Top Secret Security Clearance Requirements

Find out what it takes to get access to top secret information

Official document with Top Secret and Confidential stamps
••• Restricted Data/Flickr Creative Commons

Trustworthiness is among the most important and most valuable traits a job seeker in criminal justice and criminology can demonstrate. Whether due to the high ethical standards to which our criminal justice professionals are held, or to the simple fact that they must keep personal, private, and confidential information secret and safe, people interested in pursuing criminology jobs must often prove they can be trusted.

To meet this requirement, many of these careers require that candidates be eligible for Top Secret security clearances before they'll be considered for the job.

Levels of Clearance

The U.S. government generally uses three classifications for security clearances: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.

A Confidential clearance allows access to information that might pose a threat to matters of national security. Secret and Top Secret clearance levels grant access to information that might pose a serious or grave threat to national security, respectively.

There are even higher levels of access to information that has been deemed particularly vulnerable: Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAP). Each level of access has increasingly stricter standards.

What It Takes

The first step in obtaining a Top Secret clearance is to apply. When applying for many federal law enforcement careers, especially as a special agent, your participation in the hiring process will likely include an application geared toward gathering information needed for such clearance.

For state and local law enforcement jobs, certain positions may require you to submit a separate application for clearance if you work in an intelligence or homeland security position. This initial application will include a lengthy questionnaire for national security positions.

You must be a U.S. citizen to obtain security clearance.

Digging Deep

During the application process for Top Secret clearance, you'll have to divulge nearly every bit of information about yourself relating to personal and business finances, residences, employment history, past drug use, prior military service, citizenship, and criminal behavior.

The questionnaire then goes to a background investigator, who verifies the information and begins a grueling and lengthy process of speaking to past employers, neighbors, spouses, ex-spouses, and acquaintances to determine whether you're trustworthy enough to receive clearance. The in-depth background investigation will cover a 10-year period.

Additionally, the process will involve a polygraph exam, where you'll be asked to verify information from the questionnaire and other additional questions about your past to determine your level of truthfulness.

Obtaining a Top Secret Clearance

After the background investigation is complete, a decision—known as an adjudication—will be made regarding your eligibility for clearance. This typically takes about six months. If you are found to be eligible and receive a Top Secret clearance, you'll be required to undergo a new background investigation every five years to maintain that clearance.

Requirements Can't Be Waived

It's important to note that, for positions that require access to national security information, the requirement for a security clearance comes from an executive order of the President of the United States and cannot be waived by the agency you're applying with.

In other words, if you can't get clearance, you probably won't be able to get hired. So, before you spend all the time required, be sure you don't have anything that could prevent you from gaining clearance