Security Clearance 101: Types of Security Clearances

Post Date: October 12, 2014 | Category: General Information


Professional Overseas Contractors -
Any person who has worked or will work overseas for an organization that requires access to restricted information more than likely has or will need a security clearance of some type.

The largest source of individuals with security clearances is the military population. Once this group finishes their military career, the majority pack up their uniform and security clearance to look for a civilian job. There are over 200,000 military personnel transitioning out of the service each year. These separating military members look for employment in fields such as the commercial defense-related fields where they can utilize their expert military training and technical skills.

In addition, these jobs generally require background checks due to the sensitive nature of the materials the individual handles on a daily basis - this is where the former military member's clearance becomes a valuable commodity.

The importance of a security clearance does not stop with defense contractors. The medical, telecommunications, education and financial fields (to name a few) have an increasing number of jobs where company information needs to be guarded and HR managers seek out individuals with current security clearances.


Certain federal employees and certain employees in the private sector are required to have security clearances because their job requires them to have access to classified documents. Various other work takes place in secured facilities. The occupant of any such job is said to hold a "sensitive" position, defined as "any position, by virtue of its nature, could bring about a material adverse effect on national security". At any given time, there are about 3 million people with security clearances. In addition, there are about 1.5 million security clearances in the hands of private contracting or consulting firms. Contractors participate in what is called the industrial security program administered by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) which is part of the Joint Information Systems Technology (JIST), a military agency.

One out of every thirty Americans has some sort of security clearance. It has been estimated that one out of every thousand of these can be expected to compromise the secrets they are entrusted with. Some need money, some can be blackmailed, some are disgruntled and want revenge and some are just sloppy. American industry is a prime target for espionage as well as domestic terrorism and white collar crime.

A security clearance is technically a license issued by the head of a department, division or agency of the federal government. The type of security clearance that one can be approved for also depends upon the department, division, or agency involved. For classification purposes, the types of security clearances are:

  • Confidential
  • Secret
  • Top Secret
    • Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (SCI)
    • Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)


Experts project that a security clearance can increase your salary anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, and in some cases, even more. When employers do not have to invest time and money into a background check and the paperwork that goes with that, the saved money often goes back into the employee's salary. Former military personnel who have security clearances are very appealing to employers. In addition to the thorough background check that has already been completed, these employees are disciplined, dependable and have strong leadership skills - priceless attributes in today's market.


The scope of investigative work needed to grant a security clearance depends on the level of clearance being requested. There are three basic levels of security classification:

CONFIDENTIAL: This refers to material, which, if improperly disclosed, could be reasonably expected to cause some measurable damage to the national security. The vast majority of military personnel are given this very basic level of clearance. This level needs to be reinvestigated every fifteen years.*

SECRET: The unauthorized disclosure of secret information could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security. This level is reinvestigated every ten years.*

TOP SECRET: Individuals with this clearance have access to information or material that could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security if it was released without authorization. This level needs to be reinvestigated every five years.*


Any person who is employed by an organization that is sending, receiving, or developing information that the government has deemed as important to National security will need to obtain a security clearance. Currently, there are more than 500,000 background investigations pending for security clearance approval. When an individual is going through the process for clearance, it may take up to a year before a determination is made. This makes a military candidate who already has clearance even more appealing to a hiring company. If the company hires a person who will need to gain a clearance, they may wait over a year before the person is eligible to work on the project for which they were hired. This is a lot of lost time and money to a company. If they can identify a person who has the necessary clearances, such as a candidate with a military background, that person immediately becomes more valuable.


There are three main phases to receiving a security clearance:

  1. The first phase is the application process. This involves verification of U.S. citizenship, fingerprinting and completion of the Personnel Security Questionnaire (SF-86).
  2. The second phase involves the actual investigation of your background. Most of the background check is conducted by the Defense Security Service (DSS).
  3. The final phase is the adjudication phase. The results from the investigative phase are reviewed. The information that has been gathered is evaluated based on thirteen factors determined by the Department of Defense (DoD). Some examples of areas they consider are; allegiance to the United States, criminal and personal conduct, and substance abuse or mental disorders. Clearance is granted or denied following this evaluation process.


6 Responses to “Security Clearance 101: Types of Security Clearances”

  1. Avatar

    Comment made by kerry roaf on Jan 7th 2013 at 2:28 AM:

    How would one get a top secret clearance?


    Comment made by on Jan 7th 2013 at 9:05 PM:

    Please refer to the “HOW DO YOU GET A SECURITY CLEARANCE” section

  3. Avatar

    Comment made by veronica cross on Jan 15th 2013 at 4:11 PM:

    how do I apply to be re-newed for the secret clearance? or does it happen on its own. if so how do I check it

  4. Avatar

    Comment made by En Em on May 17th 2013 at 10:45 PM:

    “…………….these employees are disciplined, dependable and have strong leadership skills – priceless attributes in today’s market”. I beg to differ. A clearance of any kind is neither a qualification nor a skill. A soldier’s skills (this includes Marines) are best effective when utilized in combat. Yes, there are a handful who can cut it in IT when their military service is over, but that’s a very small handful.

    I for one am a civilian who is disciplined, dependable and has strong leadership skills. I am also very good at what I do.

    This undue attraction for cleared employees does guys like me a gross disservice.

  5. junebug

    Comment made by junebug on Sep 23rd 2013 at 3:36 AM:

    can I just purchase a clearance on my own or does it have to be sponsored?

  6. Avatar

    Comment made by gunney1 on Nov 16th 2013 at 4:15 PM:

    its funny i cant get a security because of one late bill that was paid off yrs ago but we hire all these local nationals i served my country for 20 yrs but im treated like im going do something so funny

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