Q clearance

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Q clearance
Seal of the United States Department of Energy.svg
Seal of the U. S. Department of Energy

Q clearance or Q access authorization is the Department of Energy (DOE) security clearance required to access Top Secret Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information, as well as Secret Restricted Data. Restricted Data (RD) is defined in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and covers nuclear weapons and related materials. The lower-level L clearance is sufficient for access to Secret Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) and National Security Information, as well as Confidential Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information.[1][2] Access to Restricted Data is only granted on a need-to-know basis to personnel with appropriate clearances.

A Q Clearance is equivalent to a United States Department of Defense Top Secret clearance. "For access to some classified information, such as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) or Special Access Programs (SAPS), additional requirements or special conditions may be imposed by the information owner even if the person is otherwise eligible to be granted a security clearance or access authorization based on reciprocity."[2]

Anyone possessing an active Q clearance is always categorized as holding a National Security Critical-Sensitive position (sensitivity Level 3).[3] Additionally, most Q-cleared incumbents will have collateral responsibilities designating them as Level 4: National Security Special-Sensitive personnel.[4] With these two designations standing as the highest-risk sensitivity levels, occupants of these positions hold extraordinary accountability, harnessing the potential to cause exceptionally grave or inestimable damage to the national security of the United States.

Access authorizations based on clearance level

In addition to classification levels, three categories of classified matter are identified: Restricted Data (RD), Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), and National Security Information (NSI), as well as a class of access-restricted materials: special nuclear material (SNM). The employee must have a security level clearance consistent with his/her assignment. Common combinations are reflected in the table on the right.

Much of the DOE information at this level requires access to Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information (CNWDI, pronounced "SIN-widee").[5] Such information bears the page marking TOP SECRET//RD-CNWDI and the paragraph marking (TS-N). The DOE security clearance process is overseen by the Department of Energy Office of Hearings and Appeals.

DOE clearances apply for access specifically relating to atomic or nuclear related materials ("Restricted Data" under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954). The clearance is issued predominantly to non-military personnel. In 1946 U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps Major William L. Uanna, in his capacity as the first Chief of the Central Personnel Clearance Office at the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission, named and established the criteria for the Q Clearance.[6] The security clearance process at the DOE is adjudicated by the DOE Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) where an individual whose security clearance is at issue may seek to appeal a security clearance decision to an administrative judge and subsequently to an Appeal Panel.[7]

As of 1993, Q Clearances required a single-scope background investigation of the previous ten years of the applicant's life by both the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and as of 2019 cost $5,596.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

"Q" Clearance was a 1986 novel by Peter Benchley (Random House, ISBN 0-394-55360-8), satirizing Cold War secrecy and politics.

In the show Archer Season 6 Episode 7 "Nellis", Sterling Archer uses Q Clearance to gain access to Area 51 after landing illegally on the air strip.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Los Alamos National Laboratory, Clearance Processing Archived October 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved December 15, 2006.
  2. ^ a b "Departmental Personnel Security FAQs". U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  3. ^ "OPM Position Designation Tool" (PDF). United States Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  4. ^ "Federal Suitability Security Clearance Chart" (PDF).
  5. ^ Security | UK-USA Classification Equivalency Table | Los Alamos National Laboratory Archived May 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Girod, Robert J. (2014). Advanced Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Operations: Tradecraft Methods, Practices, Tactics, and Techniques. Boca Raton: Crc Press. p. 23. ISBN 9781482230727. OCLC 910531708.
  7. ^ The DOE Security Clearance Process, Security Clearance Blog, July 7, 2015
  8. ^ https://nbib.opm.gov/hr-security-personnel/investigations-billing-rates-resources/billing-rates/