SecrecySharp rise in number of holders of security clearances

Published 29 September 2011

As of 1 October 2010, the number of Americans holding security clearances was 4,266,091; of those, 1,419,051 federal employees and contractors hold Top Secret clearances

The number of Americans who held security clearances for access to classified information last year exceeded 4.2 million — far more than previously estimated — according to a new report to Congress.

Secrecy Newsreports that the report, which was required by the FY2010 intelligence authorization act, offers the first precise tally ever produced of clearances held by federal employees and contractors. The total figure as of last 1 October 2010 was 4,266,091 cleared persons (“Report on Security Clearance Determinations for Fiscal Year 2010,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, September 2011).

Secrecy Newsnotes that:

·         In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had told Congress that about 2.4 million people held clearances “excluding some of those with clearances who work in areas of national intelligence” (“More Than 2.4 Million Hold Security Clearances,” Secrecy News, 29 July 2009). “But even with a generous allowance for hundreds of thousands of additional intelligence personnel, that estimate somehow missed more than a million clearances,” SN writes.

·         One of the many startling findings in the 2010 Washington Post series (and 2011 book) “Top Secret America” by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, was that “An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.”That figure, too, was a significant underestimate, according to the new report.

Of the 4,266,091 holders of security clearances, 1,419,051 federal employees and contractors hold Top Secret clearances.

Security Newssays that the unexpectedly large number of security clearances today can presumably be attributed to several related factors:  the surge in military and intelligence spending over the past decade, increased government reliance on cleared contractors, and intensive classification activity that continues today.