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What is a Security Clearance?

By Kinexus on 20 April 2017

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Many Defence Industry and government roles will require some level of security clearance to work on defence projects and be privy to sensitive information.

A security clearance is a status given to someone that has been checked and vetted for the eligibility to access and deal with security classified information. It gives someone access to certain levels of information, with the higher the clearance corresponding to the higher ‘sensitivity’ of the information.

The two most common questions we hear about security clearances are around how to get one and how long the process takes.

To answer these questions simply:

How do I get a security clearance?
Only an official security officer can request a security clearance; you are not able to initiate this yourself. The security officer is only able to nominate people for clearances against a specific project.

How long does it take to gain a security clearance?
The time it takes to gain a security clearance varies depending on the type of clearance required and the traceability of the individual’s history. It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years.

Keep in mind:

  • If you want a security clearance, there is no shortcutting this process.

  • You need to be sponsored either through defence directly or an organisation that is a member of the Defence Industry Security Program (DISP).

  • There are strict guidelines around things like overseas travel and information sharing so make sure you know your obligations and stick to them.

Types of Clearances

In defence, all personnel security clearances are national security clearances and require Australian Citizenship. The four levels of personnel security clearances are:

  1. BASELINE – Entails screening to permit ongoing access to Australian Government resources classified at the RESTRICTED and PROTECTED level. This is the mandatory minimum clearance for most defence civilians and defence contractors.

  2. NEGATIVE VETTING – LEVEL 1 (NV1), a suitability assessment that permits ongoing access to RESTRICTED, PROTECTED, HIGHLY PROTECTED, CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET information and assets. The suitability assessment includes BASELINE plus additional suitability checks.

  3. NEGATIVE VETTING – LEVEL 2 (NV2), a background investigation that permits ongoing access to RESTRICTED, PROTECTED, HIGHLY PROTECTED, CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET and TOP SECRET information and assets. The investigation includes BASELINE plus additional suitability checks as well as background interviews.

  4. TOP SECRET POSITIVE VETTING (TSPV) – permits access to resources at all classification levels, including certain types of caveated and code word information, and usually relates to employment in an Australian Intelligence Community (AIC) agency. TSPV clearances must be approved by the appropriate authority.

The key things to always know about your (possible) security clearance are:

  • Who is sponsoring your clearance and whether another organisation will pick up the sponsorship when you change employer.

  • The time it takes to gain your desired clearance. This varies depending on the level but can take from a month to a year, and sometimes even longer. This may matter when you change employers or roles when a higher level of clearance is required.

  • The expiry of your clearances, including inactive ones. You might not be using your NV1, but it’s much easier to re-validate it rather than going through the whole vetting process again later on. If it’s about to expire, be proactive and speak to your sponsor before it expires to start the renewal process.

  • The cost behind the initial clearance and vetting processes and who is going to cover it. Employers of permanent staff will cover this cost, but contractors should check with their employer/ client/ sponsor on who will cover this.

  • You must remember to update AGSVA of any changes in your personal circumstances, e.g. relationships, travel, financials, etc.

If you’re looking for work and want to know if the role requires a clearance, employers and agencies will always identify whether a particular role needs a security clearance and indicate the level of clearance required. In many cases, you will be required to hold a security clearance before applying and must be an Australian citizen.

Security clearances are very important for those looking to work in defence, and it’s important to be properly informed.

The best way to do that is to go straight to the source: http://www.defence.gov.au/AGSVA/FAQ/clearance-subject.asp

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