What is the difference between TS and TS SCI?

As regards security, certain sensitive government information is supposed to be restricted unless an individual has clearance to access them. To get access to such classified information, you have to go through several security screenings, reliability checks, and assessments to get standard reliability status.  In this article, we will be discussing the top secret (TS) and top secret/ sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI).

What is the difference between TS and TS SCI

Top secret (TS) clearance gives you access to information that affects counterterrorism, national security, counterintelligence, etc., while Top secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) clearance gives you access to one of the several compartments of information that can cause grave damage to national security.

What is top secret (TS)?

Top secret (TS) is any information that can cause severe damage to national security if it gets into the wrong hand. Any person with access to this information is reinvestigated every five years to renew their security clearance eligibility for such information. 

To gain clearance for TS, a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSIB) is carried out by the U.S Intelligence community to ascertain whether or not you qualify for such a stringent clearance level. The investigation involves carrying out background checks of areas where you have lived, schooled, worked, traveled, etc., which will lead to interviewing persons who know you personally or professionally. After the investigation, it takes about three to six months to obtain a TS clearance.

What is top secret/ sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI)?

The top secret/sensitive compartmented informant (TS/SCI) isn’t a different classification level from TS; instead, it refers to a single compartment that holds the sensitive data or information of a specific project, asset, or program. With TS/SCI, someone with access to a compartment may not have access to another because each compartment has its special clearance process and additional requirements. 

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Like TS clearance, you can only get an SCI clearance once you’ve gone through the Single Scope Background Investigation (SSIB) process. The TS/SCI is the highest level of security clearance and having such a clearance level gives you access to highly sensitive information that must be protected at all costs.

Is it possible to get SCI without TS?

Getting an SCI does not require that you must have a TS; so, yes, it’s possible. You don’t need a top-secret clearance to gain access to sensitive compartmented information. There are several top secret clearance holders who have never had SCI clearance, but those with lower clearance levels have been read into SCI programs. 

SCI clearance is given on a need-to-know basis, security level irrespective; hence why it doesn’t require top secret clearance to access it. Before individuals with lower security levels are read into an SCI program, they go through an extra vetting process to ensure that they can be trusted with sensitive information.

What are the processes of obtaining a security clearance?

Whether you are looking to get a top-secret clearance or sensitive compartmented information clearance, the process remains the same. 


Having a federal government job qualifies you to apply for security clearance. The application process requires you to fill out a personnel security questionnaire (SF-86) questionnaire on the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) website. Not filling out the form correctly or completely can disqualify the application. 


After submitting your application, an investigator is assigned to dig into your background using the information that you have provided on the questionnaire. There are different e-QIP forms for the various clearance levels; the clearance level you apply for will determine the duration of the investigation. For instance, if you apply for the TS SCI clearance, your background will be scrutinized thoroughly to ensure you qualify for such access at all levels.

The investigation stage also involves interviewing people your ex and present classmates and colleagues, neighbors, family members, or anyone who has had a significant relationship with you. If there are no issues of concern after the investigation, you can move on to the next stage.


At this stage, it will be decided whether or not you qualify for the clearance level you have applied for. This decision comes mostly from the information gathered during the investigation and according to the adjudication guidelines, which include;

  • Allegiance to the United States 
  • Misuse of information technology
  • Financial Considerations
  • Criminal conduct
  • Personal conduct
  • Potential for foreign influence
  • Emotional, mental, and personality disorders
  • Sexual behavior
  • Drug involvement and substance misuse
  • A foreign preference
  • Handling protected information
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Outside activities


TS and TS SCI clearance is not open to the entire public only to those whose job requires them to have access to classified information. While TS can give you a clearance to different information that could be a threat to national security if it gets into the wrong hands, TS SCI gives you access only to a single project or ‘compartment’ as regards national security. Furthermore, TS SCI clearance can be granted to any security level.

  • How long does it take to get a TS-SCI?

It takes approximately 8-15 months, depending on the investigation process.

  • Must I take a poly to get a TS-SCI?

No, you must not. Polygraphs are an extra vetting process for some SCI programs, depending on the organization where you work.

What is the difference between TS and TS SCI?

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