The Different Types of Security Clearances in the Military

In today’s post, we are going to look at an often misunderstood subject in the United States military. That subject is the different types of security clearances in the military. While security clearances may seem quite simple, they are actually complex.

I mention simple, because security clearances are essentially broken down into 3 categories. It is this way for the military, and civilians who work for the government or contract through them. I mention complex, because the system for applying and attaining security clearances is an ever-changing creature. This is because of 911, and many other threats against the safety of the United States and her citizens. There have been Soldiers with security clearances who have broke the “code of conduct,” and have forced a stricter system (i.e. Bradley Manning).

What a security clearance is:

The majority of readers should know basically what a security clearance is, but for those who don’t, I will provide a brief explanation. The United States military, and government utilize and possess both information and technology that would be detrimental to the safety of the United States and its citizens if it fell into enemy hands. Security clearances are designed so the most competent and capable people are handling those items.

The key factors that are examined in providing security clearances are a person’s:

  • individual character including:

    1. honesty

    2. trustworthiness

    3. reliability

    4. emotional stability

  • criminal background

  • financial stability

The 3 types of security clearances

I mentioned early on in this article that there are 3 types. These types can be broken down further, and we will examine that a bit more closely further on, but these are the 3 types of security clearances with an explanation of each:

  1. Confidential – A confidential security clearance allows a entity to handle information or technology that if it was released to the wrong sources could cause damage to the security of the United States.

  2. Secret – Information or technology that is under the secret security clause would cause serious damage to the United States if it was attained by enemies of the country.

  3. Top Secret – This is the elite information or technology that if it was released to forces bent on destroying the United States, it could cause grave damage.

A common misconception in the security clearance subject is the term: “Only For Official Use.” This does not fall under the measures of security clearances. This designation is for protected information that is enveloped under the Privacy Act.

I had mentioned that security clearances are broken down further, and this I will proceed to explain now. I primarily am speaking about Top Secret clearance. Just because a person has a Top Secret clearance does not mean they can see all. If a file comes across that reads Top Secret and below it has SCI, a person must have a SCI (Sensitive Compartmental Information) tag along with their Top Secret clearance to view it. Another tag that is common is SAP (Special Access Programs). These are special “need to know” information items that are reserved only for those who are involved.

An example of an SCI could be a commander in a Middle Eastern war zone who must lead his Soldiers into an enemy occupied zone. He is given a Top Secret clearance and provided with details of where he is supposed to lead his troops to, the buildings he is to overtake, and all orders of taking prisoners and such. The key leaders know that a key leader is in one of those buildings, but to keep all possibilities of that enemy leader from being warned, the details of where, and who he is falls into an SCI. The commander will more than likely be told the SCI at the very last minute via radio transmission.

Who needs security clearances?

In the military, the question of a need of a security clearance will fall into first, the MOS you have. The second factor would be your duty or assignment. There are some positions in the military that do not require a security clearance. One that I can think of immediately is 11 Bravo. The infantryman does not need clearance in most cases because he/she does not need to view classified documents or utilize secret technology.

Just recently, I wrote an article about the 882A Mobility Officer. This position, will normally have to attain a Top Secret clearance because he/she has information on the movement and placement of troops, equipment and supplies. Having that information could give the enemy a way to seriously damage the United States.

I have discovered an excellent resource to see if the job you are seeking in the military needs a security clearance. The MOS Book lists all jobs and gives descriptions as to the prerequisites and any security clearances a person will need.

Final Words

As technology grows, and information becomes even more detrimental, the process of security checks will be ever-changing. At this point, to attain a Secret or Top Secret security clearance, the process takes many months, and sometimes over one year. It is wise to start preparing everything you need to get one if the job you are seeking requires it.

As an added tip, keep in mind that a person’s financial situation is looked at very closely. There are Soldiers who have lost their security clearance over a bad credit statement. Some may consider this “nitpicking” by the government, but in all reality, the highest amount of treason cases have been committed by people who were having serious financial problems. Keep your finances in order so you can keep your security clearance in good shape!

If anyone has some extra information on security clearances, we would love to hear your tips, comments or views; just comment below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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