Intelligence & Security

Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)

A Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) is a type of security investigation conducted by the US Government to obtain a Top Secret (TS) clearance and access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).  Standard Form 86 (SF86) is required to begin the background check process. The SSBI examines information from the past ten (10) years about finances, education, and professional activities. Those who have Top Secret clearances are not automatically granted access to SCI.

Definition: A Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) is a United States security clearance investigation type.

How is a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) Started

An SSBI is initiated through your supervisor, command support personnel, etc. An employee or military member cannot initiate a background check or security clearance procedure.  As a condition of employment or enlistment, the applicant is required to cooperate with the investigation. Failure to cooperate with the investigation may not result in immediate termination, but the inability to obtain or maintain a security clearance is a significant obstacle for any government service. Their supervisors often inform those who need an SSBI that the need exists. This could result from a job transfer or PCS to a new assignment requiring access. It may also be related to military promotions, staffing or mission requirements changes, and numerous other factors.

Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) Information

The investigators will look at information from the past ten years to find more personal details, such as relationships and character references. The background investigation includes but is not limited to:

  • Date of Birth and location
  • Checks of employment, education, organization affiliations, local agencies, where the subject has lived, worked, or gone to school
  • Interviewing employers, coworkers, and other individuals
  • Foreign travel and contacts
  • Interviewing friends and family members
  • Interview four references are needed at a minimum
  • Encompasses the past ten years or to age 18
  • Citizenship verification
  • The investigation may include National Agency Checks with Local Agency Checks (NACLC) on the candidate’s spouse or cohabitant and any immediate family members who are U.S. citizens other than by birth or who are not U.S. citizens
  • Credit check
  • Public records check
  • Law enforcement check
  • Use of alcohol
  • Social Media

Security Clearance Process Phases

There are three (3) main phases to receiving a security clearance:

  • Phase 1: Application. This involves verification of U.S. citizenship, fingerprinting, and completion of the Personnel Security Questionnaire (SF-86). The Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing System (e-QIP) allows applicants to electronically enter, update, and transmit their personal investigative data over a secure Internet connection to their employing agency or security management office for review and approval of the personnel security investigation request.
  • Phase 2: Investigation: The second phase involves the actual investigation of your background. The Defense Security Service (DSS) conducts most of the background checks.
  • Phase 3: Adjudication. The final phase is the adjudication phase. The results from the investigative phase are reviewed. The information that has been gathered is evaluated based on thirteen factors determined by the Department of Defense (DoD). Some examples of areas they consider are; allegiance to the United States, criminal and personal conduct, and substance abuse or mental disorders. Clearance is granted or denied following this evaluation process.

Application Process

To start the background check process, you need to fill out the Standard Form 86 (SF86). SF86 has been turned into an electronic form called Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing System (e-QIP). e-QIP is a web-based automated system that was made to make it easier for DCSA and other Investigation Service Providers (ISP) to handle standard investigative forms used in background checks for Federal security, suitability, fitness, and credentialing. e-QIP lets the user add, change, and send their personal investigation data to a requesting agency over a secure internet connection.

Website: Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing System (e-QIP)

Website: Defense Security Service (DSS)

Granted Clearance

Once the clearance is granted, the candidate is briefed on “the proper safeguarding of classified information and on the criminal, civil, and administrative sanctions that may be imposed on an individual who fails to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure.” He or she must also sign an approved non-disclosure agreement (e.g., Form SF-312).


The Top Secret/SCI label is not forever or forever and ever. The intelligence community and the field of background checks are moving toward a philosophy and practice called “continuous vetting.” Even so, a person with a security clearance may still have to undergo a new background check after a certain amount of time set by the federal government. Reinvestigations are common if there is a lapse in clearance, someone loses their clearance or if there is a dispute about whether they are eligible to hold the clearance or whether they are fit to hold it.

Polygraph examinations

There is a misconception among some individuals that Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) access necessitates the use of polygraphs or lie detector exams. This is not true. Not all individuals undergoing vetting for specific sorts of access will be subjected to a polygraph examination. However, certain individuals will be required to take this test, and it should not come as a surprise if you are requested to undergo it as a prerequisite for obtaining clearance access.


Investigations satisfying the scope and standards specified above are transferable between agencies and shall be deemed to meet the investigative standards for access to collateral Top Secret/National Security Information and Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). No further investigation or reinvestigation prior to revalidation every five years will be undertaken unless the agency has substantial information indicating that the transferring individual may not satisfy eligibility standards for clearance or the agency head determines in writing that to accept the investigation would not be in the national security interest of the United States. [1]

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Updated: 2/14/2024

Rank: G2.5

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