Interested in finding a career with the government in the cyber security space? You’re going to have to go through a lot of security clearances before you can join and take on the job.
Government security procedures are strict, which means they are without any doubt somewhat annoying. There’s also a lot of paper work involved. If these things trouble you, then we welcome you to this page.
The security clearances page is designed to help you learn about these annoying requirements and how to deal and prepare for them. We’ll be covering everything you need to know with input from experts who have gone through this ordeal. Plus additional reading will be provided to prepare you even better.
Speaking of additional reading, you can head over to Security Clearance FAQs by Clearancejobs. This PDF is a powerhouse for anyone looking for additional and in-depth information on how to deal with filling the forms, and what to expect. You’ll also learn detailed explanations of important terminology and acronyms.
Now let’s head on to our own little crash course to help you prepare for the worst
Security Clearance – What is it?
Security clearance or ‘eligibility for access’ means that any U.S. company or citizen who has any kind of access to classified government information must go through a series of procedures to gain a security clearance. There are two types of security clearances which are listed below:
- Facility Security Clearances (FCLS) and
- Personal Security Clearances (PCLS)
Security clearances are not available for foreign nationals. Non U.S. citizens however can be granted a Limited Access Authorization (LAA).
Who Issues These Security Clearances?
A variety of U.S. government agencies that are responsible for dealing with classified information issue security clearances. They are:
- Department of Justice (DoJ), which also includes FBI
- Department of Defense (DoD), which also includes NGA, NSA and DIA
- Department of State (DoS)
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Apart from these agencies, sometimes the Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Interior, Labor, Veteran affairs, Treasury, Housing and Urban development can also issue security clearances.
CIA, EPA, USITC and FCC are independent agencies which also happen to have authority to issue clearances.
But it is important to note that most security clearances, as much as 80% are issued by the Department of Defense due to the nature of its tasks.
Do You Require Security Clearance?
It depends on you. If you are going for a career in the military or U.S. Government, you will definitely have to go through security clearances. The following entities particularly require security clearances for all cyber security professionals:
- Government contractors
- Government Agency
- Any Organization working with a government contractor
Following careers in cyber security also require security clearance:
The good news is that if you are working outside the government or military, but you have to deal with sensitive information, you are not required to have security clearances. However, keep in mind most jobs do require you to go through a background check. Some of these background checks can be as intrusive as the governments’ security clearance procedures.
What Are The Different Type Of Security Clearances?
Security Clearances are divided into three levels of access by the government.
This is the very basic level of security clearance. Most personnel enrolled in the military have access to it. Basically, anyone having confidential access will be dealing with material that can cause measurable damage to the national security if exposed to the world.
Confidential Security Clearance will require you to go through the following:
- Thorough background check
- Verification of criminal, employment and education records.
- Screening of partners/spouses and immediate relatives
- Credit checks
- Fingerprint checks
All Confidential clearance requires a re-check every 15 years.
Secret security clearance means that you will have access to material that can cause grave damage to the national security if exposed to the world.
You will have to go through the following:
- All checks included in Confidential security
All Secret Clearance Checks requires a re-check every 10 years.
As the name suggest, it is the top tiered security clearance check. It means you will have access to material that can cause a disastrous damage to national security if exposed to the world.
You will be required to go through the following:
- All basic security clearances covered in confidential and secret clearances
- A thorough field check
- Polygraph test (may be required)
- Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)
- Foreign and travel assets will be inspected thoroughly
- Your Co-workers, employers and neighbors or any references you provide will be interviewed
Top Secret security clearances checks require re-check every 5 years.
How Do You Get A Security Clearance?
You cannot start the process of security clearance yourself. If you join a job position that requires you to go through security clearance, a government agency or a cleared contractor of the government will sponsor you.
But if you are curious to know what happens throughout the process, read below:
- First off, you’ll meet the requirements of the job and know that a particular employer wants to hire you.
- The employer, if interested, will issue a conditional job offer.
- You will then need to provide Background Investigation on your file. If you do not have the file with you, you will have to submit clearance documents such as the SF86 to the hiring agency the employer is working with.
- If the hiring agency clears you in the suitability test, they will ask you to provide a thorough background check.
- If your background check is cleared, you will be hired for the job.
Failing the background check will mean you’ll have to immediately leave the place.
The Detailed Process of Security Clearance
Nearly 90% of all security clearances are handled by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for the government agencies and contractors. OPM also outsources these checks to outside contractors. The time it takes to get a security clearance can be anywhere from a few months to a full year. The government is currently trying to shorten down the time it requires to clear security clearances.
The process will require you to go through the following:
Filling The Standard Form 86 (SF86)
The very first step in security clearance requires you to fill 100+ pages Standard Form 86. This form is also known as ‘Questionnaire for National Security Positions’. It basically will have you talking a lot about your life.
You’ll have to provide information such as:
- Details of your citizenship
- Passport numbers
- Educational qualifications
- Places of residence
- Details on friends, relatives and foreign contacts
- Military status
- Marital status
- Employment history
- Criminal records
- Financial problems
- Civil court actions
- Drug involvement
- Subversive activities
- Misuse of IT systems under alcohol influence
- Mental health problems
When you are done filing and providing the SF86, the government will conduct a thorough background investigation/check. This will review the following:
- Provided references
- Financial status
- Criminal records of past 10 years
- Proof of U.S. citizenship and date of birth
- Educational documents like certifications, degrees and diplomas
- Employment records
- Scanned fingerprints
- Public records
There is a chance the government may send investigators to check your police records. They can conduct interview with co-workers, supervisors, friends, classmates and any other references provided or not provided. You will also be required to go through a security interview.
Speeding Up The Security Clearance Process
There is very little you can do once you provide the SF86 to speed up the process. However, there are still some ways you can make sure your application doesn’t get on hold. These include:
- Provide complete and honest information. Do not forget anything or provide erroneous information such as important numbers and accounts. You have to pay full attention to the SF86 and make no mistakes if you want to keep things smooth.
- When you are asked to complete your electronic (e-QIP) version of the SF86, be prepared with all necessary materials. This way you will not have to worry about finding records.
- There could be credit issues that you may be unaware of. In order to avoid this delay, you should request for a free credit report before submitting the SF86.
Note: There are times when the government reserves the right to provide interim security clearance to a candidate while the full results of BI are being waited on. During this time, the government also reserves the right to withdraw this interim security clearance if something unfavorable is found.
What Are The Different Security Clearance Denials?
Apart for being denied for incomplete or faulty information, you can also be denied with the following reasons in mind:
- Repeated alcohol use
- Serious financial problems
- Dishonorable dismissal or discharge
- Criminal convictions
- Mental incompetency
- Intentional false statements
- Pattern of criminal conduct or rule violations
- Unlawful use of drugs or other controlled substances
- Not willing to surrender a foreign passport
Note: Do not provide your investigators with false information, especially when it includes past criminal records, alcohol and drug abuse. Be upfront about everything because if you did use to abuse alcohol or drug abuse a long time ago, it can be excused.
How Long Does Security Clearance Stay Valid?
You can keep your security clearance as long as:
- You are still employed by a cleared contractor or a government agency
- You willingly go through reinvestigations
- When you are still expected to have access to classified information
What Are Periodic Reinvestigations?
We discussed this in the Types of Security clearances above. But for a refresher, you need to go through reinvestigations depending on the level of security clearance you have:
- Confidential Security clearance is reinvestigated every 15 years
- Secret Security clearance is reinvestigated every 10 years
- Top Secret Security clearance is reinvestigated every 5 years
During the reinvestigation process, you will have to submit an updated security package that contains everything required. The government will then conduct another BI. Your previous BI will be used as a reference for this reinvestigation.
What Is Clearance Termination?
The government has divided clearance into three classifications, it includes:
- Active – clearance that is not terminated
- Current – a clearance that has been terminated but is eligible for reinstatement
- Expired – terminated clearance that is also not eligible for reinstatement
If you leave the job with a cleared contractor or a government agency, your security clearance is deemed expired. However, if you are still working within a government agency but are not expected to be dealing with classified information, your active clearance can be downgraded to current clearance. It can be reinstated later if required by the government.
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