Seal of the U. S. Department of Energy
A Q Clearance (or Q-type clearance) is a United States Department of Energy (DOE) security clearance that is roughly comparable to a United States Department of Defense Top Secret clearance with Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Access (TS-SCI). It is the most permissive clearance granted by the United States Government, acting as the sole means of access to the vast compartmentalizations Top Secret and Secret Restricted Data, and DOE "security" areas.
Anyone possessing an active Q clearance is always categorized as holding a National Security Critical-Sensitive position (sensitivity Level 3). Additionally, most Q-cleared incumbents will have collateral responsibilities designating them as Level 4: National Security Special-Sensitive personnel. 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.
In addition to classification levels, three categories of classified matter are identified: Restricted Data (RD), Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), and National Security Information (NSI). The employee must have a security level clearance consistent with his/her assignment. Common combinations are reflected in the table on the right.
The Department of Energy security clearance required to access Top Secret Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information, as well as Secret Restricted Data, is a Q Clearance. The lower-level L clearance is sufficient for access to Secret Formerly Restricted Data and National Security Information, as well as Confidential Restricted Data, Formerly Restricted Data, and National Security Information. In practice, access to Restricted Data is granted, on a need-to-know basis, to personnel with appropriate clearances.
Much of the DOE information at this level requires access to Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information (CNWDI, pronounced "SIN-widee"). 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. 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.
As of 1993[update], 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 1998[update] cost $3,225.
In popular culture
- "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.
- "OPM Position Designation Tool" (PDF). United States Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
- "Federal Suitability Security Clearance Chart" (PDF).
- Los Alamos National Laboratory, Clearance Processing Archived October 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved December 15, 2006.
- Security | UK-USA Classification Equivalency Table | Los Alamos National Laboratory Archived May 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- 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.
- The DOE Security Clearance Process, Security Clearance Blog, July 7, 2015
- William Burr, Thomas S. Blanton, and Stephen I. Schwartz, "The Costs and Consequences of Nuclear Secrecy" in Stephen I. Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Brookings Institution Press, 1998): 433-483; figures from Box 8-4, "Typical Costs of Security Investigations", on 461.