The Different Levels of Top Secret Clearance


Many defense, intelligence and homeland security jobs require a Top Secret clearance. These jobs may include espionage, military intelligence gathering or research and development.


A clearance can open doors for jobs that pay well. While the vetting process is lengthy, it’s worth it in 흥신소 many cases. The most important part of a clearance is that it be ‘need-to-know.

Reliability Status

The Reliability Status is the lowest level of security clearance. It enables you to access information up to Secret level on a need-to-know basis only. Department heads can give RS clearance to individuals when it is required for the job, task or contract. The investigation is more rigorous than for other levels of clearance and involves standard checks, open-source searches, a background questionnaire and interview and a CSIS security assessment.

Investigators verify and corroborate key information from the candidate’s past, present and recent history. The process includes interviews of people who know the candidate well. They also conduct a thorough examination of the applicant’s finances and credit. The investigators compare this data to government and commercial databases and look for discrepancies. The investigators may also review your education, professional qualifications and employment history. They may also conduct an evaluation of your honesty, values, trustworthiness and psychological fitness.

Investigators also determine whether the individual has unquestionable loyalty to the United States and can be trusted with classified information. The investigators consider any criminal convictions, financial difficulties, foreign activities, associations with non-US citizens and a poor record of paying bills. The investigation can take a few months to over a year, depending on the applicant’s background and the backlog of investigations. You can check the status of your clearance in HR Links and Other HR Systems.

Single Scope Background Investigation

The Single Scope Background Investigation, or SSBI, is reserved for those who need Top Secret clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information (SCI). This is the most exhaustive of all investigations. The process can take several months or a year. During this time the applicant is not allowed to have any classified access. Applicants are briefed on how to properly safeguard classified information and on the criminal, civil and administrative sanctions for unauthorized disclosure.

The SSBI includes a full check of employment and education; organization affiliations; local law enforcement agencies; and interviews with persons who know the subject both personally and professionally. The SSBI also examines the person’s mental health, history of drug use and other issues that can impact his or her ability to maintain confidentiality and integrity.

The SSBI is often augmented by a polygraph test, although this is not always the case. Reinvestigations are common if there is a lapse in a clearance, if the holder loses the clearance or if there is a dispute about eligibility to hold the clearance. To speed up the SSBI and reinvestigation processes, it is advisable to give investigators as much accurate and complete information as possible. Investigators are seasoned professionals who can quickly spot patterns and will notice when key incidents, associations or other information is omitted.


Anyone whose job requires access to classified information or restricted areas must have security clearance. That includes federal and military personnel and contractors. Most of those people work in the Department of Defense. Clearances range from non-sensitive, to secret and then top secret. They also have different sensitivity levels, which determine how much of an investigation is required.

A person with a Top Secret clearance has access to information that could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if disclosed without authorization. That type of clearance is subject to reinvestigation every five years.

All investigations of people seeking clearances or eligibility to hold sensitive positions have to be done to Federal standards. Those are found in the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines set by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Investigators look for a variety of things, including personal relationships, financial issues, drug and alcohol abuse and foreign activities. They interview people who know the person well and also conduct public records checks.

The person’s answers to questions on the clearance application form (SF86) are reviewed, too. In most cases, the investigation process will involve a face-to-face interview with an investigator, which is meant to verify and clarify information that may have been provided on the SF86. It is very important that you answer all questions truthfully and completely. Declining to be interviewed can significantly delay the investigation.

Continuous Evaluation

Anyone whose job requires access to classified information or restricted areas needs to have a national security clearance. The government issues the clearances based on a hierarchy of levels, depending on how sensitive the materials they need to be protected. Top-secret is the highest level and must be reinvestigated every five years. Confidential is the next level, where unauthorized disclosure could cause some measurable damage to national security. Secret and above levels are reinvestigated every 10 years.

When someone applies for a clearance, they must sign the standard Form 86 and agree to periodic background investigations and reinvestigations. Those investigations may reveal information that would disqualify them from holding a clearance. Once the investigators are done, a clearance adjudicator looks over the data and compares it to 13 guidelines set by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. They consider things like allegiance to the United States, foreign influence or preference and psychological conditions.

The government recently changed the way it processes national security clearances by introducing Continuous Evaluation (CE). While CE hasn’t fully replaced the older investigations, it is designed to reduce federal agencies massive backlog of cases. It will also provide a more timely review of potentially adverse information in between periodic reinvestigations. We at Korody Law, P.A. have represented clients in Florida and abroad who had investigations that started in 2019 but weren’t resolved until 2021.