We have all seen the movies where the alpha main character has a Top Secret clearance and is working on some highly classified super-spy mission for the government. Sounds like an exciting sexy job right? WRONG! Nothing can be further from the truth. For the uninformed, a security clearance is a blessing you get from the government that says you can access classified information. To get an maintain a security clearance, the government will check and continually monitor your finances, drug and alcohol use, foreign contacts, foreign travel, police records, civil records, family life, habits, hobbies, employment history, education, and basically your entire life for the duration that you have this clearance.
So now that you know you will surrender your life to the government for a clearance, do you still want it? Wait, there is more. There are three levels of security clearance in order from lowest to highest: Confidential (C), Secret (S), and Top Secret (TS). In addition, there is a special level of access called Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (SCI) that one can get in addition to their Top Secret clearance. When people have both, they say they have TS/SCI clearance. Some jobs do not require a polygraph for SCI access such as jobs at the U.S. Department of State (DOS). However, most jobs within the Intelligence Community (IC) like the CIA, NSA, and FBI require a full-scope polygraph. As I mentioned here, the polygraph is a joke and the whole point of the interrogation is to get the applicant to admit to something that will disqualify him or her from the job; something bad that the applicant has done that is not on record so the polygraphers or background investigators would have never found out about.
Even though some documents may be marked as Confidential, I have never met anyone with only a Confidential level security clearance. Most people get Secret or TS clearance. The Secret clearance can take several months to a year to get, the TS may take a year or longer, and TS/SCI within the IC can take 2+ years! Want to wait that long? After receiving your clearance, you can quickly lose it. A few security violations such as leaving a classified document out, an arrest, foreign travel or contacts not reported, allegations of misconduct, someone reports you for gambling or alcohol abuse, serious debt, or any of the other things that happen in life will get your clearance immediately suspended! Once the clearance is suspended, it can take years to get it back, so you are essentially uncleared again and back to square one. Most government jobs will just sick you in a dirty unclassified office with nothing to do or trivial mundane tasks while they investigate your clearance issue. Government contractor jobs will just fire you on the spot, or send you on leave without pay which is basically the same thing. So you could have been a holy saint your whole life, and one screw up ends your career. Eventually, your suspended clearance will be revoked.
So do you want to put your entire life and career in the hands of the U.S. government? You won’t be allowed to have sex with foreigners unless the U.S. government approves. You can’t smoke weed. You can’t bang prostitutes. You can’t be known for getting drunk every night and having hangovers at work. You can’t travel abroad unless approved. Your gambling habits will be monitored. You can’t break any laws, or at least not get caught. You can’t have security violations. You also can’t have any financial problems. I had a friend whose wife bounced a few checks at a U.S. Embassy where they were posted, and they suspended HIS clearance and later forced him into retirement! He is now divorced from his wife. Plus there are other restrictions. If you get caught breaking these rules, and there are plenty of snitches around the office, kiss your clearance and job goodbye. One false move on your perfect life and it is all over. A suspended or revoked security clearance stays on record for life. If you ever try to get another clearance, this will be a problem. Most people at the Department of State who get their clearance suspended never get it back.
Another problem is that many government contracting jobs care more about an applicant’s ability to get a clearance that their ability to do the job. I have seen many employees who do not know anything about their job, but because they had an active TS/SCI clearance from a previous job, they were immediately hired because it saves the company the time and money to try to get an uncleared person a clearance. My advice, get a regular job. You will have more freedom and autonomy and will not have to worry about losing your career over a few trials and tribulations in your life. Security clearances are not worth it. The government thinks that a security clearance means they can trust you and keep you on a lease, but you can’t trust the government, so why bother?