Yes, you read that headline right. With the full implementation of Continuous Vetting for the DoD community, security officers are emphasizing that self-reporting is in fact more important – better to report an issue yourself versus waiting for the government to find out first.

But if you hold a security clearance you may be surprised to learn that the reporting requirements are different at the Secret and Top Secret level.

Here’s a list of some of the activities that ARE reportable for Top Secret clearance holders but aren’t indicated for Secret clearance holders:

  • Foreign Affiliation; voting in a foreign election
  • Personnel Finance and Business Anomalies; financial anomalies
  • Personnel Finance and Business Anomalies; direct involvement in financial business
  • Personnel Finance and Business Anomalies; foreign bank accounts
  • Personnel Finance and Business Anomalies; ownership of foreign properties
  • Living Status/Arrangements; cohabitation
  • Living Status/Arrangements; marriage
  • Living Status/Arrangements; adoption of non-U.S. citizen children
  • Living Status/Arrangements; foreign national roommates

Why the disparity in reporting requirements? It comes down to how Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 3 was written – and many security professionals argue there isn’t a clear reason why the directive was written with the differing requirements.

“With one exception, there should be no difference in reporting requirements for a person who has a Secret or Confidential clearance and a person who has a TS/SCI clearance,” said William Henderson, the president of the Federal Clearance Assistance Service and a regular ClearanceJobs contributor.  “The exception would be reporting marriage to or cohabitation with a native born U.S. citizen, because there is a requirement for a spouse/cohabitant NAC [National Agency Check] as part of a Tier 5 investigation.”

SEAD 3 went into affect in June 2017, and has sections specific to all covered individuals, those with Secret, Confidential or “L” access; and for those with Top Secret or “Q” access. Top Secret clearance holders have five additional reporting requirements beyond Secret holders for incidents falling under ‘Foreign Activities’ and three additional incidents under ‘Other Activities.’ While the reporting requirements are different, it’s worth noting that the adjudicative guidelines used to issue clearances are the same regardless of clearance level.

“It is axiomatic that a person who cannot be trusted with Top Secret information, cannot be trusted with Secret information either,” explained Henderson. “For example, a person with a Secret clearance will automatically have their Secret clearance revoked, if they are denied a TS clearance. The National Security Adjudicative Guidelines apply equally to all levels of clearances.”

That ties into a common question clearance applicants ask – if I’m concerned I won’t be able to obtain a Top Secret security clearance, should I go for a Secret clearance instead? The short answer would be no – if you have something indicated on the SF-86 or uncovered in an investigation that would prevent eligibility, it should be an issue at either level. It comes down to whether or not it’s flagged in the SF-86 through the largely automated checks of that process, or if there is something that would only be uncovered based on the additional field work of a Top Secret clearance investigation. This also comes up for individuals who have already successfully obtained a security clearance – as Henderson notes, a TS denial then results in revocation of Secret eligibility, as well.

“The concept of risk management has always been applied to the basic scope and period of coverage of investigations for Secret and TS clearance, with Tier 5 being 10 times more expensive and more involved than Tier 3,” notes Henderson. “But once an issue is known there should be no difference in how the investigations are pursued. The majority of cleared people who betrayed the U.S. held Secret clearances.”



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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer