Types of Security Clearance

Many people know they need security clearance but are not sure about the different levels or types of security clearance. Public trust or lower-risk positions require a background check through the Standard form 85 (SF85) application process, but do not require clearance. Higher level security clearances can be obtained through the Standard Form 86 (SF86) application process.

Man with top secret security clearance on computer

Those levels or types of security clearance are:

Confidential

Confidential is the lowest level of security clearance and as US code of federal regulation 18 § 3a.11 states: Confidential refers to national security information or material which requires protection, but not to the degree described in paragraphs (a) (1) and (2) of this section. The test for assigning Confidential classification shall be whether its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the national security.

Secret

Secret refers to national security information or material which requires a substantial degree of protection. The test for assigning Secret classification shall be whether its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security. Examples of serious damage include disruption of foreign relations significantly affecting the national security; significant impairment of a program or policy directly related to the national security; revelation of significant military plans or intelligence operations; and compromise of significant scientific or technological developments relating to national security. The classification Secret shall be sparingly used.

Top Secret

Top Secret refers to national security information or material which requires the highest degree of protection. The test for assigning Top Secret classification is whether its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security. Examples of exceptionally grave damage include armed hostilities against the United States or its allies; disruption of foreign relations vitally affecting the national security; the compromise of vital national defense plans or complex cryptologic and communications intelligence systems; the revelation of sensitive intelligence operations; and the disclosure of scientific or technological developments vital to national security. This classification is to be used with the utmost restraint.

It’s important to note that classified information will be assigned the lowest classification consistent with its proper protection. Documents will be classified according to their own content and not necessarily according to their relationship to other documents.