3 Levels of Security Clearance

What exactly does security clearance mean? For someone to have a security clearance, whether they are a private contractor who is working for the government, or a federal employee, it means that he or she has been deemed eligible to have access to classified information that is related to the national security of the United States.

Just because someone has security clearance, it does not mean that he or she has access to classified information. Instead, it means that he or she is “eligible” for “access.” For an individual to gain access to classified information, he or she must “need to know” specific classified information in order to perform their job duties.

There are different types of security clearance, and they are broken down into three levels: 1) confidential, 2) secret, and 3) top secret, each of which correspond with the degree of sensitivity involved.

Of the three levels of security clearance, confidential involves the least sensitive, secret is in the middle, and as its name indicates, top secret is the highest level of security clearance.

Other Categories of Security Clearance

In addition to the above, there are two other major categories of security clearance; these levels require even further access restrictions. They are Sensitive Compartmented Information, otherwise known as SCI, and Special Access Programs (SAPs).

SCI pertains to intelligence, such as its methods, sources and processes, whereas, SAPs refer to projects and programs of a highly sensitive nature. Both categories (SCIs and SAPs) have higher eligibility standards than access to other classified information, thus, the numbers of individuals who can gain access to such information are more limited.

In order for a federal employee or a private contractor to gain access to classified information or materials, they must be cleared first. Can a person apply for security clearance on their own, the same way they would apply for a driver’s license or a concealed weapon permit? No, people are not allowed to apply for security clearance on their own; that’s not how it works.

In order for an individual to obtain security clearance, a sponsoring federal agency must be the one to initiate this process. Once the in-depth background investigation is conducted, the agency will determine if the individual is eligible for security clearance.

In the past, the Office of Personnel Management, Federal Investigative Services oversaw upwards of 90% of background investigations. However, on October 1, 2016, President Obama put that responsibility on the newly established National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB). While the NBIB conducts some of the investigations itself, many of them are contracted to outside, private firms.

Getting a security clearance is a difficult and complicated process. For the dedicated legal assistance you need, contact the security clearance lawyers at Claery & Hammond, LLP!