Security clearances are divided into three separate categories: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. Of these, Confidential security clearances are the easiest to acquire, while Top Secret is the most difficult. Military or civilian personnel are awarded security clearances based on the necessity of knowing certain information in order to do their job.
The Department of Defense takes granting security clearances very seriously. Each civilian or military personnel is put through an extensive investigation to determine if they are trustworthy enough to be trusted with security clearance. After filling out the necessary forms, personnel are carefully interviewed to determine the person’s level of integrity, responsibility and loyalty. Multiple references are contacted and several interviews take place during the investigation. The Department of Defense wants to know about any employment history, credit scores and past criminal charges. Often, dirty laundry is brought to light, because everything about personnel’s private life is investigated, including past sexual promiscuity and drug or alcohol use. Polygraph examinations are also often used during security clearance investigations.
Once the investigation is completed, military or civilian personnel may or may not be granted security clearance. Security clearance is essential for most personnel to complete their daily job. Civilians and ex-military members with security clearance are often treasured employees and often find it much easier to find security clearance jobs.
After personnel are granted a certain level of security clearance, they are not guaranteed to keep this security clearance. Periodic reinvestigations are required every few years, depending on the level of security clearance. However, military and civilian personnel are often subject to random reinvestigations. If either a periodic or random reinvestigation brings forth negative information that could compromise the safety and security of the United States or of the military, personnel’s security clearance can be revoked.
Many factors can lead to personnel’s loss of security clearance. Lying or giving misleading information on a form during the investigation process can lead to loss of security clearance if discovered, even after security clearance has already been granted. Any information that is discovered that makes the Department of Defense believe that personnel may be a danger to national security or the United States because of their security clearance can lead to the revocation of security clearance. Evidence of criminal activity, illicit drug use, alcohol abuse or suspicious dealings with foreign nations are common reasons for security clearance revocation. Even foreclosure and large amounts of debt can jeopardize personnel’s security clearance. In some cases, a person’s security clearance can be temporarily suspended, pending investigation, but this is usually reserved for situations that pose a high security risk.
When their security clearance is revoked, the personnel does have a right to have the revocation appealed. This appeal gives the personnel an opportunity to explain situations and clarify any incorrect information found during an investigation. In some cases, security clearance revocation is reversed, although the Department of Defense often sticks with its original decision.