Security clearance is required for access to classified information of any type. Although necessary for many government positions, security clearance may be required for positions within private companies that deal with highly sensitive information. Once it is determined that an employee needs to have access to sensitive information, she or he has to be thoroughly vetted. Whether employed by a government agency or a private company, an employee's access to classified information should never be given solely on the basis of rank, position or title, and should be revoked as soon as it is no longer necessary.
Eligibility for Security Clearance
Before being given security clearance for a government position, a candidate's past and present behavior, and personal character, are examined. The candidate must pass a full background check, and have a professional history indicating loyalty to the United States. For a person to be granted security clearance, there must be evidence of strength of character, honesty, trustworthiness and responsibility, and an ability to abide by government regulations.
Security clearance is given only to those who show clear evidence of sound judgment and discretion. Candidates with conflicting allegiances, or who have the potential to be coerced or blackmailed, are automatically denied security clearance.
Methods of Security Clearance
There are several investigatory methods used for determining security clearance eligibility. Used in combination, they are highly reliable indicators of a candidate's character.
A candidate for government security clearance undergoes a complete background investigation and a face-to-face interview. Under certain circumstances, an interim security clearance, for a period of no more than 90 days, may be approved. Security clearances are subject to periodic review, usually every 5 years.
The Background Investigation
The background investigation begins after the candidate has completed a security questionnaire and filled out necessary forms, and has been given a conditional offer of employment. The investigation includes checking data about past and present residences; schooling; employment; organizations of which the candidate is or was a member; and social contacts. Investigators interview current and former neighbors, classmates, employers, colleagues and supervisors to verify that the information supplied by the candidate is accurate and complete.
Law enforcement agencies are contacted to check for arrest records. National agency records are also checked, and the candidate's fingerprints are taken. To ensure that the investigation is thorough, government investigators in both the United States and overseas take part.
The Personal Interview
A personal interview, performed by a government investigator, is a crucial part of the security-clearance procedure. There is often no substitute for a trained investigator's skill and instincts in assessing the candidate's personality and truthfulness face-to-face. The interview usually takes place within a few weeks of the candidate's submission of documents for assessment.
The Adjudicative Process
A highly trained security-clearance adjudicator evaluates, relative to the adjudicative guidelines for security clearance, the investigatory information received, in order to make sure there are no discrepancies. Although most candidates whose applications for clearance have reached this level will be approved, inaccurate, complicating or negative findings may result in delay or denial of security clearance.
Designed to determine a candidate's security risk, the adjudicative process involves careful examination of negative, as well as positive, aspects of the candidate's life. Behavioral indiscretions are evaluated in terms of the candidate's age at the time they took place; the circumstances surrounding them; the frequency of their occurrence; the candidate's motivation for them; whether rehabilitation was necessary; the potential for coercion or exploitation; and the likelihood of recurrence.
The adjudicative process examines possible foreign allegiances; inappropriate personal (including sexual) behavior; financial difficulties; substance abuse; emotional instability; and criminal conduct. It also investigates whether the candidate has made illegal entry into any technological systems.
Security Clearance for Private Companies
Usually there are not as many agencies or departments involved in security clearance for a private company as in security clearance for the U.S. government, but the steps of an investigation are essentially the same. Once the candidate has completed a full questionnaire regarding personal and professional data, the information provided is independently verified. Through both background checks and at least one face-to-face interview, the candidate is assessed in terms of many, if not all, of the following:
- Work history, duties and contacts
- Personal contacts, past and present
- Membership in organizations or associations
- Interactions with law enforcement/government agencies
- Financial and credit history
- Fingerprint records
- Verification of U.S. citizenship
- Polygraph exam
Once a candidate has gone through and passed testing for security clearance, an employer has a high degree of certainty that the employee is reliable, and can be trusted with sensitive information.