Classified Information in The United States - Classifications and Clearances Between U.S. Government Agencies

Classifications and Clearances Between U.S. Government Agencies

In the past, clearances did not necessarily transfer between various U.S. government agencies. For example, an individual cleared for Department of Defense Top Secret had to undergo another investigation before being granted a Department of Energy Q clearance. Agencies are now supposed to honor background investigations by other agencies if they are still current. Because most security clearances only apply inside the agency where the holder works, if one needs to meet with another agency to discuss classified matters, it is possible and necessary to pass one's clearance to the other agency. For example, officials visiting at the White House from other government agencies would pass their clearances to the Executive Office of the President (EOP).

The Department of Energy security clearance required to access Top Secret Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information, as well as Secret Restricted Data, is a Q clearance. The lower-level L clearance is sufficient for access to Secret Formerly Restricted Data and National Security Information, as well as Confidential Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information. In practice, access to Restricted Data is granted, on a need-to-know basis, to personnel with appropriate clearances. At one time, a person might hold both a TS and a Q clearance, but that duplication and cost is no longer required. For all practical purposes, and Q is equivalent to Top Secret, and L is equivalent to Secret.

Contrary to popular lore, the Yankee White clearance given to personnel who work directly with the President is not a classification. The Yankee White clearance includes a requirement for absolute absence of any foreign influence on the individual. Individuals having Yankee White clearances undergo extensive background investigations. The criteria include U.S. citizenship, unquestionable loyalty, and an absolute absence of any foreign influence over the individual, his family, or "persons to whom the individual is closely linked." Also, they must not have traveled (save while in government employ and at the instructions of the United States) to countries that are considered to be unfriendly to the United States. Yankee White cleared personnel are granted access to any information for which they have a need to know, regardless of which organization classified it or at what level.

See also the Single Scope Background Investigation below, along with explicit compartmented access indoctrination. Some compartments, especially intelligence-related, may require a polygraph examination, although the reliability of the polygraph is controversial. The NSA uses the polygraph early in the clearance process while the CIA uses it at the end, which may suggest divergent opinions on the proper use of the polygraph.

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