There are many jobs that require security clearance. These range from positions with the government to jobs with private companies (notably defense contractors) that perform tasks involving classified information. To an outsider--and especially those without a military background--the process involved in getting the appropriate clearance can seem opaque, especially as there are a number of organizations that claim to offer security checks for prospective job seekers, but which do not actually provide legitimate security clearance. To clear up some of the issues, we present this excerpt from the Vault Guide to Military Careers, by Dr. John A. Sautter.
Many positions—including entry-level ones—require workers to receive a security clearance and/or take an oath to protect the Constitution. While this sounds exciting, receiving a security clearance is really just the positive result of a background check, and should not be confused with the more intensive top-secret security clearance, which requires a much higher degree of candidate scrutiny. Many individuals that are not employed by the government need a security clearance in order to work for a private employer that performs tasks involving classified information.
None of this should be too surprising. The obvious reason for these background checks is to ensure that irresponsible individuals are not given access to information which could harm national interests. The government also looks for information on potential job candidates that might make them more susceptible to bribery or blackmail. Therefore, a background check involves a review of a candidate’s credit rating, the number of speeding tickets he may have, mental health, substance abuse and whether or not they have been arrested incident to a crime. Part of this check also includes a basic drug urinalysis test.
There is a hierarchy of security clearance levels. On the lowest level is a “confidential” security clearance. Most military officers and enlisted personnel are given this sort of clearance. It means that the information they work with could be reasonably expected to cause some damage to America’s national security if the country’s enemies could get a hold of it. It normally lasts for fifteen years before it needs to be renewed. The next level up is “secret” security clearance. Essentially, the information protected by this level of clearance could cause “grave” damage to America’s national security and needs to be renewed every ten years. Finally, the “top secret” clearance is necessary for those persons who work with information that would cause “exceptionally grave damage” to America’s national security if it was released without authorization.
Some individuals will not be able to get a security clearance. Unfortunately, past behavior, medical history or the fact that they have close relatives living in a foreign country might preclude an individual from qualifying for a security clearance. However, don’t jump to conclusions about your eligibility. The best thing is to go through the process after you have applied and been accepted for a job. It is always easier to get a job if you have secured a clearance in the past, mostly due to the fact that an employer can be reasonably certain that you will pass the screening. There are some Internet sites that claim they can get you a security clearance before you are even hired for a government job. This is bogus! Whatever agency is hiring you will request the background check from the Defense Security Service.