Security clearances – the madness intensifies

Last year I asked ‘Security clearances – has Washington gone mad???‘  Judging by this news, it’s at least unbalanced . . .  security clearances are sprouting like weeds and multiplying like mosquitoes in stagnant water!

The number of people who held security clearances for access to classified information increased last year to a new reported high of more than 4.8 million persons as of October 1, 2011, a new intelligence community report to Congress said.

Last year’s annual report, the first official count of security cleared personnel, had indicated that there were over 4.2 million clearances in 2010.  That number astonished observers because it surpassed previous estimates by more than a million.

But it turns out that the 2010 number itself underreported the number of clearances, and the new report to Congress presents a revised 2010 figure of 4.7 million.  Even so, the number of clearances rose in 2011 by about 3% to 4.86 million, the new report said.

. . .

The total clearance figure is composed of cleared government employees and contractors, at all clearance levels — Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.  (The number of Top Secret clearances alone was over 1.4 million.)  It includes all persons who have been cleared for access to classified information whether or not they have actually been granted such access.

There’s more at the link.

For the life of me, I can’t begin to imagine why any national state would need more than 1.4 million people security-cleared to Top Secret level!  It’s absolutely insane!  I offer here and now, without any hedging or weaseling, to bet my entire income for the rest of my life, against the same from any reader who cares to take my bet, that at least 1% of those currently holding Top Secret clearances are compromised in some way from a security perspective, and that at least 0.1% – one in a thousand of them – are currently engaged in and/or guilty of felony-level criminal (perhaps even treasonous) activities.  (Judging by my experience in security-cleared posts in another country, I think that’s probably a very conservative estimate.)  I don’t suggest anyone take the bet, though.  For a start, there’s no way to verify that.  Furthermore, any security specialist reading these words is undoubtedly already nodding his head in agreement with my figures – if not rebuking me for being too conservative in my estimates!

Reader comments in response to last year’s article were informative and sometimes amusing.  What do readers think of this latest report?



  1. Based on the number of people with security clearances that I've had to deal with in an official (read: law enforcement) capacity, I'm sure that your estimate of just 1% donkeys is low.

  2. In the Marines I had a TS clearance. Just because a piece of classified equipment on the aircraft was installed during combat (and only then). Note that it was a 'black-box', couldn't be serviced, and couldn't be opened without destroying the innards.

    As a contractor doing service work, I had to maintain a Secret to work in the Commissary because the road to it passed by a sensitive installation. But the public highway less than 300 yards away had no such restrictions.

  3. Part of the reason for the high number is over-classification. Classification levels have slowly crept upward to the point where almost anything of substance now (I deal with weapon systems) is classified secret. We have open storage of secret material in my facility. The really sensitive stuff is classified TS and compartmented in various ways, with restricted access. All holders of any clearance are subject to periodic re-investigation. Scarcely a week goes by that I'm not interviewed about the reliability of one of my peers or subordinates regarding their clearance.And don't forget: It includes all persons who have been cleared for access to classified information whether or not they have actually been granted such access.


  4. I suspect a fair number of those clearances are for vanities sake. They may not need it for their work but one of their peers has it so they have to have it too.

  5. You could make a case the there's a rate of maybe 5 per 100,000 that will be convicted of espionage (look at Walker, Pollard, etc).

    So this means the almost 5 Million translates into a likely 250 full bore traitors at work.

    Note: this is just a thought experiment, and the numbers are pulled from thin air.

  6. I think it's a matter of over classification rather. Australian Flight Lieutenant Matt Hall flew F-15s on exchange in the US and was allowed Top Secret clearance so that he could participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Despite this one briefing officer refused to brief the squadron on deployments until he left the room. Matt Hall was later decorated by the USAF for his actions over Iraq and web on to do well in the Red Bull air races.

    My point is, despite his clearance, the briefing officer (not a member of his host squadron) felt that it wasn't worth his career sharing that information with non-US personnel.

    So what's the point of having clearance anyways?

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