Getting a Security Clearance
By Derrick Dortch
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 25, 2004; 12:41 PM
You are looking through the job postings and you see the job of your dream.
It has everything you want but as you read to the end you see that a
security clearance is needed. What is a security clearance and
how do you apply for one so you can get that dream job?
Many people think that they can go to a company or agency and apply for
their own security clearance. This is far from the truth.
Only the federal government can grant someone a security clearance, and to get one the applicant must work for a government agency or contractor
and conduct business that justifies granting him or her access to highly sensitive
What is a security clearance?
A security clearance is the process of determining the applicant's trustworthiness and
reliability before granting him or her access to national security
What is a security clearance investigation?
This is how the Defense Security Service, the agency that conducts all
background and security investigations for the Department of Defense, defines security clearance investigation: "A security clearance investigation is an inquiry into an individual's
loyalty, character, trustworthiness and reliability to ensure that he or she
is eligible for access to national security information. The investigation
focuses on an individual's character and conduct, emphasizing such factors
as honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, financial responsibility, criminal
activity, emotional stability, and other similar and pertinent areas. All
investigations consist of checks of national records and credit checks; some
investigations also include interviews with individuals who know the
candidate for the clearance as well as the candidate himself/herself."
Executive Order 10450 signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 17,
1953 gave certain agencies of the United States government the authority
to adjudicate employees who request access to national security or sensitive information. Here is what Executive Order 10450 says in its introduction:
"WHEREAS the interests of the national security require that all persons
privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the Government,
shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of
complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States; and
WHEREAS the American tradition that all persons should receive fair,
impartial, and equitable treatment at the hands of the Government requires
that all persons seeking the privilege of employment or privileged to be
employed in the departments and agencies of the government be adjudged by
mutually consistent and no less than minimum standards and procedures among
the departments and agencies governing the employment and retention in
employment of persons in the Federal service."
Only federal agencies can provide anyone with a security clearance.
They include all national security agencies and intelligence gathering
agencies (CIA, NSA), federal law enforcement agencies (FBI, Secret
Service, DEA, NCIS), civilian military agencies (DIA, DSS), certain
occupations in the U.S. military, diplomatic agencies (State Department),
certain scientific government agencies and a number of others depending on
their mission and role in national security.
There are also many companies – think tanks, research facilities and other
organizations – that have contracts or grants with the federal government that
require them to access sensitive information. These companies or
organizations are required to have their employees cleared by the federal
government. No company without a contract
with the federal government can independently give or seek a security
clearance, and no individual who is not
working for the federal government or a contract organization can get a
There are different types of security clearances allowing a person to access
classified material. The four main types are confidential, secret, top secret (TS), and sensitive compartmented information (SCI).
This type of security clearance provides access to information or material that may cause damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.
This type of security clearance provides access to information or material that may cause serious damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.
This type of security clearance provides access to information or material that may cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.
Sensitive Compartmented Information
This type of security clearance provides access to all intelligence information and material that require special controls for
restricted handling within compartmented channels and for which
compartmentation is established.
In addition, some clearances allow access to particularly sensitive information. Known as Special Access Programs, these clearances are defined by the Defense
Security Service as any program that is established to control access,
distribution, and to provide protection for information beyond confidential, secret and top secret levels.
Getting a Security Clearance
Getting a clearance is a long process and depends on the type of
clearance you are getting. Your employer or prospective employer
will begin the process of securing a security clearance by
submitting the proper paperwork to the investigating/adjudication agency.
The paperwork will usually include the federal form SF-86 (National
Security Questionnaire) and other supporting documents. Your signature on these documents will allow the agency to check your medical history, credit/financial history,
military background, police record and other areas of life.
Once you have turned in the documentation, the designated agency will begin the security clearance/investigation/adjudication proceedings, depending on
backlog and priority. This may include
interviews with co-workers, family, friends, associates and others, a review
of your medical, credit, financial and other history, a background check to
determine the use of illegal drugs, criminal record, and contact with
foreign nationals and a check on many other areas of your life.
This process may take several months up to a year depending on backlog, need
for more information, depth of the investigation/adjudication process and
Now that you know about the process, you can look for your
dream job that may require security clearances. If you prove that you can perform your job effectively, your company, organization or agency will apply for
a security clearance for you. Make sure you understand the
process before applying. The clearance process is an in-depth
probe into your personal and professional life, and with the threat of spies
and other issues of national security, the scrutiny may
get more intense.
Editor's note: This article by Derrick Dortch, was acquired by washingtonpost.com on February 10, 2003.
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