Security vetting in the United Kingdom

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In the United Kingdom, government policy requires that staff undergo security vetting in order to gain access to government information.

The government uses four levels[1]: Annex C, p. 24  of personnel security controls depending on the level of assurance required. Three of these levels are types of national security vetting clearance.[1]: Annex B 

Vetting is intended to assure government bodies that the individual has not been involved in espionage, terrorism, sabotage or actions intended to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means. It also assures the department that the individual has not been a member of, or associated with, an organisation which has advocated such activities or has demonstrated a lack of reliability through dishonesty, lack of integrity or behaviour. Finally, the process assures the department that the individual will not be subject to pressure or improper influence through past behaviour or personal circumstances.[2]

Vetting is usually carried out by United Kingdom Security Vetting (UKSV), a department within the Cabinet Office.[3] UKSV was created in January 2017 by combining DBS National Security Vetting (DBS NSV) and FCO Services National Security Vetting (FCOS NSV).[3] This change was an outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015.[4]: 7.17 

Security and intelligence agencies such as MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, MI5, The Security Service, and Government Communications Headquarters carry out their own vetting. The minimum is Developed Vetting and very occasionally Enhanced Security Check.

It is possible to pass vetting with one department yet fail it with another as vetting is tailored to the role/department. Clearances can be transferred between departments. Holders of vetting clearance may face travel restrictions on private travel to high-risk countries.

Types of personnel security check[edit]

Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)[edit]

The Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) checks are normally performed when a person is recruited.

All those with access to government assets are subject on recruitment to the requirements of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard. This includes all applicants for employment in the civil service and armed forces and applies to both permanent and temporary staff and private sector employees working on government contracts, with access to government assets.

The Baseline Personnel Security Standard requires the verification of the following four elements:

  1. Identity[1]: 7(a) 
  2. Employment history (past three years)[1]: 7(b) 
  3. Nationality and immigration status[1]: 7(c) 
  4. Criminal record (unspent convictions only)[1]: 7(d) 

A reasonable account of any significant periods (a total of 6 months or more in the past 3 years) spent abroad.[1]: Annex B  Prospective employees who have recently come to the UK or lived abroad may be asked to provide overseas police certificates of good conduct.[1]: 7(d) 

BPSS[1]: Annex B 

  • Allows access to UK OFFICIAL assets and occasional access to UK SECRET assets
  • Is required to work in areas where SECRET and TOP SECRET information may be overheard
  • Allows individuals who require it, access to the Public Services Network (PSN)

Employers may initiate the following incremental national security vetting checks on recruits after performing the BPSS check.

Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)[edit]

A Counter Terrorist Check (CTC) is required for individuals who are employed in posts that:[1]: Annex B 

  • Involve proximity to public figures assessed to be at particular risk from terrorist attack.
  • Give access to information or material assessed to be of value to terrorists. However, it is not designed to manage access to sensitive information.
  • Involve unescorted access to certain military, civil, industrial or commercial establishments assessed to be at particular risk from terrorist attack.

The process for CTC clearance includes:

  • BPSS check;
  • Completion of a security clearance questionnaire by the candidate;
  • Checks against UK criminal records covering both spent and unspent convictions;
  • Checks against Security Service (MI5) records;
  • It may also include an interview.

A CTC clearance must be formally reviewed after ten years (five years for non-List X Contractors).[1]: Annex B 

In the transport sector security vetting requirements, including for Counter Terrorist Check, is regulated by the Department of Transport.[5]

A CTC is required for police officers and many associated staff.[6]

Security Check (SC)[edit]

A Security Check (SC) is the most widely held level of security clearance.[7] SC is required for posts involving regular and uncontrolled access to SECRET assets and/or occasional, supervised access to TOP SECRET assets,[7] and for individuals who:[1]: Annex B 

  • While not in such posts, will be in a position to directly or indirectly bring about the same degree of damage.
  • Will have sufficient knowledge to obtain a comprehensive picture of a SECRET plan, policy or project.
  • Are being considered for employment where it would not be possible to make reasonable career progress without security clearance for access to SECRET assets.
  • Require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country or international organisation.

The process for SC clearance includes:

  • Successful completion of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard.
  • Completion, by the individual, of a Security Questionnaire.
  • A departmental/company records check which will include e.g. personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records.
  • A check of both spent and unspent criminal records.
  • A check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency.
  • A check of Security Service (MI5) records.
  • Checks on foreign travel/foreign contacts.
  • It may also include an interview.

Checks may extend to third parties included on the security questionnaire.

An SC security clearance must be formally reviewed after ten years (seven years for non-List X contractors) or at any time up to that point at the discretion of the vetting authority.[1]: Annex B 

Enhanced Security Check (eSC)[edit]

This is similar to an SC but also includes a financial questionnaire and may include an interview with a vetting officer.

Developed Vetting (DV)[edit]

DV is one of the most detailed and comprehensive form of security clearance in UK government. It is needed for posts that require individuals to have frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET assets, or require any access to TOP SECRET codeword material. It is also required for individuals who:

  • While not in such posts, will be in a position to directly or indirectly bring about the same degree of damage.
  • Require frequent and uncontrolled access to Category I nuclear material.
  • Require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country or international organisation.

The process for DV clearance includes:

  • BPSS check.
  • Completion, by the individual, of a Security Questionnaire, a DV Supplement and Financial Questionnaire.
  • A check of both spent and unspent criminal records.
  • A check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency.
  • A check of Security Service (MI5) records.
  • A full review of personal finances.
  • Checks on foreign travel/foreign contacts.
  • A detailed interview conducted by a vetting officer.
  • Further enquiries, including interviews with referees conducted by a vetting officer.

A DV security clearance must be reviewed every seven years or at any time up to those points at the discretion of the vetting authority.[1]: Annex B 

Enhanced Developed Vetting (eDV)[edit]

Enhanced Developed Vetting requires additional in-depth interviews, beyond that of DV, including on foreign travel.[8]

STRAP Clearance[edit]

STRAP Clearance is an additional clearance granted to certain holders of Developed Vetting (DV) clearance, allowing them to access STRAP code-word material relevant to a particular role. Whilst comparatively little is known of this, it is mentioned by UK government bodies on occasion in recruitment, policy and procurement documents.[9][10]

Other UK clearances[edit]

In addition to national security clearances, other types of roles and organisations stipulate a need for clearances, including:

Within this there are several levels:

Police Officers:

Recruitment Vetting.

Managment Vetting.

Civilian Police Staff and Contractors (non police personnel vetting):

NPPV Level 1.

NPPV Level 2.

NPPV Level 3.

When SC, eSC, or DV is required alongside Force Vetting, it is carried out by UKSV.

Change of personal circumstances[edit]

A change of personal circumstances (CPC) questionnaire has to be submitted when a CTC, SC, eSC, DV, eDV, STRAP clearance holder is "marrying, remarrying, entering into a civil partnership, setting up a stable unmarried relationship which includes living with someone as a couple". DV clearance holders also have to report the arrival of new "co-residents" such as a lodger or flatmate.[3]

Transfer of a clearance[edit]

A request can be made to transfer national security clearances between organisations, providing they have not expired. Transfers are requested by the "new employing sponsor". Transfers can be the same level of clearance or lower. No more than twelve months must have elapsed since the holder left the organisation for which the clearance was originally granted and no more than six months spent living overseas. New completed change of circumstances questionnaires, to bring the UKSV and departmental records up to date, may be required.[3] The new sponsor reviews the details of the clearance and decides if it is acceptable for the specific new role.[1]: 44 

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o HMG Personnel Security Controls (Version 3.0). www.gov.uk: Cabinet Office. 2017. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  2. ^ Hansard, Written answers 15 Dec 1994 Hansard online
  3. ^ a b c d "Guidance United Kingdom Security Vetting". GOV.UK. Her Majesty's Government. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  4. ^ https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/555607/2015_Strategic_Defence_and_Security_Review.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  5. ^ "National security vetting in the regulated transport industry". GOV.UK website. Her Majesty's Government. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  6. ^ "P04e National Security Vetting". Kent Police. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b Subjects information leaflet. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  8. ^ "National Security Vetting". Security Cleared Expo. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
  9. ^ "A Technical Architect Supporting Development of Service Delivery to Defence and PAG - Digital Marketplace".
  10. ^ "Minimum User Clearance Requirements Guide - MoJ Security Guidance".
  11. ^ Chalk, Peter, William Rosenau, Martin Wachs, Myles Collins, and Mark Hanson (2004). Confronting the" enemy within": security intelligence, the police, and counterterrorism in four democracies. Rand Corporation.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)