What are security clearances?
In order to be allowed access to classified information by the United States government an individual has to be issued a security clearance. This clearance is issued by the United States government after a background investigation. The exact scope of that investigation may vary depending on the type of clearance and the agency involved.
Types of security clearances
There are three types of security clearance, Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. The fact that an individual has a particular type of clearance, however, does not mean that they can then see all information at that level of classification in the possession of the government. Individuals are only allowed access to that information they have a need to know. Access to information is, therefore, compartmented within agencies. Certain select categories of information may be restricted to only a handful of individuals.
The kind, or type, of investigation conducted depends on the access level that the individual is required to have to perform his or her official duties. Investigations are more or less intrusive depending on the needs of the government. Individuals may also be required to undergo polygraph tests in order to be granted clearances.
Suspension or revocation of clearances
Security clearances are not the property of the individual to whom they are granted. They can be suspended or revoked at the will of the government.
- Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency FAQ
- Security Clearances for Law Enforcement
- Department of State Security Clearances
- A Primer on Congressional Staff Clearances