What Are the Different Types of Security Clearances?

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The U.S. government deals with very sensitive information every day--broken codes, military operations and hundreds of other topics. If individuals within the government let some of this information leak, it could cause grave damage to national security. Therefore, it is important for the government to deeply investigate all of its employees and contractors before hiring them. It then assigns one of three main levels of clearance to its employees, depending on the type of sensitive information the employees are permitted to access.

Reasons for Getting a Clearance

Getting a clearance can be a long process, but it is an essential prerequisite for working in certain areas. If you would like to work in a federal agency, such as the NSA, CIA, FBI, Secret Service or DIA, you will need a level of security clearance. There are also other organizations, such as research facilities and think tanks, that have contracts with the federal government, and therefore require security clearances.

How to Get a Clearance

You cannot get a security clearance on your own; instead, you must be sponsored by a contractor or a government entity. This will happen when you apply to a job that requires a certain level of clearance. You will fill out an SF86 form. Make sure to include clear and accurate information for faster processing time. The government will then begin an investigation into your past to ensure that you can be trusted with secure information.

Confidential Clearance

This is the easiest clearance to get. An investigation for confidential clearance usually takes no more than a few months, and it must be renewed every 15 years. Individuals with confidential clearance can view information that could harm the country if it were exposed.

Secret Clearance

The second level of security clearances is secret clearance. It can take up to a year to complete this clearance process. Financial problems can often disqualify an individual from obtaining secret clearance. Individuals with secret clearance can view information that could do even more severe damage to the country if it were exposed.

Top Secret Clearance

Top secret (TS) clearance is much rarer than confidential or secret clearance. It can take up to three years to obtain TS clearance. Individuals with TS clearance can view information that could gravely damage national security if it were exposed.

Sensitive Compartmented Information

In addition to the three levels of security clearances, sensitive compartmented information is a distinction given to individuals who need access to a specific type of highly sensitive information.