Security Clearance Process

Requirements for Special Access Programs

Special Access Programs (SAP) are established to protect national security by employing enhanced security measures to strictly enforce need-to-know and have access requirements that exceed those normally required for information at the same classification level. SAPs can be classified at all clearance levels but are heavily restricted when it comes to who has access. When SAPs were first established, they were all known as “Black Programs” and were veiled in secrecy. In current era, SAPs can be acknowledged (existence is openly recognized) or unacknowledged (existence and purpose is protected). SAPs can also have specific compartments that access is strictly held to a need to know.

Depending on the type of program, known vulnerabilities, or a known threat to specific information, clearance holders selected to work on a SAP may have additional screening to go through before being read in. For example, additional vetting may be required for anyone who has a foreign national in their immediate family or if they have on-going foreign contacts. Or, going back to the time their last investigation closed, they may have to fill out additional questionnaire about their financials, personal conduct (arrests, alcohol, drugs), or any foreign travel. The SAP Access Approval Authority is responsible for approving or denying access, and even though a nominee may meet national security eligibility requirements, they may still be denied access to an SAP for other reasons.

The DoD and Intelligence Community agencies have admitted over-classification has made working with private sector contractors on SAPs extremely difficult because of the restrictions placed on information sharing and who can access them. The DoD recently updated their classification guidance (itself classified) to bring SAPs out from behind the cloak of secrecy and allowing access to those who have the requisite collateral clearance level.

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