended. That person is then asked to provide at least three references that can verify each of those pieces of information. The tough part is that none of those references can overlap. So an applicant’s mother can not be used to verify every address but only one.

Many people find this to be an unfair practice. It is difficult to remember three people from an address they were at when they were five years old. While it is quite hard sometimes, it is the government making sure people understand how serious this type of clearance really is. If the process for gaining access were simple, it would be very easy for threats to national security to obtain the sensitive information. A person that takes the effort to find all of this information is clearly serious about the job they have been presented and that alone impresses government officials.

The next step is to warn people that they have been put down as a reference. There is nothing that angers people more than when they get a letter from the FBI and find out it was just to conduct an interview. Some people are frightened because they have no idea why the FBI is contacting them. So it is only fair that each person be given notice that they might get contacted by the government and that it is nothing to worry about.

It is also vitally important that an applicant is totally honest on the application. It has sections that ask about any past activities that were illegal. If someone on the reference list watched the commission of a crime, it is important that the application mention that crime. The government frowns upon activities such as marijuana but it does not automatically disqualify an applicant. However, lying about taking drugs is an automatic disqualification from security clearance. It is far better to be honest than to hope former fraternity or sorority friends do not accidentally let it slip out.

The process of obtaining security clearance is fairly simple. An applicant must be honest and thorough with their information. They should make sure to warn people that they will be interviewed and what the interview is happening for.