TS/SCI Clearance with a Polygraph: All You Need to Know

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in national security or intelligence, you may have heard about the requirement for a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph. This type of clearance is necessary for certain positions that require access to highly sensitive information related to national security.

TS/SCI stands for Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, and it’s the highest level of security clearance that the United States government can grant. This clearance allows you access to classified information that is critical to national security, and with it comes a great deal of responsibility.

An examiner tests an examinee while he is attached to a polygraph machine.

In order to obtain a TS/SCI clearance, you’ll have to go through an extensive background check and investigation process that can take several months or even years to complete. This process involves a thorough examination of your personal and professional history, including your education, employment, finances, and any criminal or civil legal issues.

One aspect of the clearance process that can be particularly intimidating is the polygraph examination. This type of examination is designed to assess your honesty and integrity by measuring various physiological responses while you answer a series of questions.

The polygraph examination is just one part of the overall TS/SCI clearance process, but it’s an important one. While it can be nerve-wracking, it’s important to remember that the purpose of the polygraph examination is not to catch you in a lie but to ensure that you’re trustworthy and able to handle the responsibilities that come with a TS/SCI clearance.

In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly TS/SCI clearance entails, what the polygraph examination involves, and what you can expect throughout the entire clearance process.


Levels of security clearances

There are several levels of security clearances that are granted to individuals who require access to classified information. The levels are based on the sensitivity of the information and the level of risk associated with granting access to that information.

The first level of security clearance is confidential clearance. The background investigation for a confidential clearance is less rigorous than that for a TS/SCI clearance but still requires a thorough review of the applicant’s personal and professional history.

The second level of security clearance is the secret level. This level of clearance is granted to individuals who require access to information that, if disclosed, could cause serious damage to national security. The background investigation for a secret clearance is more extensive than that for a confidential clearance and may include interviews with coworkers, neighbors, and other individuals who are familiar with the applicant’s character and conduct.

The third and highest level of security clearance is the Top Secret clearance. This level of clearance is granted to individuals who require access to information that, if disclosed, could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security. The background investigation for a Top Secret clearance is the most extensive and may include a polygraph examination and a single-scope background investigation (SSBI), which is the most comprehensive background investigation that the government can conduct, in addition to interviews and reviews of financial, criminal, and medical records.

Above Top Secret, there are additional clearance levels that are reserved for individuals who require access to particularly sensitive or compartmented information. These include Special Access Programs (SAP), which are created for specific government projects or programs and require additional screening beyond that of a Top Secret clearance.


The purpose of the polygraph

The Polygraph Test Environment Room

In the process of obtaining a TS/SCI clearance, you may be required to undergo a polygraph examination. Its purpose is to determine the veracity of the information provided by the individual being tested.

The polygraph measures various physiological responses, including changes in blood pressure, respiration, and perspiration. These responses are believed to be indicators of stress and anxiety, which may increase when an individual is being deceptive.

It’s important to note that the polygraph is not a foolproof tool for detecting deception. And there are factors that can influence the results, including the individual’s mental and physical state, the skill of the examiner, and the nature of the questions being asked.


The TS/SCI Clearance Process

The process for obtaining a TS/SCI clearance typically involves the following steps:

  1. Application: The first step is to complete an application for a security clearance, which will require you to provide personal and professional information, such as your name, date of birth, social security number, employment history, and educational background. You will also be required to disclose any criminal history, drug use, or other potentially disqualifying information.
  2. Investigation: Once your application has been submitted, a background investigation will be initiated. This investigation will typically include interviews with friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers, and other individuals who may have information about your character and conduct. Additionally, investigators will review your credit history, criminal record, and other public records to determine if there are any red flags that may disqualify you from obtaining a security clearance.
  3. Adjudication: After the investigation is complete, the information gathered will be reviewed by a team of adjudicators, who will determine whether you are eligible for a security clearance. Factors that may be considered during the adjudication process include your personal conduct, foreign contacts, financial history, and criminal record. If the adjudicators determine that you are eligible for a clearance, you will be granted an interim clearance while the final adjudication process is completed.
  4. Polygraph Examination: As part of the TS/SCI clearance process, you may be required to undergo a polygraph examination. The purpose of the polygraph examination is to verify the accuracy of the information you provided during the application and investigation process and to identify any potential security concerns. The examination may cover a range of topics, including drug usage, criminal activity, foreign contacts, and other possibly disqualifying information.
  5. Final Adjudication: Once all of the information has been collected and reviewed, a final adjudication will be made regarding your eligibility for a TS/SCI clearance. If you are deemed eligible, you will be granted the clearance and will be able to access sensitive information as part of your job duties.


It’s important to note that the TS/SCI clearance process can be lengthy and may take several months or even years to complete, depending on the complexity of the investigation and the volume of applicants. Additionally, not everyone who applies for a clearance will be granted one, as the standards for obtaining a clearance are extremely high, and only individuals who are deemed trustworthy and reliable will be granted access to sensitive national security information.


Who needs a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph?

While the examiner watches the screen, a polygraph examinee is attached to the device.

A TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph is typically required for roles within the federal government or with private companies that contract with the government.

Here’s an overview of some of the types of jobs that may require this level of clearance:

  1. Intelligence Analysts: Intelligence analysts work for government agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), among others.
  2. Cybersecurity Professionals: Cybersecurity professionals are responsible for protecting government systems and data from cyber attacks. They work in a variety of roles, including network security, security operations, and security engineering.
  3. Diplomats and Foreign Service Officers: Diplomats and Foreign Service Officers represent the United States abroad, working to promote American interests and relationships with foreign governments. They work in a variety of roles, including political affairs, economic affairs, and public diplomacy.
  4. Military Personnel: Many roles within the military require a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph, particularly those in intelligence, reconnaissance, and special operations.
  5. Private Contractors: Private companies that contract with the government to provide services and support may also require employees to have a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph. These companies may work in areas such as information technology, engineering, and consulting.


It’s important to note that these are just a few examples of the types of jobs that may require a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph. There are many other roles and industries that may require this level of clearance, depending on the specific nature of the work involved.


Private sector jobs that require this clearance

  1. Defense contractors, including companies that provide technology and engineering services, often require employees to hold TS/SCI clearance. These companies work on classified government projects and require employees with high-level clearance to access sensitive information.
  2. Aerospace and aviation Companies that provide aerospace and aviation services, such as aircraft manufacturing and maintenance, may require TS/SCI clearance for employees who work on classified projects.
  3. Energy and natural resources Private sector companies may require employees to hold TS/SCI clearance.


Common reasons for clearance denial or revocation

One of the most common reasons for clearance denial or revocation is an individual’s personal conduct. This can include a history of criminal activity, drug or alcohol abuse, financial irresponsibility, or other conduct that indicates a lack of judgment or reliability. Adverse information about an individual’s personal conduct can come from a variety of sources, including interviews with references, credit checks, and criminal background checks.

Another reason for clearance denial or revocation is an individual’s foreign contacts or foreign activities. This can include foreign travel, foreign business interests, or foreign relatives. The concern here is that an individual with close ties to foreign entities could be vulnerable to pressure or coercion, or that they could be more likely to engage in espionage or other activities that could compromise security.

A third reason for clearance denial or revocation is an individual’s mental health. While having a mental health condition in and of itself does not necessarily disqualify an individual from obtaining clearance, certain conditions can be disqualifying if they impact an individual’s judgment or reliability. Examples of potentially disqualifying conditions include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and severe depression.

Finally, clearance can be denied or revoked if an individual has demonstrated a lack of candor or honesty during the clearance process. This can include intentionally withholding information, providing false information, or failing to disclose information that would be relevant to the clearance decision.


Addressing concerns or issues during the clearance process

When going through the security clearance process, it is common to have concerns or issues that arise. It is important to address any concerns or issues as soon as possible to ensure a smooth clearance process.

The best way to address concerns or issues is to be upfront and honest during the clearance process. Any falsification or withholding of information can lead to a denial or revocation of your clearance. It is better to disclose any potential issues or concerns at the beginning of the process rather than have them discovered later.

It is also important to gather any supporting documentation that may help mitigate concerns or issues. This could include letters of recommendation, financial records, or other documents that show you have taken steps to address any potential issues. Providing as much information and documentation as possible can help reassure the clearance adjudicators that you are trustworthy and can be granted a clearance.


Myths and Misconceptions about TS/SCI Clearance with a Polygraph

A hand pointing to a lie detector graph on a computer screen

Myth #1: The polygraph is unreliable. There is a common belief that the polygraph is an unreliable tool for determining whether someone is telling the truth or not. However, the truth is that the polygraph is a highly effective tool that has been used for decades to screen potential security clearance holders. While it is not infallible, it is an important part of the overall screening process and very accurate.


Myth #2: You Need to Be a Perfect Candidate to Obtain TS/SCI Clearance with a Polygraph. Many people believe that they need to have a perfect background in order to obtain a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph. However, this is not the case. While it is true that certain issues can disqualify a candidate from obtaining clearance, such as a history of criminal behavior or substance abuse, the screening process is designed to identify candidates who are suitable for clearance rather than to exclude everyone who has ever made a mistake.


Myth #3: Once You Obtain TS/SCI Clearance with a Polygraph, You Are Set for Life. Many people believe that once they obtain a TS/SCI clearance with a polygraph, they are set for life and never need to worry about their clearance status again. However, this is not the case. Clearances must be periodically renewed, and any significant changes in a person’s background or behavior can result in the revocation of their clearance.



Maintaining a TS/SCI clearance

Maintaining a TS/SCI clearance requires ongoing effort and diligence. Here are some key aspects to keep in mind:

  1. Keep your personal life in order: Your clearance can be jeopardized if you engage in illegal or unethical behavior, such as drug use, financial irresponsibility, or activities that could make you vulnerable to blackmail. Be sure to report any significant changes in your personal life to your security officer.
  2. Report foreign contacts: It’s important to report any contact you have with foreign nationals, including travel to foreign countries, to your security officer. This doesn’t mean you can’t have contact with foreigners, but it’s important to be transparent about it so that your clearance can be properly adjudicated.
  3. Follow proper security procedures: Make sure you follow proper security procedures, such as safeguarding classified information and using secure communication methods. Don’t take shortcuts or make exceptions to the rules.
  4. Attend required training: You will be required to attend periodic security training sessions to maintain your clearance. These sessions are designed to keep you up-to-date on security procedures and help you identify potential security threats.
  5. Stay current with your finances: Financial problems can be a red flag for security clearance holders. Make sure you pay your bills on time and avoid taking on too much debt. If you do run into financial trouble, report it to your security officer immediately.


Maintaining clearance while facing lifestyle changes


Life is full of changes, and sometimes those changes can impact your ability to maintain your Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance. If you are facing lifestyle changes such as moving, getting married, or traveling abroad, it is important to understand how these changes may affect your clearance and what steps you can take to maintain it:

Moving: If you are moving to a new location, you must report your new address to your security officer as soon as possible. Your security officer will ensure that your clearance is transferred to the appropriate clearance-granting authority for your new location. It is also important to report any changes in your living situation, such as moving in with a new roommate or buying a new home.

Marriage: If you are getting married, you should report the change in your marital status to your security officer. This includes any changes in your spouse’s background or foreign contacts. If your spouse is a foreign national, it is especially important to report this information as it can impact your clearance eligibility.

Foreign Travel: If you are traveling abroad, your security officer must be informed of your trip arrangements. This includes any personal or business travel outside of the United States, as well as any travel to high-risk countries or regions. Your security officer may provide you with additional briefings or training on security protocols and procedures for traveling abroad.

In addition to reporting these changes, it is important to adhere to the security protocols and procedures outlined in your clearance. This includes being cautious about who you share information with, only accessing information on a need-to-know basis, and ensuring that any communication or transmission of information is done in a secure manner.

If you are facing lifestyle changes that may impact your clearance, it is important to be proactive and communicate with your security officer. By doing so, you can ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to maintain your clearance and uphold the highest standards of security and professionalism in your work.


Re-investigation and re-evaluation requirements

A lie detector examiner interprets the findings

In order to maintain your Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance, you will be required to undergo periodic re-investigations and re-evaluations. These periodic checks are intended to ensure that you continue to meet the eligibility requirements for holding a security clearance:

  1. Frequency: The frequency of re-investigations and re-evaluations varies depending on the level of clearance and the agency involved. Generally, individuals with a TS/SCI clearance will be subject to a re-investigation every 5 years, although this can vary depending on the circumstances.
  2. Scope: The scope of a re-investigation or re-evaluation can vary depending on the circumstances. At a minimum, you can expect to undergo a review of your personal and professional history, including your financial and criminal background. You may also be required to undergo a medical evaluation, a psychological evaluation, and a polygraph examination.
  3. Notification: You will typically be notified in advance of a scheduled re-investigation or re-evaluation. It is important to respond promptly to any requests for information or interviews, as failure to do so could jeopardize your clearance.


You may also be subject to re-evaluation at any time if new information comes to light that could impact your clearance eligibility. such as a significant change in your personal life.



In conclusion, obtaining and maintaining a Top Secret or Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance is a rigorous process that requires individuals to undergo a thorough background check, security investigation, and evaluation of their character, loyalty, and trustworthiness.

The clearance process includes several types of polygraph examinations that are used to confirm or refute information provided by the applicant or uncover potential security concerns. It is important to note that while the polygraph examination is a crucial part of the clearance process, it is not the only factor considered in determining an applicant’s suitability for a clearance.

Once an individual is granted a TS/SCI clearance, they must be diligent in maintaining its validity by reporting any changes in their personal or professional life that may impact their eligibility for a clearance.

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