Much is heard these days of government secrets being uncovered,
national security being compromised, and of sensitive information
getting into the wrong hands. Most countries have a classification
system to formalize state secrets and protect information
from being used to endanger citizens. This article will familiarize
you with the security classification system.
Although the exact number varies from country to country,
there are generally five levels of security classification:
Top Secret: Information which, in the hands of the
enemy would put the security of America at exceptionally grave
risk. Individuals undergo meticulous investigation to receive
the level of clearance necessary to view this information.
Clearance must be renewed every five years.
Secret: Information which could cause serious damage
if publicly available. Intense investigation is required for
individuals with this clearance, which must be renewed every
Confidential: Information which could compromise the
safety of Americans. Clearance must be renewed every fifteen
years for individuals on this level.
Restricted: Information which could have undesirable
effects if publicly available. Some countries (the US included)
do not use this security level.
Unclassified: Not technically a classification. This
includes all information that does not pose a security risk,
which is available to the public.
All classified information, regardless of the level, is available
only on a “need to know” basis. Therefore, an individual having
Top Secret clearance may not be privileged to view all Top
Secret documents, only those documents which are pertinent
to his or her work.
When two or more countries agree to share information with
each other they must agree upon a uniform classification system.
The United Nations, NATO, and the European Defense Organization
all have their own security classification systems.
One example of a country without a formal classification
system is China. The Criminal Law of the People’s Republic
of China makes it a crime to release a state secret. However,
there is only a vague definition of what constitutes a state
secret; therefore the government has used this law to imprison
Private corporations make use of a similar type of security
classification system when working with new product development
teams, mergers, and the company’s financial reports. This
type of information is protected under trade secret laws.
Employers can require their employees to sign confidentiality
agreements and undergo extensive background checks. While
corporate classification lacks the harsh criminal sanctions
of the government classification, individuals who leak company
secrets can be tried and punished in courts of law.
Many citizens live out their lives without a thought for
the secrets their government keeps from them. The military
is the largest employer of people with such clearances. It
might surprise you to know that one out of every thirty Americans,
or 3-5 million individuals are authorized to some extent to
know state secrets. Of all individuals with such clearances,
it is estimated that one in a thousand can be expected to
compromise the secrets they are entrusted with, either out
of blackmail, greed, or sloppiness.
Only those individuals in positions where it is anticipated
they will be dealing with classified information may apply
for security clearance. Once the candidate has completed the
application phase a detailed investigation ensues. The applicant’s
background will be thoroughly examined by the Defense Security
Service, and depending on the level of clearance needed, family
members and relatives may also be scrutinized. The investigation
phase can last up to a year or more. Candidates who pass this
phase will then enter the adjudication phase. In this phase
all information gathered in the previous two phases is reviewed
and analyzed, based on thirteen factors determined by the
Department of Defense. Allegiance to the United States and
personal conduct are examples of areas that are considered.
Four factors that are certain to lead to rejection of an applicant
1. Candidate was convicted of a crime and imprisoned for
more than one year.
2. Candidate uses controlled substances.
3. Candidate has been deemed mentally incompetent by a health
professional approved by the Department of Defense.
4. Candidate was discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable
Having a security clearance is nothing to sneeze at, and
some experts say that having such a clearance can increase
one’s salary between $10 and $15K. It is evident that the
ability to keep a secret is a valued commodity in this increasingly
About the Author:
Francesca Black develops educational material for
http://www.security-port.com and http://www.security-protection.net
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