A security clearance is your eligibility to access classified information. Your security clearance depends on two things: your trustworthiness and loyalty to the U.S. and your need to have access to the information. To determine your trustworthiness, honesty, reliability and loyalty, the FBI conducts an investigation into your background. The invasiveness of this investigation depends on the type of security clearance required.
A Matter of Need
The prerequisites for obtaining a security clearance begin with having a need for the clearance. You can’t apply for a security clearance on your own; your work must require the clearance, whether you’re an employee or a contractor to an organization that engages in work of a classified nature. If you accept a written offer of employment that requires a security clearance, you may file an application for a clearance if the employment is to commence within 30 days.
Regardless of the organization, the application for a security clearance is the same -- the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Standard Form 86, “Questionnaire for National Security Positions.” There are two pages of instructions attached to the form. These instructions contain critical information, such as the warning that you should lift any security freezes on your credit bureau records. If you do not lift the freeze, it will interfere with the required investigation and prevent the issuance of the clearance.
The background investigation may be no more invasive than confirming your name through public records and fingerprints, a check for any government records and a check with Interpol, if you’ve lived outside the U.S. for more than 6 months in the last 5 years. For Top Secret clearances, the investigation may be as invasive as your worst nightmare, not just questioning your credit and contacts with law enforcement agencies, but former employers, friends, former friends, neighbors and exes, too. Called a single-scope background investigation, this is the most demanding investigation. When the SSBI is complete, the investigating agency knows everything there is to know about you and -- because the agency investigates your spouse, partner or current live-in -- it knows them, as well.
Part of the process for a security clearance is a personal interview. You’ll need to bring a photo ID, such as a state driver's license. The investigator may ask for other identification, such as a social security card, a birth certificate or passport, or -- if your name has changed -- a copy of your marriage license or the court order for the name change. The investigator will ask you to clarify any unclear responses on the SF 86 and ask for clarification regarding derogatory information, if any. Postponing or declining the interview can result in denial of the clearance.
- Burke/Triolo Productions, Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images