NSA Security Clearances – Work for the Intel Community’s SIGINT Experts

Security Clearance

Want to work at the National Security Agency (NSA) or any other intelligence agency within the U.S. government? The NSA’s mission is to protect America, with focus on terrorism, proliferation, chemical/biological warfare, information infrastructure attacks, narcotics trafficking and counterintelligence. Yes, the NSA, wears many hats as the premier Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) arm of the U.S. intelligence community.

Working with the NSA is a noble undertaking and one which will require a national security clearance, most likely at the Top Secret level. What does this mean for you ,the applicant? Prepare yourself to have your life splayed out on the table and fully dissected by those whom are processing and ultimately adjudicating your security clearance request.

Is NSA’s security clearance process different than other members of the intelligence community? Not really. All applicants for employment will fill out the SF-86 completely and submit the finished paperwork through NSA’s office of personnel and security. The various information releases which you the applicant will have signed will allow the background check investigators and analysts to make queries of financial institutions, insurance companies, employers and the like. Regional investigators will be tasked with conducting face-to-face interviews with your provided references and those individuals which they identify as possibly being able to comment on your trustworthiness.

They are also trying to determine if you can successfully execute against the NSA mission and if your lifestyle/persona will fit the core values of the NSA. Neither the mission or the core value statement are secret, with the core values touching on commitment to service, respect for the law, integrity, transparency, respect for people, and accountability. Until recently, the core values consisted of only honesty, respect for the law, integrity and transparency.

The NSA does want to trust you, but they will verify everything first before they do so.

Job Contingent Upon Successful Polygraph

Should you be fortunate enough to move through the process to where the NSA is offering you a position, it will be contingent upon a successful polygraph. The polygraph will be administered at either NSA headquarters or one of the many satellite locations both local to Fort Meade or in various regions of the US.

The polygraph will be a full-scope polygraph. The applicant can be expected to be asked questions pertaining to both lifestyle and counterintelligence. For example, questions concerning relatives or friends who are foreign nationals will be created to determine foreign influence and control.

The polygraph is an effective screening tool. Many applicants reveal their continued illegal drug use (marijuana may be legal in many states, but it is still illegal under federal law), theft and embezzlement, and foreign intelligence service control. Taking the polygraph is non-negotiable for employment at the NSA and other IC entities. If you don’t want to sit, get wired up and answer yes or no truthfully, then perhaps the NSA isn’t a good match.

For those still interested, work at the NSA offers a challenging career truly at the cutting edge. In addition to working directly for the agency, hundreds of defense contractors support the NSA mission in the Fort Meade area, and are always looking to hire talented applicants. 

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).