Security Clearances US Department of State
A security clearance is a status granted to individuals allowing them access to classified information (state or organizational secrets) or to restricted areas, after completion of a thorough background check. The term "security clearance" is also sometimes used in private organizations that have a formal process to vet employees for access to sensitive information. A clearance by itself is normally not sufficient to gain access; the organization must also determine that the cleared individual needs to know specific information. No one is supposed to be granted automatic access to classified information solely because of rank, position, or a security clearance.
Security clearances can be issued by many United States of America government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy (DoE), theDepartment of Justice (DoJ), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The USA's DoE clearances include the "L" and "Q" levels. DoD issues more than 80% of all clearances. There are three levels of DoD security clearances:
Despite the common misconception, a public trust position is not a security clearance, and is not the same as the confidential designation. Certain positions which require access to sensitive information, but not information which is classified, must obtain this designation through a background check. Public Trust Positions can either be moderate-risk or high-risk.
Information "above Top Secret" is either Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) or special access program (SAP) which are phrases used by media. It is not truly "above" Top Secret, since there is no civilian clearance higher than Top Secret. SCI information may be either Secret or Top Secret, but in either case it has additional controls on dissemination beyond those associated with the classification level alone. In order to gain SCI Access, one would need to have a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). Compartments of information are identified by code names. This is one means by which the "need to know" principle is formally and automatically enforced. Only persons with access to a given compartment of information are permitted to see information within that compartment, regardless of the person's security clearance level. As long as the holder of a clearance is sponsored, the clearance remains active. If the holder loses sponsorship, the holder is eligible for re-employment with the same clearance for up to 24 months without reinvestigation, after which an update investigation is required.
A Periodic Reinvestigation is typically required every five years for Top Secret and ten years for Secret/Confidential, depending upon the agency. Access to a compartment of information lasts only as long as the person's need to have access to a given category of information.
Unclassified (U) is a valid security description, especially when indicating unclassified information within a document classified at a higher level. For example, the title of a Secret report is often unclassified, and must be marked as such. Material that is classified as Unclassified // For Official Use Only (U//FOUO) is considered between Unclassified and Confidential and may deal with employee data.
For access to information at a given classification level, individuals must have been granted access by the sponsoring government organization at that or a higher classification level, and have a need to know the information. The government also supports access to SCI and SAPs in which access is determined by need-to-know. These accesses require increased investigative requirements before access is granted.