Reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin came up with an estimate on the growing number of people holding top-secret security clearances during research for the Washington Post series, “Top Secret America.” The series explores the intricacies of the country’s top secret activities. Based on two years of investigation, they estimated that around 854,000 government personnel and contractors held top secret clearances. The actual numbers, released this month, show that the number is much higher.
According to a report from the Director of National Intelligence, as of last October, there were more than one million (1,419,051) federal employees holding top secret clearances. The total number of people holding security clearances last year exceeded 4.2 million.
The report was required by the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY2010 to show the number of people who are approved for a security clearance and to examine the time it took to process security clearances.
As high as the number is, it may not be the highest ever, says the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
“In the last decade of the cold war, a comparable or greater number of persons seem to have had security clearances. In those years the size of the uniformed military was much larger than today, and a large fraction of its members were routinely granted clearances. Thus, as of 1983, there were approximately 4.2 million clearances, according to 1985 testimony from the GAO,” FAS said.
In the last fiscal year, 512,076 government employees and contractors were approved for security clearances. For the same time period, 130,755 top secret clearances were granted – a combined total of 642,831.
FAS attributes the large number of security clearances to the surge in military intelligence spending, increased government reliance on contractors, and intensive classification activity.