United States government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. military branches provide their staffs with security clearances. State and local government employees also use security clearances. The clearances are only given to people who need to know classified information to perform their jobs. There are three basic types and one temporary type of security clearance. As mandated by a Presidential Executive Order, a background investigation must be conducted on everyone who receives a security clearance.
Interim Security Clearance
Interim security clearances are given to employees in unusual situations, when job functions must be performed before an employee's background investigation is completed. If you have been granted an interim security clearance, you have access to the same level of secure information that a person with a full security clearance has. The clearance is active until the investigation is done. If negative data is unearthed during the investigation, you could lose the interim security clearance.
Read More: How Do I Reinstate an Inactive Secret Security Clearance?
Confidential Security Clearance
If your position requires that you have access to information that could be potentially damaging for America's security, you can apply for and receive a Confidential security clearance, the lowest of the three basic national security clearance types. Because of the nature of the data that you will have access to, you must complete a thorough application and might have your background--including credit history, mental health, social, political, family and work relationships--thoroughly investigated for a period going back five years. Confidential security clearances are active for as long as you need access to the classified information to perform your job. You will be re-investigated and undergo another background investigation every 15 years to ensure that you continue to meet the qualifications for the clearance.
Secret Security Clearance
Secret security clearances are given in the event that you need to access national data categorized as Confidential or Secret to meet the demands of your job. Types of employees who generally receive a Secret security clearance are law enforcement officials and military personnel. Federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Security Agency (NSA) conduct investigative research on all persons who apply for a Secret security clearance with their organizations. The clearance lasts for as long as you need access to the Secret information to perform your job. Every 10 years, you must be re-investigated and undergo a full background investigation to maintain the clearance. If negative data is unearthed during the re-investigation, you could lose the Secret security clearance.
Top Secret Security Clearance
A Top Secret security clearance is the highest level of the three classified types. Active-duty military personnel who handle highly sensitive data, FBI officials and government leaders are the types of people who are granted the clearance. The clearance is active for as long as you need it to perform the responsibilities of your job. Should your job change, you might have your clearance level lowered to Secret or Confidential. Every five years, you must undergo another full background investigation to maintain the clearance. If negative data is unearthed during the re-investigation, you could lose the Top Secret security clearance.
Full background checks associated with security clearances limit the possibility of potentially damaging national data getting into the hands of the wrong people. Penalties for disclosing details of the classified information that the clearance allows are severe, up to and including imprisonment. Although the general re-investigation periods are 15 years for a Confidential clearance, 10 years for a Secret clearance and five years for a Top Secret clearance, you can be re-investigated at any time while you have a security clearance.