Clearances 101

Types of Clearances

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The level of security clearance is based on the level of information needed for individuals to perform their jobs. “Information” is really a broad term because it could mean anything from the contents of an intelligence report to plans for a special, high-security building, access to a piece of advanced equipment, techniques to gather intelligence, knowledge of sensitive operations, and much more. There is also a category of information called “For Official Use Only” (FOUO), which should not be released to the public. For example, this could refer to the printed daily schedule for a military base or a ship – something that should not be given to the public, but is not technically classified.

There are many types of security clearances. Some of the most common include those listed below:

SecretTop SecretTop Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)
What it isProvides access to information or material that may cause “serious damage” to national security if it were released without authorization. Provides access to information or material that may cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security if it was released without authorization.

Those who obtain a Top Secret Clearance have duties that demand the highest degree of public trust.
Provides access to highly sensitive information that could cause “grave damage” and/or compromise technologies, plans or procedures vital to national security if released without authorization.
ExampleThis information could refer to plans to conduct a tactical combat operation. The plans might cover only a single operation in a limited area for a very limited period of time. However, premature disclosure of this information could hurt the success of the operation. Unauthorized release of top-secret information could include compromising vital national defense plans, complex cryptology and communications intelligence systems; revealing sensitive intelligence operations; and disclosing scientific or technological developments vital to national security. An NSA or CIA program.
Process to Obtain ClearanceTo obtain a Secret Clearance, an individual must pass a “National Agency Check with Local Agency Checks and Credit Check” (NACLC), which looks back at the last five years of your life.An investigation for a Top Secret Clearance is more thorough and reviews the last seven to 10 years of your life. The Top Secret Clearance requires a Single Scope Background Information (SSBI), which involves interviews with friends and family. Top Secret/SCI clearance requires the same investigation process as a Top Secret Clearance, requiring a Single Scope Background Information (SSBI) that looks back at your last seven to 10 years. 
Renewal TimelineA Secret Clearance must be renewed every 10 years. The Top Secret Clearance must be renewed every five years. Top Secret/SCI must be renewed every five years.