Who Does Security Clearance Investigations?

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Ever wondered who’s behind the scenes ensuring that only trustworthy individuals gain access to sensitive information? Security clearance investigations play a crucial role in safeguarding national security, and understanding who conducts these investigations can shed light on the intricate process.

Typically, government agencies like the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) are at the forefront. These agencies employ skilled investigators who meticulously verify an applicant’s background, ensuring they meet stringent security standards. Through interviews, background checks, and more, these professionals work tirelessly to maintain the integrity of classified information.

Background of Security Clearance Investigations

Security clearance investigations play a crucial role in safeguarding national security. They ensure authorized individuals can access classified information necessary for their roles.

What Is a Security Clearance?

A security clearance is an official authorization that permits individuals to access classified information. This clearance is issued after a thorough investigation to verify the individual’s trustworthiness. The process involves confirming factors like citizenship, financial history, criminal records, and personal references. The defense industry, federal employees, and contractors often need these clearances.

Who Needs Security Clearance?

Security clearances are essential for various roles requiring access to classified data. Government personnel including members of the DoD, intelligence agencies, and State Department staff often need clearances. Contractors working with sensitive projects and specific private sector roles in cybersecurity and defense industries also require them.

Entities Involved in Security Clearance Investigations

Government Agencies

Government agencies like the Department of Defense (DoD), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) play pivotal roles in security clearance investigations. These entities use specialized investigators to validate applicants’ backgrounds, reviewing citizenship, criminal records, and employment history. The DoD, for instance, processes over 90% of security clearances in the U.S., primarily catering to the defense sector.

Contractors and Subcontractors

Contractors and subcontractors in the defense, intelligence, and cybersecurity sectors participate in security clearance investigations to ensure their workforce meets security standards. Companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Booz Allen Hamilton conduct internal reviews and coordinate with government agencies to complete background checks. These contractors often manage a significant proportion of the security clearance workload, providing essential assistance to government entities.

Third-Party Organizations

Third-party organizations support government agencies and contractors during security clearance investigations. Firms such as General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) and Perspecta conduct investigations, verify information, and compile reports. These companies leverage specialized expertise and advanced tools to streamline the investigative process, ensuring thorough and efficient evaluations of applicants’ backgrounds.

Each of these entities ensures that only authorized individuals gain access to classified information, safeguarding national security by maintaining rigorous investigative processes and high standards of scrutiny.

The Security Clearance Process

Initial Application

Applicants seeking security clearance start by filling out the Standard Form-86 (SF-86). This form collects personal information, including employment history, criminal records, and financial status. Ensuring accuracy and completeness is critical, as any discrepancies could delay the process.

Background Investigation

Specialized investigators perform a thorough background check once the application is submitted. These checks confirm details in the SF-86 through various methods:

  • Interviews: Investigators interview neighbors, colleagues, and personal references to gather character assessments.
  • Financial Records: They scrutinize credit reports and banking history to identify any financial instability or debts.
  • Criminal Records: Investigators cross-check national and local criminal databases to verify any reported or unreported criminal activity.
  • Foreign Contacts: Any foreign associations are closely examined to assess potential risks.

Adjudication and Approval

After the background investigation, the information is sent for adjudication. An adjudicator reviews the collected data against security guidelines to determine clearance eligibility. If you meet the required standards, you receive the security clearance, granting access to classified information. Regular re-evaluations ensure ongoing suitability throughout your career.

Key Challenges and Considerations

Privacy Concerns

Privacy concerns often surface during security clearance investigations. Conducting thorough background checks means collecting sensitive personal data. Investigators review financial records, criminal history, and foreign contacts. This comprehensive data collection can make you apprehensive about how your information is handled and stored. Instances of data breaches, such as the 2015 OPM security breach, highlight the vulnerability of stored data. Therefore, safeguarding the privacy of these details is critical to maintaining trust in the process.

Timeliness of the Clearance Process

The timeliness of the clearance process presents another significant challenge. Delays can affect both the individual awaiting clearance and the agency requiring personnel. Various factors can slow down the process, including incomplete SF-86 forms, extensive background checks, and the workload of investigative agencies. On average, a Top Secret clearance can take around 287 days, while a Secret clearance can take about 181 days. These delays can lead to critical staffing gaps in sensitive positions, affecting national security operations and project timelines. Efficient processing and timely investigations are essential to mitigate these delays and ensure seamless operations.


Security clearance investigations play a critical role in maintaining national security. The process is rigorous involving multiple government agencies and specialized investigators. It’s essential to protect sensitive personal data collected during these investigations. The challenge of timely processing remains significant impacting both individuals and agencies. To ensure national security operations run smoothly efficient and timely investigations are paramount.


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