Security Clearance, rules and effects?

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?

AK84 writes:

> 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.

No, that’s not classified information that the spouse knows. It’s unclassified but sensitive information. Classified information might, for instance, be the fact that a given military unit is being deployed on a certain day. Sensitive information might be, for instance, that one’s spouse is going to be away for a week for some military purpose. If you collect enough sensitive information, you might be able to guess something about a classified matter. For that reason, a military person might be told that they can tell their spouse that they will be away for a week, but they can’t tell anyone else, and their spouse should keep quiet too.

Have you ever considered the possibility that your friend is simply making up his story that he handled classified information? People do such things. People also falsely claim to have combat experience in the military and to be a spy. We’ve had threads on the SDMB where we pulled apart such stories.

Not a whoosh at all; I knew exactly what he meant.

Sure, if you leave it around unattended. I alluded to that in my post; you’re not going to leave your brain laying around for somebody to break into your house, nor are you going to leave it in a briefcase where somebody can steal it on the subway. At least, I hope not! :stuck_out_tongue:

Perhaps not; however, for some programs that require SAP/SAR clearances, the clearance holders are actually required to notify the cognizant agency when undergoing any medical procedure involving general anesthesia. In general holders of security clearances on all levels are required to report to their employer or to DSS foreign travel or contact with foreign nationals if any job-related topics are discussed. Enforcement of this is no doubt somewhat spotty, but there is even a concern about the information stored in brains…even when it is decades old. (The developers of the Colossus computing system–the first digital computing system, used to break German codes during WWII–were not allowed to speak of or request patents on their work into the 1970s despite the fact that computing technology had long surpassed Colossus.)

I don’t know of AK84’s friend, but I do know that there are plenty of people who hold security clearances but don’t understand the regulations and requirements, much to the ire of Information Security Officers. I do know that there is no exception for spouses.

A lot of ‘classified’ information is judged so not on the basis of the information itself but the context in which it is placed, or how it is verified. In other words, it might be perfectly legitimate for a newspaper to publish information on the construction of nuclear weapons, but it would be a violation for a nuclear weapon designer to confirm or even comment on details of the construction which he knows to be classified. One disjoint number might be itself unclassified, but in combination with other data may be considered classified. In general, when handling classified information, the rule is “No comment,” to anyone without need-to-know, even if it is just a report on the color of Vladimir Putin’s underwear.


Which is the purpose of the asking the question! My friend however as I said is not really the kind to make things up, but what he said seemed incredible to me. Which is why I asked and also speculated that I misunderstood him.