One of the claims related to the PRISM scandal is that, regardless what NSA and other agencies assert, leaks are inevitable because of sheer number of people with access to secrets. According to this claim, 1.4 million Americans hold Top Secret clearance. Is that number accurate?

Example of such a claim:

Snowden had "top-secret" security clearance, which, somewhat stunningly, is something that more than 1.4 million people have (source)

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    I worked for NSA during the first Gulf War. I'd just like to comment here that "Top Secret" isn't a very high security clearance, and "Secret" hardly requires more than a background check. Mar 7, 2014 at 2:56
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    In addition, having a "Top Secret" clearance doesn't qualify you to see any/all information labeled "Top Secret". You have to have both the clearance and the need to know. For instance, I had a "Secret" clearance for many years, but it only related to "Secret" information within my field, and then only for certain items. I couldn't just flash a "Secret Clearance" badge to get information, that's a movie trope.
    – Is Begot
    Jul 18, 2014 at 16:53

1 Answer 1


Yes, the number comes direct from the 2012 Report on Security Clearance Determinations that was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (Wikipedia). Table one on page three breaks things down as follows:

As of 10/1/12:
              Conf/Secret   Top Secret
Government:     2,757,333      791,200
Contractor:       582,524      483,263
Other:            167,925      135,506
Sub-Total:      3,507,782    1,409,969

Total:          4,917,751

The report does not indicate if the clearance are active or inactive so the figures doesn't necessarily imply that the given number of people are actively working with classified materials and these figures do not appear to include military personnel. The report also notes that there may be some duplicate data, although steps have been taken to control for it.


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