Security clearances held by millions of Americans
By John Bacon and William M. Welch | USA Today | Published: June 10, 2013
An Army private leaks information to a whistle-blower website. A defense contractor leaks information on intelligence gathering by the National Security Agency.
They are just two of almost 5 million people holding a government security clearance, federal documents show.
A January report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says more than 4.9 million people have some sort of government security clearance. About 1.4 million of those lay claim to "top secret" clearance.
Army Pvt. Bradley Manning created an uproar when he admitted turning over hundreds of thousands of classified Army reports and U.S. diplomatic cables to the website WikiLeaks, which then created a firestorm by publishing the information. His court martial began last week.
Now comes Edward Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant turned intelligence contractor, releasing detailed information on intelligence gathering by the National Security Agency that included access to phone records of millions of Americans.
Controversy is not new for security clearance efforts. A Government Accountability Office report in July blasted the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for failing to provide uniform policies across government agencies to "determine eligibility for access to classified information." The office declined comment on the latest leak.
The NSA says its hiring practices include background investigations designed to "determine the applicant's honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, discretion, and unquestioned loyalty to the United States."
Most security clearance investigations verify basic information such as previous employment, education and residence. Interviews are conducted with an applicant's friends, neighbors, supervisors and co-workers. Criminal and credit checks are also conducted.
The higher the level of clearance, the more involved and costly the investigations. They can take months to complete, and often backlogs add to the time involved for a clearance to win approval.
Most, but far from all, security clearances are held by government workers. They hold 2,757,33 "confidential/secret" clearances and 791,200 clearances designated as "top secret." Contractors claim 582,524 "confidential" clearances and 483,263 "top-secret" ones. There is another general category of people who hold 167,925 "confidential/secret" clearances and 135,506 top-secret.