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A Federal Top-Secret Club That’s Not Very Secret or Federal

A Federal Top-Secret Club That???s Not Very Secret or Federal
Photograph by Sean Ellis/Getty Images

Updated to add information on private-sector hiring of workers with security clearance from’s Evan Lesser.

Getting top-secret clearance from the U.S. government can take as long as two years and require spotless testimonies from neighbors and ex-spouses, as well as help from a high credit score and low booze intake. Still, the highest echelon of Uncle Sam’s three security levels is not as tight a fraternity as one might think. As of October 2012, some 1.7 million Americans had either top-secret clearance or the necessary approval for it, including 766,000 people who aren’t counted as employees of the federal government, according to an annual report (PDF) by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.