Special Access Program Law and Legal Definition

The three-tier standard government security clearance levels are well known: confidential, secret and top secret. However just having a clearance at one of these levels does not automatically give access to any information at that level. There has to be a definite need to know on a given project, program, facility or intelligence product. Special Access Program is a sensitive program, approved in writing by a head of agency with original top secret classification authority. The SAP imposes need-to-know and access controls beyond those normally provided for access to confidential, secret, or top secret information. Usually, criticality of the program and the assessed hostile intelligence threat are the decisive factors of level of control.

There are different levels of SAP. The first is a division into acknowledged and unacknowledged SAPs. Black Program is name for an unacknowledged SAP. An unacknowledged SAP is very sensitive. The existence of unacknowledged SAP is a core secret. Moreover, some unacknowledged SAPs are sensitive to the extent that they are waived from the normal management and oversight protocols.