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An SCI cover sheet from 1967.

Sensitive compartmented information (SCI) is a type of United States classified information concerning or derived from sensitive intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes. All SCI must be handled within formal access control systems established by the Director of National Intelligence.[1] Although some sources refer to SCI control systems as special access programs (q.v.), the intelligence community itself considers SCI and SAPs distinct kinds of controlled access program.[2]

SCI is not a classification. It has been called "above Top Secret,"[3] but information at any classification level may exist within an SCI control system. When "decompartmented," this information is treated no differently than collateral information at the same classification level.

1. History

  • Richelson and critique trace history to WW2.
  • 1977 [1]
  • Current state (regulatory & statutory limitations)

2. SCI vs. Collateral

  • SCI access (travel briefings or limitations)
  • Different handling requirements (DANs if approved by CAPOC, networks)

3. Compartmentation

  • System - Compartment - Subcompartment
  • Published and unpublished systems, code words
  • Marking (banner line, old Handle Via lines, color bars?)
  • Decompartmentation (or maybe put this in 2)


Eligibility for access to SCI is determined by a single scope background investigation (SSBI) or periodic reinvestigation.[4] Because the same investigation is used to grant top secret clearances, the two are often written together as TS/SCI. Eligibility alone does not confer access to any SCI material. One must receive explicit permission to access an SCI control system or compartment. This process that may a polygraph or other approved investigative or adjudicative action.[5] Once it is determined a person should have access to an SCI compartment, they sign a nondisclosure agreement, are "read on" or indoctrinated, and the fact of this access is recorded in a local access register or the Scattered Castles database. Upon termination from a particular compartment, the employee again signs the nondisclosure agreement.


All SCI must be stored, processed, used, and discussed in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). These facilities must be constructed in accordance with IC policies and accredited by an IC official.[6]

Control systems[edit]

SCI is divided into control systems, with are further subdivided into compartments and sub-compartments. These systems and compartments are usually identified by a classified codeword. Several such codewords have been declassified. The following SCI control systems, with their abbreviations and compartments, are known:

SI is the control system covering communications intelligence. SI stands for Special Intelligence, the UKUSA term for communications intercepts.[7] The previous title for this control system was COMINT, but this was deprecated in 2011.[8] Several now-retired[9] codewords protected SI compartments based on their sensitivity, generally referred to as Top Secret Codeword (TSC) and Secret Codeword (SC).[10] These codewords were UMBRA for the most sensitive SI, SPOKE for less sensitive material, and MORAY for the least sensitive SI that required codeword protection.[11] (These codewords were attached directly to the classification without reference to COMINT or SI, e.g. Top Secret UMBRA.) Another retired flag, ECI, was a type indicator used to group compartments of "Exceptionally Controlled Information."[12] The only acknowledged SI compartments in current use are SI-GAMMA (SI-G) and SI-ABC (SI-ABC), in which ABC stands for three alphabetic characters. There is a GAMMA subcompartment identified by four alphanumeric characters.[13]

Critique places origin of COMINT at 1946 signing of redacted agreement, presumably UKUSA. COMINT was, in 1977, divided into three levels of sensitivity, presumably the three in Richelson. Don't know if there are still sensitivity compartments per se. From the NRO Redaction Guide: S-CCO, TS-CCO, COMINT Channels Only, no other codeword; SC Secret SPOKE; SCX Secret MORAY; TS/C Top Secret SPOKE; TSC Top Secret UMBRA; TS-TKC Top Secret TK/COMINT channels jointly. According to CAPCO, -ECI was an "SCI type indicator used to group compartments," and -ECI subcompartments were promoted to compartments (SC-ABC).

TALENT KEYHOLE (TK) covers the products of certain satellite and air-breathing overhead collection systems. The original TALENT compartment was created in the mid-1950s for the U-2. In 1960, it was broadened to cover all national aerial reconnaissance and the KEYHOLE compartment was created for satellite intelligence.[14] TALENT KEYHOLE is now a top-level control system; KEYHOLE is no longer a distinct compartment. Known compartments include RUFF (IMINT satellites), ZARF (ELINT satellites), and CHESS (U-2).[15]

HCS (HCS) is the HUMINT Control System. This system was simply designated "HUMINT" until confusion arose between collateral HUMINT and the control system. The current nomenclature was chosen to eliminate the ambiguity.[16]

BYEMAN (BYE) is a retired control system covering certain overhead collection systems, including CORONA and OXCART.[17] Most BYE content was transferred to TK.


NRO Guide, predecessor of SPECIAL HANDLING protected "satellite reconnaissance programmatic information."

RESERVE (RSV) is a possible SCI control system within the National Reconnaissance Office. BYEMAN Special Handling content was transferred to this system.[18]

SPECTRE (unknown) and LOMA (unknown) were identified as SCI clearances concerning intelligence on terrorist activities and foreign instrumentation and signature intelligence, respectively, by Jeffrey T. Richelson based on private information. Richelson also identifies VERDAND (VER), PANGRAM (PM), the Special Navy Control Program (SNCP), and M as SCI systems.Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page). Sometimes, especially on older documents, they are stamped. The following banner line and portion marking describe a top secret document containing information from the notional COMINT-GAMMA 1234 subcompartment, the notional COMINT-MANSION compartment, and the notional TALENT KEYHOLE-LANTERN compartment:


(TS//SI-G 1234-M/TK-L//NF)

Older documents were marked with HANDLE VIA xxxx CONTROL CHANNELS ONLY or HANDLE VIA xxxx CONTROL CHANNELS JOINTLY, but this requirement was rescinded in 2006.[19] This marking led to the use of the caveat CCO (COMINT Channels Only) in portion markings.[20]


  1. ^ ICD 1, p. 22
  2. ^ DCID 3/29
  3. ^ Robert S. McNamara, quoted in Richelson, The Intelligence Community, p. 511
  4. ^ ICPG 704.1
  5. ^ ICD 1, p. 9
  6. ^ ICD 705
  7. ^ UKUSA COMINT Agreement, PDF p. 27. Note that common SIGINT terms were defined differently in this version of the UKUSA agreement; the modern definitions were codified by 1955.
  8. ^ Intelligence Community Classification and Control Markings Implementation Manual v4.2, p. 58
  9. ^ Richelson, p. 514
  10. ^ In Camera Affidavit of Eugene F. Yeats
  11. ^ Richelson p. 512-513.
  12. ^ NRO Review and Redaction Guide, p. 140.
  13. ^ Intelligence Community Classification and Control Markings Implementation Manual v4.2, p. 60-63
  14. ^ Critique of the Codeword Compartment
  15. ^ Richelson, The US Intelligence Community, p. 514
  16. ^ Authorized Classification and Control Markings Register v1.2
  17. ^ National Reconnaissance Office Review and Redaction Guide, p. 7
  18. ^ Authorized Classification and Control Markings Register v1.2; abbreviation from Richelson, p. 514.
  19. ^ ICPM 2006-700-8
  20. ^ See this page for an example.