Security Clearance, rules and effects?

I was reading a book on Oppenhimer, and specifically the part about his fall from grace. In it, the author mentions that with his security clearance revoked, he was unable to read papers he himself had written. I found this to be slightly ludicurous, but then I asked a friend who had had a clearence many moons ago, and he said it was the same for him.

Interestingly he also advised me that under the rules in many countries your revealing classified infomation to your spouse is not an offence; I have also read that in spycatcher. Again, it bemused me, so you the guy in a bar who won’t even remember…no…no, your wife who probably will… oh fine.

I appreciate the rules are different in countries, but how much of the above is accurate?

In the US if you have classified information, you may not reveal that information to anyone unless that act is covered in the regular rules of your job, and the person is both cleared, and has a need to know the information. Any other transfer of information is a violation of the law.

I too was forbidden access to documents I had written, because my clearance had been lifted. It was written that way because information is hard to contain, so the rules have to make any possible transfer of information outside of the intended ones illegal. Secrets are very hard to keep. I remember watching a security officer put a “Secret” cover sheet onto a high school physics text, because it discussed the mechanism of chain reactions, and that was secret information within his area of understanding.


And the rule about spouses? The only reason I could come up with for that was perhaps to make family life easier. Secrets are not all created equal, bringing a file home, where someone might see it is possible than, if its not that important a matter, or going on secret trips?

There is no such rule allowing you to discuss classified information with your spouse. The friend who told you that is simply wrong. It’s not really a big deal that you can’t read papers that you wrote when you had a given clearance after you cease to have that clearance. In general, there isn’t even any way that you would ever be in the same room with the papers that you once wrote. It’s no longer your job to work on the subject that has that clearance, so there’s no reason that you would even want to read the papers except to fondly remember the things you once did. All your classified papers are stored in safes (or similar containers) that are only accessible to the people with the correct clearance. You don’t hang on to your classified papers.

Spouses are not privy to classified information unless they themselves have a rating that clears them for the material. This is not like being a lawyer where privilege extends to the spouse.

In general, one is not allowed to remove classified information from a specific area without approval, and especially not to take it home and store it unless said person has approval and facilities to store classified information. The people who are approved to do this are exclusively senior level military officers and government executives. You wouldn’t take a secure briefing home for review; you’d have to read it in a closed office or secure area.

The National Security Industrial Program Operating Manual (DoD 5220.22-M) is the bible for document and data security for government contractors; I’m not intimately familiar with what is done on the military and government sides, but I expect the procedures and requirements are essentially similar. You can download this freely from the Defense Security Service website.


I show my friend the replies, and he said that spouses don’t have a clearence, but the rules of procedure with respect to certain classified information is less strict with respect to them. Incidentally he agreed with all that is written here; I must have misunderstood somnething.

I dispute that rules are laxer when speaking to a spouse without clearance.

And it’s not just classification ratings. It also applies to the type of information and the specifics of need-to-know. Just because one has a security clearance of ‘secret’ does not mean that one has unlimited access to all material with that level of clearance.

Example of the spouse thing: When Lady Chance and I first started working she and I both held clearances. We worked as contractors for different federal departments. Even though we both had clearances we were not permitted, under any circumstance, to discuss any secure material with each other. Made dinner conversation about work difficult.

I guess I didn’t make that clear. While some information is explicitly “Special Access” i.e. you have to have a specific clearance for that particular program or subject area, any classified data is technically “need to know”, and just because you hold the nominal clearance doesn’t mean that you have automatic access to all information at that clearance.


I recall several months ago they had outed CIA agent Valerie Plame as a guest on the NPR show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, and they were discussing her book, much of which was apparently heavily redacted because of her security clearance. The weird part was, much of what was redacted wasn’t necessarily classified – it was public knowledge, it’s just that because of her position, she herself was unable to talk about it. So when the book was published, it was published with all the redaction intact, and the publisher had an independent third party add notes at the end of the book basically filling in all the redacted stuff that Plame herself was unable to mention.

On the show they were joking that she should take her mom with her on the book tour to answer all the personal questions that she (Plame) was unable to answer herself. :smiley:

The silly part is, you do take that information home with you, and keep it at home regardless of any changes to your clearance status. Unless mandatory Alzheimer’s is now a requirement for retirement?

Don’t give them any ideas, my friend.

Indeed, no such ‘rule of procedure’ exists. What is your friend smoking? He’s either:
a) misinformed
b) trying to justify or rationalize some bad OPSEC practices he’s done
c) trying to bs you and make it sound like he knows what he’s talking about when he doesn’t

There is no written or unspoken rule anywhere stating or implying that your spouse is more privy to certain things than anyone else without a security clearance. Now, in many military communities, the spouses, simply by virtue of proximity to the proceedings and experience, are aware of what’s going on (e.g., a certain unit being deployed on short notice).

When I was in the submarine force, I had a fairly high clearance (TS/SCI).

Once you have passed the required background checks (an extensive process that starts when you begin the training pipeline), and, once you require access to such high level information, you are formally briefed into the program by security personnel.

Among other things, you are cautioned not to discuss sensitive information with people who do not have the required clearance, and do not have the need-to-know. There is no exception for spouses.

When you no longer require access to such information, you are formally debriefed and told that you are no longer allowed access to information you were formerly privy to, even if you were the author. You are also no longer allowed to discuss the information with anybody unless formally briefed back into the program.

That’s not silly at all. If you take classified documents or CREM (classified removable electronic media), it’s possible to leave it around where others can have access to it.

When I was working in a classified position, we of course could not literally take our work home with us. We even got into the mindset of not taking our work home with us metaphorically. I very rarely thought about work issues at home - a habit I maintain even today, when I work in an unclassified position.

I find leaving all your job stress at the office quite good for your mental health.

Perhaps this is what he meant. That spouses would due to proximity know about certain activities, if not details. I am aware that spouses have background checks done as well when security clearence is being undertaken.

He is not the bs type my friend.

You are not allowed to discuss classified information with your spouse. However, when someone with a security clearance gets married or moves in with someone else, there is at least some investigation of the other partner (I had to fill out forms so they could investigate Mr Neville when we got married and moved in together). They ask for all kinds of information about your relatives when you apply for a clearance, not just your spouse.

That was the case for me, too, at least with the classified stuff. You could take unclassified work home with you.

You’re not allowed to have personal copies of your own classified work, any more than you could have a personal copy of any other classified information. If you wrote a classified paper, and they found out that you’d kept a copy on your computer at home, you’d be in very serious trouble. They would quite literally take your computer away from you and destroy it. I very much doubt you’d be compensated for it, either- you’d be lucky if they didn’t prosecute you to make an example for others who work with classified information.

Nor are you allowed to share classified information with anyone who does not have the proper clearance and a need to know. It doesn’t matter whether you know that classified information because you created it yourself or because you saw it after someone else created it. Classified is classified, regardless of who wrote it.

When you leave a position where you dealt with classified information, they ask you to swear that you will not use any information you may remember to harm your country (classified information, at least by the official definition, is information that would be harmful to the country if it were made publicly known). I don’t know what they’d do if you refused to swear that.

Nothing we worked on was unclassified. Literally nothing.


Chronos is talking about the information stored in your brain.

And what if I keep a copy in my brain; do they confiscate and destroy my brain?