How to acquire a Top Secret Security Clearance

I was searching the Washington Post job section and noticed that many of the jobs that match my skills require a “Top Secret Security Clearance” which I don’t have. So how difficult is it to acquire one of these things, what does the test involve, and how much is it? Thanks.

Sorry, your current Security Clearance doesn’t entitle you to this information.

That’s fine, I didn’t want to see your secret stash of Janet Reno pornos anyway.

From what I understand, the process is about $5000. They do a complete background security check, including any odd travel plans, and associations with anybody who has friends in “questionable” organizations.

Realistically, it’s just another way that the government contractors keep their people in employment. Once you pass any background check, you almost certainly qualify for that level of clearance again. I hear, though, that top level security clearance means that they want somebody who is at least either full bird Colonel, or someone with extensive (10+ years)experience with DoD classified files.

The Defense Security Service has a FAQ

The military doesn’t give people security clearances based only on rank - people are cleared to handle the level of information required for their job. If an Airman Basic’s job is to input Top Secret messages into a computer, he or she will be investigated for a Top Secret clearance. OTOH, I am sure it’s true that almost all full bird Colonels have clearances, while most low-ranking enlisted people do not.

zedan, it seems that the normal process is to be hired by a government contractor, which would pay the DSS to do the investigation. I’m not sure what it costs, but your employer would pay for it, not you.

According to the last contractor I worked for, 5 grand is the average. They actually pass that cost on to you, the taxpayer, by incorporating it into their bid for the contract. Usually, they’ll have a person in charge of security (secrets, not making sure the donuts are stocked) do the necessary paperwork for you. The only reason why they even ask you have it is so they don’t have to spend on it.

In my experience, you’re not gonna get that job if you dont have the clearence. There is plenty of people coming out of the military with clearences in hand to fill most jobs. On the other hand I’ve never lived in DC so I could be wrong on that. I’ve lived in several other “military” places and there always seems to be enough former military with clerences to fill the vacant jobs requiring clearences. Can I ramble or what? Secondly, from what I’ve heard and read, they cost a whole hell of a lot more than 5000$. This, I’m sure depends on the level of clearence of which there is many. From what I’ve gathered, if a company hires you sans clearence, the $$ for it are going to come out of their own pocket. They are “renewed” every 5 to 7 years depending on level again. I don’t know if Joe Blow can walk into a security office with a blank check and get one just so he can get a job. I would think not but I could be wrong. My guess is he would need the job first. Last I heard the DOD was WAY behind in issuing them. But now I have said to much and have to kill all of you.

While I’m not gonna speak as to whether or not I have one, I can say that this statement is probably partially true… they’ll at the minimum have a secret clearance. It’s simply a matter of all of the jobs they’ve held since entering the service. At some point or another, especially as your rank (and thus responsibility) increases, you’re going to need it. Once you get it, it’s up to you not to let it lapse. The process is lengthy, due to their backlog.

And no, Joe Schmoe can’t walk in to his local DoD office, write out a check, and get one. It’s DoD contractor and billet specific, and it does indeed cost quite a bit more than $5K.

In the civilian world, your employer will get the clearance for you. AFAIK you can’t just say, “Hey, I want a clearance” and get one. When you get a job that requires a clearance you will normally be put into a position where you don’t need a clearance until the investigation is finished. This could be “make-work”, studying up on company procedures and practices, attending classes, or just sitting in a room playing solitaire or reading (really). Generally a company will look for someone who already has a Secret clearance. A Secret clearance may take several weeks to obtain. Basically they check to see if you have a police record, history of drug use, debts, or anything else that would make you a security risk. The Defense Investigative Service (DIS) will interview your references and then ask your neighbours about you. A Top Secret clearance is more intense, goes farther into your past, and more people are interviewed. This is one of those “pre-caffeine posts”, so I hope I covered everything.

I’d tell you how I know about getting a TS clearance, but then I’d have to make you disappear. (No “smiley”.)

Oh yeah, just because you have a clearance does not entitle you to see everything that is classified at that level. You have to have a “Need to Know”. There is also SAP/SAR (Special Access Program/Special Access Required) that applies to certain programs. In addition to your clearance you will need to be specially cleared for that specific program.

Not to mention the paperwork requires for just a simple “secret” clearance is a HUGE pain in the ass. You have to remeber every address you’ve had for the past 7 years, name five non-relatives who have known you for 7 years, every time you left the country and why, and on and on ad infinitum. I personally found it exhausting.

Two parts to getting information: Need to Know and Clearance. As the Company Comm. Chief, I had Secret clearance, but that didn’t mean I could cruise into any office and peruse briefings at my leisure.

Since I’m no longer active/reserve, I couldn’t even get into the crypto-locker or, technically, operate any crypto (or SINCGARS) gear. Oh, and AFAIK, I was never charged a thing, it was all the tax-payers.

I grew up in a small Iowa town. When I was being investigated for a clearance, they actually sent someone to my hometown and asked folks about me. I know this because they asked the Police Chief about me, and since my father was Sheriff, he found out.

When I knew the chief, he was the janitor at my high school!

Back when I was little Private E2 Balthisar in the Army Reserve, I had to be processed for a “Top Secret” clearance. Yeah, I was only a stupid radio operator (at that time), but it was a reserve military intelligence battalion. This is during my senior year of high school! “They” interviewed my principal, and came in to work (McDonald’s!!) to interview my friends. They also check your credit rating, for what I hope are obvious reasons (all I had was a little Hudson’s credit card).

Supposedly the clearance lasts a lifetime, but “checkups” are done every once in a while. For example, even though I left the reserves to go regular Army, my “Top Secret” followed me my whole career, despite not having the need for it (and having a GOOD job).

The clearance DOES permit entry into certain vaults where classified documents are stored, but not necessarily access to those documents once you’re allowed in the vault. It all comes down to “need-to-know” as was already stated.

The MI unit, by the way, often had to transfer people to other, non-MI battalions when a clearance couldn’t be had. EVERYBODY needed at least “secret” clearance to stay, and “top secret” not to be relegated to fixing decrepit Chrysler CUCVs (or whatever the pre-Chevy CUCV’s were called) in the motor pool.

Just a couple of notes from someone who’s going through the process now…

TS clearance isn’t something you can just “get”, or “buy”. You must have a skill or knowledge that an employer really, really, really wants (as in supporting a contract) before they’re going to shell out bucks for the investigation (Earlier in the thread was an estimate of $5K; the latest number I heard for the process was on the order of $25-30K, but can’t confirm it.) It does help if you’re prior military and held a clearance, but it won’t make the process much cheaper or quicker.

The “paperwork” isn’t paperwork now. A potential employee uses an e-form that is pretty easy to use/fill out as long as you have ALL the info to fill in the blanks; that can be the toughest and most aggravating part of the process.

Once you’ve submitted an e-validated form, the folks that investigate you, your past, your present, and everything about you do their work pretty much as mentioned earlier in the thread. During the process (which can be lllooonnngg) those that have held clearances in the past can be granted “interim clearance” (at an equivalent or lesser clearance level) and perform work at that level, until the investigation is completed and final clearance granted. Final clearance is not “final”; holders of a simple TS must go through the e-form drill at specific intervals, and are checked again (though I don’t think updates are manpower intensive, or expensive).

What are the things that’ll keep you from getting a clearance? I suspect that’s another thread in itself and I won’t bore you with a string of “qualifiers” you already suspect.

What has been said above is generally true, and the reason job listings (especially DC area, where I currently work in the Air Force) specify clearances is because 1) They do classified government work, and 2) People that have a clearance already save the company the time and money that “clearing” somebody would cost. So, true you just can’t say “Hey, I want a Top Secret Clearance.” You have to have/get a job where you need one. Prior military always have preferential treatment for contractor jobs that require clearance, because most of us have at least a Secret clearance. Some jobs in the Air Force, mine included, REQUIRE you to be able to obtain and keep a Secret clearance in order to be promoted or re-enlist (i’m a computer operator by the way, which today means Network Administrator, the best job to have in the Air Force, besides pilot).

For what’s it worth, some of the customers I support are the very people that approve/disapprove clearance applications for the DOD, so I can put a good word in for you :slight_smile: (Just kidding)

One of the best ways to get a Top Secret Clearance is to get your employer to pay for it.

I used to work at a Department of Energy facility that made parts for nuclear bombs. I had to get a “Q Clearance,” which is DOE’s version of a Top Secret Clearance. They had to interview my friends, relatives, high school teachers, etc. It took about 5 months.

I’m not going to say your are incorrect, but every officer I know has at least a SECRET clearance.

I could tell more, but I’d have to bore you . . .

One of the stipulations of becoming an officer is the ability to obtain/keep a security clearance. So, no clearance, no commission. This is why all officers have a clearance. On a related (somewhat) note, another stipulation of becoming an Air Force officer is acknowledging the following:
“I understand that as an Air Force commissioned officer, I may be called upon to initiate the launch of nuclear weapons.”

I always thought that was kinda cool. :slight_smile:

Thanks everyone for all the info! Now I have a legitimate excuse to avoid all those great jobs that require top secret clearance as there’s probably no way in hell I will ever acquire one. Also there’s that little stint in Vietnam in my past which may look a little suspicious considering I was born after the war. But seriously I’m not a communist, I went there last summer and spent most of my days partying in Hanoi and Saigon (I didn’t inhale… well okay I did). But would the DoD buy it? hmmmmm… I don’t wanna find out!