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How to Begin a Career in the Intelligence Community

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By James Green, Jr.

Have you ever wondered how the President and senior policymakers arrive at national security decisions? How our military forces maneuver through the battle spaces and know exactly where enemy forces are? What gives our first responders and other emergency personnel an advantage during natural or man-made disasters?

The answer is intelligence, which simply is the collection, analysis and reporting of information gathered from a wide range of sources. This “raw” information gets evaluated, distilled and processed into intelligence that helps formulate the decisions. What makes this all possible is a workforce of intelligence analysts. If you are naturally inquisitive, and like “peeling the onion” to solve problems, then consider an internship with the Intelligence Community (IC).

The U.S. Government (USG) uses intelligence to improve and more fully understand the consequences of its national security decisions. Intelligence informs policy decisions, military actions, international negotiations and interactions with working-level contacts in foreign countries. Intelligence also aids the efforts of homeland security providers and first responders. The USG collects intelligence through the 17-member IC, as well as through open sources such as major news organizations and internet sites. There are many opportunities in the IC to help make sense of the volumes of data that is available.

Get Familiar With the IC Through an Internship
An excellent way to get some idea of work in the national security arena is through an internship in one of the IC agencies. Many of them offer either summer-only programs, or graduate school part-time programs. Some even offer programs of a year or longer. Internships provide an excellent opportunity for networking and gaining valuable work experience, as well as seeing what working in the government is all about. Also, the internship allows the employer to learn more about you, including your analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as your communication and interpersonal skills. If all goes well, it’s a great way to “get your foot in the door.” Hopefully, the internship will lead to full-time employment.

The Application Process
While the application process for internships varies among each of the IC agencies, a security clearance is always a requirement. The process includes filling out lengthy application forms, as well as a complete background investigation, which includes a polygraph (lie detector) test. The time needed to complete the entire process may take several months, so be patient. Applicants are encouraged to submit their paperwork in early November, for a summer internship in the following year. The most stringent procedures are required by the CIA, NSA, NRO and NGA. Many of the internships are in the Washington metropolitan area, however, there also are several opportunities in other parts of the country.

One of the first tests in the pre-employment process is the polygraph. This test consists of two groups of questions: counterintelligence and lifestyle. Counterintelligence questions are those dealing with your contact with individuals in foreign countries, and possibly their intelligence services. Lifestyle questions address criminal activity, drug use, financial problems, falsification of the application, and computer abuse. The people handling your background investigation will delve into criminal and driving records, medical records, credit scores, Web presence, travel history, and personal relationships. Also, at some point in the investigation, you’ll be asked to identify several references to be interviewed.

There are no standard prerequisite courses or programs for candidates applying for internships, but there are some attributes that will increase your chances of being hired. An interest in international affairs, foreign travel and cultural awareness, and the knowledge of a foreign language (non-European) is highly desired.

For more information on internships and careers in the Intelligence Community, check out Intelligence As A Career—Is It Right For You and Are You Right For It? This booklet is an invaluable resource on the IC, and is available in its entirety as a PDF.

~ James Green, Jr., is the manager for Intelligence and National Security Relationships for American Military University.  He joined AMU in 2010, after a 38-year career as an Intelligence Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a combat support agency under the Department of Defense. James is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), the Central Intelligence Retirement Association (CIRA) and International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE).

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