As Wikipedia writes, to obtain a Top Secret clearance in the US an extensive background investigation (SSBI) must be conducted.

In the course of it, officials interview people like direct supervisor(s), coworker(s) from previous job(s), as well as subject's neighbors.

Does the fact of an interview pose a sort of information leak? Any of the persons interviewed (and there can be many of them depending on subject's past) get a signal that he/she may get access to Top Secret information. They could, in theory, either:

  • be a foreign intelligence agent
  • or sell such information opportunistically

Did the US legislators/government/military think about this case and deem it too low a risk?

  • 2
    I'm not sure this is strictly on topic here, but it's an interesting question. If it does get closed as off-topic, try Information Security.
    – Bobson
    May 8, 2020 at 20:05
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    @Bobson I was not sure where to post it, to be honest. I searched them and found that questions about security clearances were posted here on Politics. Maybe the wording "information leak" is somewhat misleading and alludes to Information Security per se, but you get the idea - tags that I chosen seem to have non-zero activity.
    – Michał B.
    May 8, 2020 at 20:10
  • 1
    I'd call it a gray area, but I think this question is on the "acceptable" side of the line.
    – Bobson
    May 8, 2020 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


Any risk presented by conducting such interviews is presumably far lower than the risk of not conducting them.

The question seems to assume that the fact that a person is being considered for top secret security clearance is in itself sensitive information. But in fact it's often obvious if someone you know personally has security clearance, even if you weren't interviewed for their background check. In many cases, this is even public information.

There may be certain specific instances where background interviews are limited due to such security concerns, but I'm not seeing any documentation of this. It seems more likely to me that if a person who has close ties to someone considered risky in any way, the candidate would be dropped before interviews even occur.

  • 1
    Is it really obvious for anybody but direct colleagues and, possibly, close family?
    – Relaxed
    May 8, 2020 at 23:29
  • Sure. Spend some time browsing LinkedIn profiles and you will have no difficulty finding names of people you can safely assume have at least some kind of security clearance.
    – Brian Z
    May 8, 2020 at 23:58
  • Well, you can assume that high-ranking staff in some government departments or agencies and many people at defense contractors have some kind of clearance but that's not quite the same as knowing exactly who has which level of clearance or publicly advertising it (which is the concern here). Also, if you peruse LinkedIn, you can make an educated guess regarding people you don't even know (which is why you are warned against social networks if you work on sensitive projects) but you might actually have no idea people you know personally in non-professional contexts have a clearance.
    – Relaxed
    May 9, 2020 at 10:34
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    Will the fact that someone from the government approaches you to ask questions about someone you know indicate anything about exactly what level of clearance they have? It might give you some idea, but if you're close enough to the person that you need to be interviewed, will the interview really tell you anything you don't already know? Maybe I don't know enough about the interview process but I just don't see why this would necessarily be the case.
    – Brian Z
    May 9, 2020 at 12:47
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    It will tell you it's a relatively high level, for otherwise there are no interviews. The interviewing process might also include neighbors or friends from other circles who are close but unaware of your line of work. But I don't disagree with your larger point or the gist of your answer, I am just a bit doubtful about the notion that a security clearance is generally obvious or public information.
    – Relaxed
    May 9, 2020 at 12:52

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