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:
|Secret||Top Secret||Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)|
|What it is||Provides 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.|
|Example||This 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 Clearance||To 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 Timeline||A 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.|