List of U.S. security clearance terms

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This is a List of U.S. security clearance terms.



Security clearance levels are used as part of a method to control access to information that should not be freely available to all personnel.

Due to the nature of security classifications and clearances, people often incorrectly identify their clearances by a combination of actual clearance level, additional access control, re-org intros, caveats, and the organization which granted them clearance.[citation needed] Also, different organizations in the Federal government use different terminology and lettering, as is discussed below.


Security clearance levels often appear in employment postings for Defense related jobs, and other jobs involving substantial amounts of responsibility, such as air traffic control or nuclear energy positions. Employers generally prefer to hire people who are already cleared to access classified information at the level needed for a given job or contract, because security clearances can usually take up to a year to obtain.[1] In general, most employers look for candidates that hold an active Department of Defense (DoD) collateral clearance or a blanket TS/SCI-cleared (Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information) individual that has successfully completed a counterintelligence (CI) or full-scope polygraph (FSP).

Security levels

Security clearances can be issued by many United States government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy (DoE), the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA). DoE clearances include the 'L' and 'Q' levels. DoD issues more than 80% of all clearances. There are three levels of DoD security clearances:[2]

Information "above Top Secret" is called either Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) or special access program (SAP). It is not truly "above" Top Secret, although that phrase is often used by those in the news and entertainment media. SCI information may be either Secret or Top Secret, but in either case it has additional controls on dissemination beyond those associated with the classification level alone. In order to gain SCI Access, you will need to have an SSBI Investigation. Compartments of information are identified by code names. This is one means by which the need to know principle is formally and automatically enforced. Only persons with access to a given compartment of information are permitted to see information within that compartment, regardless of the person's security clearance level. As long as the holder of a clearance is sponsored, the clearance remains active. If the holder loses sponsorship, the holder is eligible for re-employment with the same clearance for up to 24 months without reinvestigation, after which an update investigation is required.

A Periodic Reinvestigation is typically required every 5 years for Top Secret and 10 years for Secret/Confidential, depending upon the agency. Access to a compartment of information lasts only as long as the person's need to have access to a given category of information.

Unclassified (U) is a valid security description, especially when indicating unclassified information within a document classified at a higher level. For example, the title of a Secret report is often unclassified, and must be marked as such. Material that is classified as Unclassified // For Official Use Only (U//FOUO) is considered between Unclassified and Confidential and may deal with employee data.

For access to information at a given classification level, individuals must have been granted access by the sponsoring government organization at that or a higher classification level, and have a need to know the information. The government also supports access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and special access programs (SAPs) in which access is determined by need-to-know. These accesses require increased investigative requirements before access is granted.[citation needed]


The following investigations are used in clearance determinations:[3]

Many other investigative products have been used to grant clearances in the past. While some of them are still used to determine suitability for employment or enlistment, only the above are used to grant clearances.

Additional investigation or adjudication

Certain accesses require one to undertake one or more polygraph tests:

SCI eligibility

Sensitive compartmented information (SCI) is a type of classified information controlled through formal systems established by the Director of National Intelligence. To access SCI, one must first have a favorable SSBI and be granted SCI eligibility. Because the SSBI is also used to grant collateral top secret eligibility, two are often granted together and written TS/SCI. Access to individual SCI control systems, compartments, and subcompartments may then be granted by the owner of that information. Note that additional investigation or adjudication may be required.

In general, employees do not publish the individual compartments for which they are cleared. While this information is not classified, specific compartment listings may reveal sensitive information when correlated with an individual's resume. Therefore, it is sufficient to declare that a candidate possesses a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph.


Some items here are based on a list compiled by a nonauthoritative source on the Internet.[4]

  1. ^ "Security Clearance".
  2. ^ "Security Clearance FAQ".
  3. ^ Aligning OPM Investigative Levels With Reform Concepts; DOE M 470.4-5 pp. II-4--II-5
  4. ^ "List of security clearances"

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