Is "Top Secret" the highest level clearance you can get?

I was wondering about the different security clearances used by the U.S. government. I know that there is a “secret” clearance. What does that enable one to do or see exactly? Then there is “Top Secret”. Is that the highest level clearance available. If not, what is? Do congressmen and cabinet members have a special security clearnce?

No, there are higher security clearances. My step-father set up radar systems for the Army. His security clearance was high enough that he could not tell it to my mother who had a top secret clearance.

[DISCLAIMER] At least that’s what they told me…[/DISCLAIMER]

Nitpicky, perhaps, but there are only three clearances: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. Within TS, there are other classifications of access to specific types of materials based upon need to know.

When I held my TS clearance, years ago, I was assigned to projects which allowed me to see information that my boss was not permitted to see. Nor could I tell just anyone that I had additional access. Also, just because I had a TS clearance did not mean that I could just mosey into a facility and read all their TS stuff. The designations of restrictions within TS are often closely guarded themselves.

At least, that’s how it worked in DOD - other agencies have other designations, so I’ve been told.

I’m not sure it should be qualified as “higher.” It’s more like different access to same level of information for different people.

IIRC, if two people both have a Top Secret clearance, one is still not permitted to divulge information available to him to the other unless the other person has access to that information based on what’s called “need to know.” Thus the whole “compartmentalized information” concept.

I work for the Government, and take it from me: TS is as high as it gets. However, there are certain “Special Access Program” and “Sensitive Compartmented Information” levels that are extra layers of security on top of the TS clearance. The names of the clearances themselves are often deemed sensitive information, which may corroborate what Who_me? said above.

These SCIs and SAPs give a certain amount of exclusivity to the information generated by a given project. In other words, you need more than just a regular TS to get it. This has always struck me as redundant, since the two things a person needs to have acces to classified information are proper clearance and need-to-know. Even if you have the same clearance as me, I can’t share the classified info with you unless you have a demonstrated and provable need to know. I guess the special clearances just ad a more enforceable aspect to it. Need-to-know cna be subjective, proper clearance isn’t.

There is a level (not sure if it’s an SCI or an SAP) called “Yankee White.” This classification is reserved for only the most sensitive info. One of the very few people that has this clearance, as far as I am aware, is the military officer who carries and guards the “football” that contains the nuclear launch codes. They are always at the President’s side, or at least really close by. This clearance requires a background check of unbelieveable depth, and means that you can never have done anything wrong in your entire life…ever. You can’t have really any foreign contacts…hell, you can never have eaten Mexican food. It’s a hell of a lot more severe even than what it takes to get a TS.
Here’s a site that has a lot of info on levels of clearance and how they’re granted:

I have a related question that I wanted to ask the other day and never got around to it. Are there currently top secret files that no one in the US government has access to because of protocols that gave certain individuals access (vs. certain job titles) who are now dead/retired/etc.?

I doubt it. Someone would have bo be given clearance high enough to administer the paperwork, even if that’s all they do.

Also, programs never die, ever. Even if they appear to have disappeared, the files have invariably been moved to a successive government office for them to administer.

That’s just the way the government works.

Is there stuff that the President doesn’t have access to?


The one thing that has always seemed ironic is that for all these levels of security, someone probably pretty low ranking has seen it all before th generals and politicians and what not. I mean someone is typing these documents up and copying them and collating them and proofreading and editing them. I doubt that 4 star generals are doing that type of thing.

What type of clearance do you need to be a secretary or file clerk then?

The beauty of compartmentalizing your intelligence is that you can allow individuals, like clerks, radio operators and such to have TS clearances so that they can gather and compile their little bit of information, even though they may not really understand the BIG PICTURE to which their information will pertain. All that person knows is that he develops a certain product and delivers it to a specific person, and the security label attached to his product means, “Forget about this thing you just created. Good little worker bee.”

Thus I can follow an order to monitor a certain range of radio frequencies, create a report on what I hear and deliver that report to my commander. I may have no idea that my successful intercept of an interview between Oprah and Martha Stewart has any relevance whatsoever to anything of significant governmental importance, but to someone else who has other “pieces of the puzzle” this could be a very important report with respect to “The Big Picture.”

And now I must flame your innocently belligerent suggestion that “low rank” somehow equates to “less trustworthy” than a general or politician. Where have you BEEN in the last 24 months?
Consider yourself flamed. :slight_smile:

You would need the level of clearance that would allow you to have access to the documents.

I’m caffeine deficient at the moment, but I think I’m reading in jk1245’s post: “Something that is classified now, might not have been classified when it was made.” I think that people involved in the the project that will remain with it will be cleared to the level required. People who will no longer be involved with it will be “sworn to secrecy” and will face criminal penalties if they disclose information, in the same way as someone who quits a company. You don’t keep your clearance when you terminate your relationship with your employer. (However, it can be reactivated easily within a certain timeframe.) So once you terminate, you don’t have the clearance; but you are still bound by it to keep your mouth shut.

Some past threads on the subject:

Top Secret question
Can the President overrule “Top Secret” classification?

Executive Order 12968 - Access to Classified Information

So, according to E.O. 12968, all employees that require access to classified information need the appropriate clearance, including the file clerks and typists. Also, “employee” specifically excludes the President and Vice President.

If you work in an office that has secret information, you must have a secret clearance. If the office has top secret stuff, you need top secret clearance.

When I was a contractor in the Pentagon, I worked in one of the offices that was TS. The “secretary” was a grizzled Senior Master Sergeant.

I’ll never forget walking into a Network Operations Center (a TS facility) and having someone shout, “UNCLEARED IN THE NOC!” Like I was some commoner off the street or something.

As others have said, there is nothing higher than Top Secret, but Top Secret info is allways on a need to know basis, and so having top secret access does not mean that you have access to all top secret info. Access to specific areas of top secret information will likely require further background checks, questioning, etc for someone allready cleared for general top secret information.

I have no direct evidence of other levels of intelligence clearance but I do remember hearing about Ultra, Umbra, and Magic and Majestic. Does anyone know if the former terms are used in the intelligence business?

Those weren’t actual security levels, they were specific projects (e.g., ULTRA = German “enigma” machine decoding project) or what audilover describes as additional access protocols

Maybe he was just trying to start a rap song. Y’know: Uncleared in the NOC / Hey, you know me…
Never mind.
Anyhoo… I’ve held a Top Secret clearance, recently dropped to mere Secret (I’m so ashamed!) when my job in the Reserves changed. There isn’t really anything beyond Top Secret, although qualifiers can be added showing your clearance (but saying nothing about your need-to-know, which remains at the discretion of your supervisors) for specific material pertaining to NATO operations. The designations are, in increasing order of Men-in-Blackness:
[ul][li]NATO Restricted (not much seen anymore, since “restricted” has been phased out as a designation, though it may persist on some older documents)[/li][li]NATO Confidential[/li][li]NATO Secret[/li][li]COSMIC Top Secret[/ul][/li]
That last one is not a joke, nor does it describe the clearance required to clean toilets at Area 51.

This (public-access) document spells it out pretty clearly, or at least as clearly as such things ever get.

Question: I’ve heard that my dad was cleared to Top Secret/Crypto when he was the communications officer for the 7th Fleet back in the 1960s. Does “Crypto” refer to communications? Or does it have other connotations?