Secret clearance. What's all involved with obtaining one?

I’m interviewing for a job this week that requires a secret clearance. What all is involved and what should I be aware of/look out for?

Thanks in advance.

U.S. government? If so, you’ll simply need to fill out and submit the SF86 form.

My only advice is to be completely honest when filling out the form.

In the UK we used to have (and still do I imagine) something called “Positive Vetting”. For low-level security, a couple of references and some history (the right school/university?) was enough, but for anything more, they checked. It happened to my father, then an army captain, when he got a new post which meant that he would become privy to some military/government secrets.

He had to complete a full account of his history since primary school, answer questions about his political opinions, and a lot more. He also had to find four referees, none of whom could be colleagues or close family. Not easy when you have spent the previous twenty years being posted around the world. One of his references, a family friend, described the day when two men in pin-striped suits and bowler hats, carrying furled umbrellas, knocked on his door and subjected him to half-an-hour of fairly intense questioning.

He must have passed because they gave him the keys to the office safe and later on, at the height of the Cold War, he lead a team that toured some stately homes to identify suitable places to use as alternative centres of government if the Kennedy/Kruschev standoff had turned into a shooting war.

When the security clearance bit begins, be honest about everything.. You don’t have to volunteer everything, but be honest in everything asked. Since chances are that they already know and if not, can find out very quickly and THEY WILL check. Also, they don’t really care about the fact of the things that you may reveal, only the security implications.
Also, don’t make threads on obscure message board asking “hypothetical” “questions” about security clerarance and how they work, ask the interviewers.
They won’t think that you are an idiot for asking, but for posting such a thread, they will :smack:

Some jobs require a clearance just to apply. If they are interviewing you that is probably not the case.

If you have to apply for a clearance after getting the job, then you fill out a form with a lot of your personal history (this will probably done online using the eQIP system). They typically want things like addresses going back seven years, birth dates and places for immediate family members, international travel, any relatives or financial interests in foreign countries, that sort of thing. Once your application is received they will probably interview you, and maybe some of your personal contacts. They will do a background check for things like criminal history and creditworthiness.

A Secret clearance is pretty common and not nearly as in-depth as Top Secret.

Few people have a squeaky clean history, so they don’t expect saints. It is important to tell the truth. If you don’t, they will probably find out and that is the end of the clearance. If you have illegal drug use or minor crimes in your past, that does not automatically disqualify you, but any current ongoing illegal activities will. One thing they look for is anything that could allow you to be blackmailed by someone who wants to get classified information from you, so deep dark secrets could be a problem. I had a Secret clearance on two occasions but it was 1983 and 1990 so things may have changed a bit, but I currently hold a Public Trust at the 6C level which is the rough equivalent for civil agencies and has the same vetting process.

For example: They don’t care at all if you like sugar on your porridge. But if you’re deeply ashamed of the fact that you like sugar on your porridge, and try to keep it hidden, then an enemy who finds out could use that to blackmail you. And they don’t want people who can be blackmailed.

And you didn’t ask, but it’s also worth noting that all security clearance is need-to-know. Even if you have a very high level of clearance, you’re still not going to be allowed access to things outside the area of your job, because why would you be? It just adds more risks with no benefit.

Helpful hint - you are going to write quite a few addresses down on the SF86. Don’t use a PO box for any of these, they want physical addresses. The university I went to is a large campus that didn’t have street numbers, but did have PO boxes for offices, and of course names for the buildings. That wasn’t good enough, I had to provide a street address.

The factual answer to the question is that a Secret Clearance is obtained via a NACLC. It’s not an SSBI, they’re not going to be interviewing you or your neighbors or finding out your screen name on obscure message boards. You can read more about it by googling NACLC but it’s basically an intense credit and background check.

(Underline mine)

Perhaps things are different now but when I got Top Secret clearance fifty years ago in the Navy I had to give addresses all the way back to Day One of my life. I got help from Mom who said, “Wish them luck,” – at least half the ones in the Los Angeles basin had been buried by freeways.

Every one of the contacts were interviewed, typically a few minutes over the phone but some of them in person and more in depth. I got several letters and a couple phone calls asking if I’d been in trouble.

In keeping with coming clean about everything when the guy questioning me asked if I or any of my family had ever done illegal drugs I answered, “Me, no, and I have no direct knowledge, but my little brother is a sophomore in college, so…” He smiled as he jotted it down. Bro said, “Thanks a lot,” but it never came up in his interview.

An S is not a TS and the NACLC does indeed only go back 7 years. This being GQ I don’t want to categorically say that they never interview friends/family/neighbors during a Secret investigation, but it’s certainly not typical. Your experience, while normal for a TS, does not apply to the OP.

Also while they’re processing your clearance application (the QIP86), two things can happen, depending on the company, clearance level or contract:

  • They may assign you to “busy work” and you can’t actually work on anything that needs the clearance until your clearance is approved. This can stretch on for months, depending on the backlog of clearance applications that have to be researched and approved.

  • They may put you on “busy work” just for the few weeks or months that it takes to get your interim clearance, and then allow you to do “real” work.

That was something that I didn’t know: they may grant you an interim approval while they do the deeper research into your background.

I worked for a small company in the New York suburbs where we did low-level work for NASA and the military. We had a low level of clearance, but it meant we had regular visits from the local Defense Investigative Agency officer. He seemed bored, so I asked him for some cool spy stories, which were fun to hear.

I dunno about “secret” clearances, but when I underwent my security clearance, during the interview, the guy asked me, “So ytour 3 children are ___, ___. and MelaBie.” I responded, “No, the youngest is MelalNie.” The guy got all suspicious, asking why I would have typed “MelaBie” on the form. Apparently they accepted my outlandish explanation that it was likely a typo since the B and N keys are right next to each other - instead of my clever plot to overthrow the government!

He also thought it extremely suspicious that I didn’t know my current local address off the top of my head. I was commuting from my home and renting a cheap 1 bdrm where I slept during the week. I never got any mail there or invited guests over.

Then, last year, about 9 years into this job, I had to undergo an updated clearance. Some recent legislation mandated redoing them every few years. Rather than asking whether anything had changed since the prior clearance, I was fingerprinted and had to provide all of the same info, including references. Folk were getting dinged for not providing the specific day they graduated from college decades earlier, remote addresses, etc… Hell, if I were assuming an identity, I’d choose someone a hell of a lot more interesting than ME! :smiley:

My last clearance I had to give lists of all my social media handles.

No idea if they do that in the US.

When I had to get my first TS clearance back in the 80s, I didn’t think to tell my family about it. I got several calls asking me why men in suits were showing up at their homes and was I now a spy for the CIA. It’s surprising how difficult it is to convince people that you’re not spy; I’m not sure my sister ever believed me.

It’s been years for me, but when I was in the Air Force the Secret clearance thing was a cakewalk.

But–when I had to get cleared for Top Secret, they went out and interviewed my family, friends, etc. Even interviewed the landlord at the apartment complex where I had lived with my dad.

I got my first secret clearance in 1982, right out of college. Another guy who started with me grew up in the Soviet Union and he was still able to get his secret clearance (this was in the Cold War era), just took a couple of months longer than the rest of us. So not that hard to get.

My wife had a TS-SCI clearance, much more involved to get and keep (periodic polygraphs, tell security if you nave any interaction with foreign nationals, pre and post travel briefings if you leave the country).

A good friend and former college roommate used to have Top Secret clearance back in the late 1990s when he worked as a technical writer for a missile manufacturer. Apparently the clearance process was a lot of questionnaires about your background, and a list of references like **TheCuse **mentioned, that they went and interviewed.

I was actually one of the interviewees about my buddy- they didn’t ask anything particularly interesting- stuff like what did he study in college, where was he from, what did he like to do, etc… I got the impression they weren’t so much trying to find out anything interesting about his activities, but rather verify that what he said on his questionnaires was actually true and tracked with what the rest of us said.

FTR, buddy said that the Top Secret stuff was deathly dull; mostly schematics and technical specs that were dry as dust, and the cool stuff like test footage, etc… was mostly unclassified.

I did my TS about three years ago and it was ten years (or back to your 18th birthday, whichever was shorter). It was a bit of a pain, because you filled out the SF-86 online and the months/years had to line up exactly or the system would kick it back.

The more you deny it, the more likely it is that you are one… Just Sayin’… :smiley: