The military and intelligence communities deal with information that is highly sensitive. Keeping the secrets is critical to national security, and the ability to have access to this information is reserved for those who are willing to undergo the process of getting what is called a security clearance.
A security clearance investigation is like a background check, only more extensive. It delves deeply into a person's honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, financial responsibility, criminal activity, emotional stability, and other similar and pertinent areas. It also consists of checks of national records and credit checks.
In the military, all classified information is divided into one of three categories:
Confidential: This refers to information or material that, if disclosed, would cause some damage to national security.
Secret: This refers to information or material that, if disclosed, would cause serious damage to national security.
Top secret: This refers to information or material that, if disclosed, would cause severe damage to national security.
There are even levels classified as” above top secret.” Anyone who works with and has access to a minimum of confidential information requires a security clearance. Some military positions require clearance even if you never get to sneak a peek at classified material.
If it is determined that you need a security clearance, you have to complete a Security Clearance Background Investigation Questionnaire. Since May 2001, the U.S. Department of Defense has required that this form be completed via a software program called EPSQ (Electronic Personnel Security Questionnaire). When completing the questionnaire for confidential and secret clearances, you have to provide information for the previous five years. For top-secret clearances, you must provide information for the previous ten years. It is important to make sure that you tell the truth because if it is proved that you gave false information, you could go to prison for five years. If you are in the military, false testimony can result in not only five years in the brig (military prison) but also a dishonorable discharge and forfeit of all benefits.
If you work for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Defense Security Service is the office that is most likely to conduct your security clearance investigation. The Office of Personnel Management conducts security clearance investigations for most other branches of the federal government.