The three main security clearances you will deal with in the Army are:
TOP SECRET / SCI (Sensitive Comparmented Information)
Most intelligence-related jobs require a TS/SCI clearance. TS clearances do exist on their own, but they are nearly worthless without access to SCI. SCI simply means that just because you have a TS clearance doesn't mean that you have access to all of the nation's top secret information. The intelligence community places select pieces of intelligence into "compartments" so that you only ever have access to what you need to know.
To get a TS/SCI clearance you will need to pass a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI). If you are an initial entry Soldier, your recruiter will help you with this. If you are on active duty, you will need to get with your nearest S2 (intelligence) shop and have them set you up to fill out the information on e-QIP (often pronounced "e-quip"). e-QIP replaced the old SF86 and hard copy system of the past.
An SSBI checks your personal history either 10 years prior or to the age of 18, whichever is less. So if you are 22 years old, your SSBI would check up to 4 years into your past. Some of the things that the investigators will check are:
- criminal record (to include speeding tickets, unpaid fines, things that have been supposedly expunged, suspended driver's licenses, DUIs, etc)
- past employment
- financial situation (looking for bankruptcies, defaults, late payments, high debt to income ratio, etc)
- public records
- drug use
- and much much more!
The primary mistakes people make when filling out their security questionnaire are:
- lying about drug use or other "criminal" behavior
- rushing to complete the form and leaving fields blank
- using the same people over and over again for references
The reason for that is this: national intelligence is often compromised by people who have either made poor financial decisions or who can easily be blackmailed into giving up information. Those who are deeply in debt and cannot pay their bills are more likely to accept a bribe from a foreign intelligence service (FIS) to settle their debt in exchange for national security information. People that lie on their clearance about drug use, for example, can also be blackmailed by FIS agents. They can approach you and tell you that they will tell the government about your drug use if you do not give them intelligence information.
However, if you are truthful on your clearance application and someone approaches you and says "I know you did drugs and I'm going to tell the government if you don't give me intelligence" you can coolly respond - "I already told them myself. Piss off." :)
I have a friend that has investigated security clearances in the past, and according to him the three biggest reasons for denial of a security clearance are:
- lying on the application (usually about drug use)
- poor financial situation (especially bankruptcy)
- failure to disclose foreign contacts (such as a Russian friend that you lived with in college that isn't a U.S. citizen, or a Syrian female that you have become intimate with after you met in an online chat room)
And that's pretty much it for the basics of security clearances. Getting too far into security clearances is a little bit outside of the scope of this blog. Feel free to visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.
If you've already read Part 1 (taking the DLAB) and are ready to move on to Part 3 (choosing the right MOS), click here.