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Clearances Explained | SG2 Recruiting

Clearances Explained

Government security clearance programs and their respective levels can be a mystery to most.

by Mike Dreisch

The levels of US government security clearances, in ascending order of authorization, are:

  1. Confidential: This is the lowest level of security clearance, and it is granted to individuals who need access to information that could cause damage to national security if disclosed. This clearance is typically required for administrative, clerical, and support positions.

  2. Secret: This level of clearance is granted to individuals who require access to information that could cause severe damage to national security if disclosed. This clearance is typically required for positions that involve access to sensitive information, such as military plans and operations.

  3. Top Secret: This is the highest level of security clearance. It is granted to individuals who need access to highly classified information that could cause grave damage to national security if disclosed. This clearance is typically required for positions involving access to sensitive national security and intelligence information.

In addition to these three levels, some agencies within the US government also have special access programs (SAPs) that require even higher levels of clearance beyond Top Secret. These programs grant access to highly sensitive and compartmentalized information, and clearance requirements are determined by individual agencies based on the level of sensitivity of the information involved.

The US government has several special access programs (SAPs) that provide access to highly sensitive and compartmentalized information. The specific SAPs are classified, and the exact number and details are not publicly known, but some of the known SAPs include the following:

  1. SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information): This particular category of classified information requires a Top Secret clearance and additional access to specific compartments or areas within the information. This category may also be associated with a specific polygraph examination.

  2. SAP (Special Access Program): This program provides access to highly sensitive information and requires additional security beyond Top Secret clearance. SAPs are typically used for sensitive military or intelligence operations and programs.

  3. ACCM (Access Controlled by a Cryptographic Module): This program involves using cryptographic tools and techniques to protect classified information.

  4. COMSEC (Communications Security): This is a program that involves the protection of classified information that is transmitted over communication systems.

  5. ORCON (Originator Controlled): This program involves the protection of information designated as being sensitive based on its origin or source.

  6. GAMMA (Gamma control): This is a program that involves the protection of information related to sensitive intelligence operations and activities.

Many other SAPs are not publicly known or discussed, as their existence and details are classified. These programs typically involve access to highly sensitive and compartmentalized information, and clearance requirements are determined by individual agencies based on the level of sensitivity of the information involved.

The polygraph, also known as a lie detector test, is sometimes used as part of the US government’s security clearance process to help determine an individual’s suitability for a security clearance. The polygraph examination is administered by a trained examiner who asks questions about the individual’s background and activities.

Three polygraph test levels are used in the US government’s clearance process:

  1. Counterintelligence (CI) Polygraph: This test assesses an individual’s reliability, trustworthiness, and honesty, particularly concerning espionage, sabotage, terrorism, unauthorized disclosure of classified information, or other activities that could pose a threat to national security. This test is typically administered to individuals seeking a Top Secret security clearance.

  2. Lifestyle Polygraph: This test assesses an individual’s honesty and integrity in drug use, criminal behavior, and financial issues. This test is typically administered to individuals seeking a Top Secret security clearance.

  3. Full Scope Polygraph: This test combines the CI and Lifestyle Polygraphs and is used to assess an individual’s honesty and integrity in all areas that could be relevant to their security clearance, including espionage, sabotage, terrorism, unauthorized disclosure of classified information, drug use, criminal behavior, and financial issues. This test is typically administered to individuals seeking access to highly sensitive information and materials, such as those involved in special access programs.

It’s important to note that not all agencies use polygraph tests as part of their clearance process. Even when used, the polygraph test results are just one factor among many considered in making a security clearance determination.

 

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