What Is Top Secret Clearance?

Top Secret clearance is the most restrictive level of access to classified information. It requires a more extensive background investigation than a Confidential or Secret clearance.


Investigators pay attention to things like allegiance, foreign preference and influence, financial considerations, criminal history, outside activities, and more. Sexual behavior and drugs/alcohol are also issues that can disqualify candidates.

What is a Top Secret Clearance?

Top Secret clearance allows a person to work with classified national security information and assets on a need-to-know basis. It can only be granted to federal employees and contractors who must meet national security fitness requirements. This level of clearance enables access to information that could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security or organizational interests if exposed. Clearance holders are expected to follow strict confidentiality protocols and undergo regular reinvestigations, among other things.

In addition to standard checks for employment, education and military service, a Tier 5 investigation requires additional record checks of the applicant, his or her spouse and children, and other relatives, as well as interviews with those who know him or her. The investigator may also query public records to determine where a person has lived, worked or gone to school. This is called a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). A SSBI is also required to gain access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and other Special Access Program (SAP) information.

The Department of Defense issues the most clearances, followed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy. Other Executive Branch departments and agencies make up the rest of the clearances, with most issuing less than one percent of all clearances.

How do I get a Top Secret Clearance?

Obtaining a Top Secret clearance takes more than just the desire to work with the government; you also need a job that requires it. This can be in the form of an active military position, a job with a federal agency that needs a Top Secret clearance, or with a private contractor that has a contract with a government agency that requires a Top Secret clearance.

Unlike a Confidential or Secret clearance, the investigation required for a Top Secret clearance is much more extensive. It can take anywhere from a few months to over a year for the FBI to complete a Top Secret investigation. In addition, the investigators will interview acquaintances and former coworkers about your background to ensure that all of the information you provided on the clearance application is true. A number of factors can disqualify you from obtaining a Top Secret clearance, such as having a criminal record, significant foreign connections, unpaid debts, and other financial issues.

Getting a Top Secret clearance is often easier for candidates with previous government or defense contractor experience. It can also be more helpful for candidates that have already completed a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) for a different position. However, a TS clearance only provides access to information that can cause exceptionally grave damage to national security or organizational interests; it must be reinvestigated for continued eligibility every five years.

What is the difference between a Top Secret Clearance and a Confidential Clearance?

Top Secret clearance grants individuals access to information that could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if it were released without authorization. Clearance holders must sign non-disclosure agreements and undergo regular reinvestigations to maintain their clearance. They are also required to adhere to strict security protocols and the principle of need-to-know.

The time it takes for a person to obtain a Top Secret clearance can vary significantly. Factors that can cause an individual to take longer than normal to be investigated include having many past residences, significant ties with foreign citizens (e.g., property ownership or family), and/or a criminal record. In addition, a background investigation can be delayed if the subject of the investigation has a history of fraudulent behavior or financial mismanagement, or if they have failed to submit all requested information to their investigator.

A person with a Top Secret clearance must be reinvestigated at least every five years. The most recent investigative standard is Tier 5, which replaced the SSBI in October 2016. This newer investigation is more in-depth and includes an expanded subject interview. It is used for people seeking Top Secret clearance, DOE “Q” access authorizations, some levels of SCI access, and critical sensitive positions.

When a person who previously held a clearance moves between Government agencies, the gaining agency must verify the clearance with the Defense Verification System (CVS) and Scattered Castles, an online database that records personnel security data from intelligence community agencies that are not part of DOD. If the gaining agency determines there is an issue that requires further investigation, it will issue an Statement of Reasons (SOR) and the applicant will have the opportunity to offer evidence to refute or mitigate the matter before a DOHA Administrative Judge (AJ).

What are the requirements for a Top Secret Clearance?

Top Secret Clearance is a security classification that enables professionals to work on sensitive projects related to national security, including research, development, and intelligence gathering. It is the highest level of clearance a person can obtain, and it is only awarded after a thorough investigation into a candidate’s background. These investigations are designed to assess a person’s trustworthiness, reliability, and judgement. They may include interviews, reference checks, financial reviews, and criminal history checks.

The requirements for a security clearance vary by agency, but general guidelines are established to determine who will be granted access. A number of factors are considered, including allegiance to the United States, foreign influence or preference, and financial considerations. Investigators are also looking for a pattern of behavior, and will pay close attention to outside activities, drug and alcohol use, and information technology use.

If you are applying for a job that requires a Top Secret clearance, you will need to undergo a rigorous background check that could take up to a year to complete. If the investigator finds any concerns, they will notify you of the issues and request further clarification or documentation. This is why it is important to be honest on your application and to have a good relationship with the people who will be providing references. Having consistent and positive behavior will help you move through the process quickly.