Where to Get a Security Clearance?

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Navigating the world of security clearances can feel daunting, especially if you’re new to the process. Whether you’re aiming for a government job, a defense contractor position, or any role requiring access to sensitive information, understanding where to get security clearance is crucial.

You might think obtaining a security clearance is a straightforward process, but it’s more nuanced than it appears. From federal agencies to private sector employers, different paths can lead you to the clearance you need. Knowing where to start and what to expect can make all the difference in securing that vital clearance efficiently.

Understanding Security Clearances

What Is a Security Clearance?

A security clearance is a status granted to individuals allowing them access to classified information. It’s a necessary component for certain government and defense-related positions. Security clearances confirm that a person has undergone a thorough background check and is deemed trustworthy by the issuing organization. For example, if you are pursuing a career in defense contracting, your employer might require you to obtain a security clearance to handle sensitive data.

Different Levels of Security Clearances

Security clearances come in different levels, each corresponding to the sensitivity of the information you can access.

  1. Confidential Clearance: This is the lowest level. It allows access to information that, if disclosed, could cause damage to national security. Most military personnel start with this clearance.
  2. Secret Clearance: This is a mid-level clearance. It grants access to information that, if leaked, could cause serious damage to national security. Defense contractors handling critical projects often need this level.
  3. Top Secret Clearance: This is the highest standard level. It gives access to information that, if revealed, could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security. Jobs requiring the highest degree of trust, such as intelligence analysts, often demand this clearance.

Each clearance level involves a progressively deeper background investigation. For instance, Secret and Top Secret levels usually include interviews and extensive scrutiny of financial, criminal, and personal histories.

Government Agencies Offering Clearances

Department of Defense (DoD)

The Department of Defense issues the majority of security clearances in the United States. To access DoD-related classified information, you need clearance from this agency. The DoD offers clearances at Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret levels, managed through the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA). The DCSA handles the administration, delivery, and monitoring of these clearances. Examples of roles include military personnel, defense contractors, and civilian defense employees.

Department of Energy (DoE)

The Department of Energy issues security clearances for access to classified information specific to nuclear materials and energy programs. The DoE offers two primary levels: “L” clearance and “Q” clearance. “L” clearance is equivalent to the Secret level, while “Q” clearance is equivalent to the Top Secret level. Both levels require rigorous background checks. Examples of roles requiring DoE clearances include employees of the National Laboratories and contractors working on nuclear projects.

Other Federal Agencies

Apart from the DoD and DoE, other federal agencies also issue security clearances. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) handles clearances for protecting national security interests. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) issues clearances for intelligence activities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides clearances for law enforcement and criminal investigations. Each agency requires thorough background investigations. Examples of roles include DHS analysts, CIA operatives, and FBI agents.

For detailed information on the clearance process, refer to the specific agency’s guidelines.

Private Sector Opportunities

Defense Contractors

Many defense contractors require security clearances for their employees. Companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon hire personnel for roles that involve handling classified information. You can find job listings on their career pages or on dedicated job boards like ClearanceJobs.

Private Security Firms

Private security firms often need individuals with security clearances. Firms like Academi, Pinkerton, or Constellis offer roles that demand classified information access. Look for job postings directly on their websites or specialized recruitment platforms.

Steps to Obtain a Security Clearance

Pre-application Process

Start by determining the level of security clearance you need, such as Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret, based on your job requirements. Your employer or recruitment agency typically initiates the process. You must be a U.S. citizen and possess a clean, verifiable background free from disqualifying criminal activities or financial issues. Gather essential documents, including proof of citizenship, employment records, and personal references, before beginning the official application.

Navigating the Application Process

During the application process, accurately complete the Standard Form (SF) 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions. This form covers your personal history, educational background, employment, family information, and other relevant details. Be honest and thorough to avoid delays. Submit the form to the appropriate agency such as the Department of Defense, DHS, or CIA. Await further instructions for subsequent steps like fingerprinting and credit checks.

After the Application: What to Expect

Post-application, you undergo a comprehensive background investigation. Investigators verify the information on your SF 86 and may conduct interviews with you and your references. Expect this stage to take several months, especially for higher-level clearances. If any issues arise, be prepared to provide clarifications. Once the investigation concludes, a decision is made. If approved, you’ll receive your clearance and can then access classified information pertinent to your role.

Maintaining Your Security Clearance

Periodic Reinvestigations

Maintaining your security clearance involves periodic reinvestigations, which ensure you remain eligible for access to classified information. Reinvestigations typically occur every five years for Top Secret, every ten years for Secret, and every fifteen years for Confidential clearances. In each reinvestigation, you’ll complete an updated SF 86 form, detailing any changes in your background. Investigators will then verify this information, revisiting key aspects such as financial status, criminal records, and foreign contacts. You’ll retain clearance if the reinvestigation confirms continued eligibility based on current standards.

Adhering to Security Protocols

Adhering to security protocols is critical for maintaining your clearance. Follow all guidelines and regulations provided by your agency or employer. This includes handling classified materials according to set procedures, reporting any suspicious behavior or security incidents, and participating in mandatory training sessions. Failure to comply with these protocols can result in clearance revocation, impacting your ability to work in sensitive roles. Regularly update your knowledge of security policies to ensure continued compliance and retention of your clearance.


Securing a security clearance is a critical step for accessing classified information and pursuing roles in various government agencies and private sector firms. By understanding the levels of clearance, the issuing agencies, and the process involved, you’re better prepared to navigate this complex landscape. Remember to maintain your clearance through regular reinvestigations and adherence to security protocols. This diligence ensures you can continue working in sensitive positions and contribute to national security efforts effectively.


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