The Value of Top Secret Clearance

A Top Secret clearance allows access to information classified up to that level. Clearance holders are required to follow strict security protocols and adhere to the need-to-know principle.


This type of clearance is valuable in the cybersecurity and defense contractor industries as it enables professionals to work on cutting-edge projects that contribute to national security efforts. Thorough background investigations are conducted before a person receives a clearance.


In the InfoSec and Cybersecurity industry, Top Secret Clearance is an extremely coveted status. Clearance opens doors to opportunities in government agencies, defense contractors and intelligence organizations that offer professional growth, advancement and leadership roles. In addition, clearance holders often have access to specialized training and advanced education programs and certifications that can further boost their career prospects.

Anyone whose job requires them to have access to classified information or restricted areas may need security clearance. This includes federal and military jobs, positions with government contractor companies and roles with intelligence agency departments. Clearances are based on a need-to-know principle, which means that clearance holders only view the data they need to perform their duties and don’t access information for non-work purposes.

Security clearance holders undergo regular background checks and must agree to adhere to strict confidentiality agreements. They also receive security awareness training to help them understand the importance of keeping classified information secure and the consequences of unauthorized disclosures. Organizations have stringent physical and technical security measures, such as secure facilities and encryption, to protect the information they handle.

Clearances are based on a combination of factors that include past criminal activity, finances, mental health, relationships, foreign connections and drug use. Clearance holders must submit an SF86 form that asks about personal relationships and lifestyle, including a person’s marital status, financial history, sex life and social activities. They must also undergo reinvestigation every five years for Top Secret clearance and every ten years for Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).


Many federal jobs and positions with government contractors require Top Secret clearance. For example, cybersecurity professionals need this clearance to access classified information related to cyber threats and contribute to national security efforts.

The clearance also enables employees to work on highly sensitive research and development projects for defense contractors and other agencies. These projects are typically conducted in secure facilities and with strict technical security measures in place. This ensures the integrity of the information and minimizes the risk of unauthorized disclosure.

Obtaining this level of clearance is challenging because thorough background investigations are required. These can include financial reviews, references and criminal records checks. A single incident of concern can disqualify an applicant, but it is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and is often mitigated by positive changes in behavior. Applicants must also pass a series of interviews and undergo a psychological evaluation to determine their suitability for this position.

Individuals needing a Top Secret clearance must pass a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) that can take between six and 18 months. This investigation includes a personal subject interview and written inquiries to past employers, schools and other sources of information. It must be renewed every five years. Previously, SSBI Period Reinvestigations (SSBI PR) were required for individuals who hold Top Secret and DOE “L” access authorizations or occupy non-critical sensitive positions, and Tier 3 and Tier 5 reinvestigations were required for people who have Confidential, Secret and DOE “Q” access authorizations and occupy critical sensitive positions.

Background Investigations

The federal government conducts extensive background investigations before granting Top Secret clearance. This includes an examination of your financial and character history, as well as any criminal record you may have. Investigators also review your trustworthiness, patriotism and potential for association with undesirable persons or foreign nationals. A polygraph test is often a condition of clearance access.

The type of background investigation varies according to the level of clearance you seek. For example, the standard 1811 clearance process for Secret level access requires a National Agency Check with Law and Credit, while the TS/SCI clearance process is a Single Scope Background Investigation. The FBI is the investigative authority for all FBI-sponsored clearance levels.

Once the investigative phase is complete, DSS evaluates the data collected to determine your suitability for employment and clearance status. DSS makes a suitability determination based on thirteen factors, including allegiance, moral character, conduct and mental health.

It is important to provide accurate information to the investigator. Lying or concealing a fact is against the law, and can lead to disqualification from federal service. For instance, omitting your arrest record or serious substance abuse history on the security form can result in a failed background investigation. This can result in a delay of the entire clearance process, as well as the loss of your job opportunity.

Processing Time

Top Secret clearance is a valuable credential that enhances employment opportunities in the InfoSec and Cybersecurity industries. It opens doors to positions with federal agencies, defense contractors, and intelligence organizations that require access to sensitive information. Clearance holders also enjoy specialized training and career advancement opportunities in areas such as cyber operations, policy development, and intelligence analysis.

Obtaining a security clearance typically takes 60 to 120 days, but the timeline can be altered for various reasons. The process is multi-step and comprehensive, and investigators must thoroughly review all relevant information. Incorrect or incomplete answers on the SF-86 can significantly slow down investigations. Investigators will pay close attention to your financial status, as well as questions regarding drug use, past convictions, and any other security concerns.

The government has made significant progress in reducing clearance processing times, but the backlog of pending cases is still a challenge. The Office of Personnel Management hack and Edward Snowden leaks contributed to a surge in background investigation backlogs, which have since been steadily reduced.

Some federal agencies conduct their own security clearance investigations, but the majority rely on DCSA to handle Tier 3 and Tier 5 Personnel Security Investigations (PSIs). Federal employees and contractors can transfer their cleared jobs across agencies through a process called reciprocity, which is governed by Security Executive Agent Directive 7 (SEAD 7). The decision to grant a clearance is made by trained personnel security specialists or adjudicators employed by an agency.