Once restricted to the national intelligence realm, jobs requiring top secret security clearances are now far more widespread. Beyond the numerous U.S. intelligence organizations with classified jobs, the branches of the U.S. military, homeland security organizations and the companies that supply contractors to these groups all offer employment opportunities to qualified candidates who have or can obtain this high-level security clearance. Obtaining a top secret clearance requires candidates to undergo a lengthy background investigation, including criminal records check, drug testing, a polygraph and psychological evaluation.
The alphabet soup of the country's intelligence agencies, including CIA, DIA and NSA, employ thousands of U.S. citizens in classified jobs that require secret and top secret clearances. These positions include analysts, researchers, intelligence collectors, scientists and linguists. For one of these jobs, you'd need at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline, an exhaustive background investigation and the ability to qualify for and maintain a security clearance. You'd typically have to update security clearances on a five-year basis, which involves undergoing a new investigation. People with these jobs work at agency headquarters, at U.S. government facilities around the country and in U.S. embassies abroad.
Each branch of the U.S. military performs a range of duties and missions that require personnel to have top secret clearances. Military personnel in career specialties such as intelligence collection, analysis and reporting, along with targeting and certain high tech jobs, must meet the military's requirements for training and promotion in those fields as well as those for getting and keeping the clearance. The military services also employ civilian personnel in these sensitive fields, and they must also qualify for a high-level clearance. The clearance process is similar to that of civilian agencies.
As civilian and military agencies have tried to streamline operations and downsize programs due to budget constraints, they often turn to contractors to fill the gaps in key fields. Government contractors provide support to the military, the intelligence agencies and other organizations involved in national security. Contractor firms often hire former military or government personnel with the specific expertise required to perform essential tasks in intelligence, security, communications and other high tech fields. Such personnel must apply to the actual firm supplying the contractors rather than to a government or military agency. They may be able to switch an active clearance from their old job to the new one; if not, they must undergo the same extensive clearance process required of their government peers.
While analysis, human intelligence gathering and developing potential intelligence assets remain a primarily human endeavor, many aspects of the intelligence business involve technology, notably computers and satellites. Personnel with the requisite education and experience in systems design, satellite technology and encryption are essential to the country's intelligence agencies and systems development firms. To protect the nature of their work from business competitors and foreign espionage efforts, personnel in these high tech firms need to have at least a top secret clearance.
As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.