So You Want to Work In... Intelligence
The U.S. intelligence community is comprised of 17 offices and agencies charged with the collection and analysis of information concerning national security and U.S. domestic and international interests. The President, policymakers, law enforcement, and the military use this information to create and execute policy.
The U.S. government maintains intelligence operations in several agencies that employ officers and analysts in Washington, D.C. and around the world. This fact sheet will cover the major roles in the intelligence community (IC) and steps you can take to join the ranks of intelligence officials. For the most up to date information, visit http://www.intelligence.gov.
Created in 2005, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) oversees the National Intelligence Program and coordinates the activities of all IC agencies; the Director of National Intelligence serves as the primary advisor to the President for intelligence matters. Uniquely, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an independent agency, whereas all other components of the IC are housed within executive branch departments. For example, the Department of Justice runs the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), both of which have significant intelligence operations. The Military Intelligence Program, in the Department of Defense, oversees eight IC agencies, including the National Security Agency (NSA).
TYPES OF INTELLIGENCE WORK
Each agency offers a variety of career tracks. Major positions within the intelligence community include:
Intelligence Operations drives the work of the IC. Operations officers (i.e., spies) work around the world covertly recruiting and handling sources of foreign human intelligence (agents). The clandestine lifestyle of operations officers is not for everyone; assignments are undercover and require secrecy, even with family members.
Collection Management manages and evaluates covert information provided by case officers as well as open source information. Collection officers prepare the information for analysis by organizing the volumes of data and prioritizing the information in level of importance to US interests. Collection officer positions are also clandestine due to the sensitivity of information processing. Collection officers generally work in the US, but may have short stays abroad.
Analysis work processes and transforms raw information into meaningful assessments for policy makers. Analysts must be able to think critically, recognize patterns, and concisely interpret data. They may be experts on a particular country or geographic region, or may understand a particular issue in-depth. Analysts are likely to spend most of their career in the U.S.
Languagework performs research; provides translation or transcription services; and assists with reporting and analysis. Language specialists also teach foreign languages to colleagues in the IC. This sector of work is in very high demand, especially for “mission critical” languages including Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Korean, Pashtu, Farsi, Russian, Turkish, and Urdu. Agencies often look for native speaking abilities, language aptitude or a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language.
Intelligence agencies offer a variety of other career tracks, including science and technology, criminal justice, information technology, security, and acquisitions and financial management.
They vary by position, but there are several common requirements for all IC jobs:
- College degree (all majors)
- Strong oral, written and interpersonal communication skills; as well as critical thinking and analytical skills
- United States citizenship
- Security clearance—this entails a background check of your life history, including where you have lived, studied, and worked since age 18 or the past ten years if you are over the age of 25.
- Mental, medical and physical fitness examination
- Clean background – no criminal record; no use of illegal drugs within 12 months of your application; and no out of the ordinary financial irregularities (gambling, poor credit).
IC agencies share some coordinated recruiting efforts through the ODNI and USAjobs.gov; however, each agency manages its own hiring process and posts job openings on their individual websites. For this reason, you should be familiar with the vast network that comprises the intelligence community and the many opportunities it affords.
Because of background checks and the security clearance process, applying to a job in the IC can take up to a year and sometimes more. To apply for IC jobs, you need to visit individual IC agency sites and follow their instructions. Many agencies require that you apply online.
Several IC agencies offer college internship programs, which provide an excellent way to gain experience and learn more about the field of intelligence. For example, the CIA hosts an Undergraduate Internship Program that requires students to work either a combination of one semester and one summer internship, or two 90-day summer internships. The internship program is open to all majors. Plan ahead for this and other internships: the CIA summer programs have an application deadline in October. To find internships, explore the Federal Internships section of MakingtheDifference.org, USA Jobs or visit the job site for the agency you are interested in and look for links like “Student Opportunities.”
Take courses in relevant fields. If you are interested in language work, take coursework to become fluent. If you are interested in intelligence analysis, focus on international economics, world geography, area studies, comparative politics, history, and related fields. Begin thinking early about your career and plan accordingly.
Research specific types of careers available in all of the IC agencies. Review websites for relevant internships starting as early as your sophomore year. Make sure you know about all the types of work that are available and which of them would best suit your skills and interests. Utilize LACS resources and the IC careers page: http://www.intelligence.gov/
Connect with recruiters when they come to campus. Keep up to date with LACS announcements for campus visits by CIA, FBI, and NSA especially. Recruiters can help you answer questions you have and can point you to more resources and opportunities available. Use BTT Gateway and the LACS calendar to find out about upcoming events.