Nearly 5 Million People Have Government Security Clearances

Illustraton: ahhh/flickr

The number of U.S. government employees and contractors holding security clearances jumped to 4.86 million last year from 4.7 million the year prior, according to the 2011 Report on Security Clearance Determinations, which the Director of National Intelligence has forwarded to Congress.

That’s about a 3 percent gain over the year prior, the first year statistics became available. In other words, another 160,000 people were removed from the category of: “If we told you we’d have to kill you.”

The figures, obtained by Secrecy News, are required to be published to Congress as a result of the Intelligence Reauthorization Act of 2010. The data count those cleared for confidential, secret and top secret records.

The report (.pdf) also indicated that the numbers could have been higher. The Central Intelligence Agency denied a security clearance to 5.3 percent of the people who applied. At the National Security Agency, the number was 8 percent. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported less than a 1 percent denial rate.

Thousands of pending security cases remain stalled. That’s because many of the linguists and specialists the intelligence community most wants “often have significant foreign associations that may take additional time to investigate and adjudicate,” according the report.

The accounting method to determine clearance numbers was not perfect, the report added. In fact, they “are likely to include some duplicate entries, despite ongoing efforts to eliminate duplicative clearance information,” the report said. “Creating a single repository to house all national security determinations is not currently feasible given the sensitivity of certain clearance information and the need for non-IC (Intelligence Community) agencies to have a repository to report determinations.”

In other words: The roster of people who are allowed to know secrets is itself so secret, it’s impossible to even assemble a single, decent list.