Home Career The 4 Core Abilities Needed for a Career in Intelligence

The 4 Core Abilities Needed for a Career in Intelligence


*This article is part of In Public Safety’s September focus on career transitions*

By Dr. Valerie E. Davis, Associate Professor, School of Security and Global Studies at American Public University

Working as an intelligence analyst is an exciting and challenging career, particularly if you like collecting and analyzing information, thinking critically, and solving problems. To do these tasks successfully, aspiring analysts must develop and perfect four core abilities: research, language skills, diverse knowledge, and teamwork.

Value of Research and Writing
Intel AnalystPerhaps the most important skill an analyst must possess is how to properly conduct research. Analysts must understand how to systematically investigate sources and materials to determine facts that lead them to form logical conclusions.

Hand-in-hand with research skills, it is critical that analysts write clearly and directly. Analysts must be able to express ideas in print in a way that readers can understand the intended meaning. Clear writing presents a single, unambiguous meaning.

[Related Article: Could You Pass the CIA’s Writing Boot Camp?]

Analysts must write directly, using the right words and only the number of words necessary. Instead of writing, “The intelligence analyst decided to write a report,” write the same meaning with two fewer words: “The intelligence analyst wrote a report.”

In addition to writing clearly and directly, speaking effectively is also important, particularly when speaking to groups or making presentations.

Resources to Improve Writing
Working as an intelligence analyst requires composing well-written, structured reports that include information and argument, which requires more sophisticated writing skills. Here are some resources for aspiring analysts to improve their writing skills:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
  • Writing Analytically by Rosenwasser and Stephen provides useful information for learning to write more effectively.
  • Understanding human behavior or psychology plays an important role in the world of the intelligence analyst. Thus, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards Heuer is a useful book to read.
  • Enroll in college classes to help develop and improve your reading and writing skills with guidance from faculty.

Learn Another Language
Learning to fluently speak and write in another language—particularly a language used in high-threat areas—increases a person’s value as an intelligence analyst. Knowledge about the geography of high-threat areas is also beneficial.

Build Your Knowledge Base
Analysts must develop a diverse background in relevant topics such as cyberwarfare, information operations, open-source intelligence, and strategic intelligence. Cyberintelligence—an increasingly important intelligence specialty—requires knowledge about computer science and cybersecurity to protect persons, data, software, and networks.

Collaboration and Working in Teams
Another skill needed by intelligence analysts is the ability to collaborate. Analysts must be strong team members. Intelligence analysis depends upon shared decision making and the ability of team members to contribute to each task and project.

[Related Article: Teamwork that Protects the Nation]

Overall, writing and speaking proficiency, cognitive abilities, language skills, personal and team skills, along with motivation and initiative, form a solid foundation for building a successful career as an intelligence analyst.

Valerie Davis_capgown2_croppedAbout the Author: Dr. Valerie E. Davis is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Public University. She served as senior intelligence professional and educator in the U.S. Air Force for over 23 years until her retirement. Her assignments in the Intelligence Community encompass a variety of disciplines across the Intelligence Community, including Theater, Major Commands, wing and national levels.


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  1. Dr. Davis, PhD!

    This is a very informative article on the subject of the 4 core abilities for a successful career in the Intelligence field. There is no question that you articulated well on those four disciplines–abilities: research, language skills, diverse knowledge, and teamwork. Moreover, you have provided a strategic roadmap for success to for anyone interested in being an Intelligence analyst, and for those already in the field. As you stated, conducting reliable research is the key to success. If the research data is skewed, then the results will not provide senior leaders with the proper analysis, thereby, their operational plans of action will be greatly flawed. As a result, the enemy will be several steps ahead of us. Our Nation is relying heavily on and depending upon Intelligence analysts to perform detailed and accurate research analyses that is beyond reproach. Finally, as Dr. Davis clearly conveyed in this article, proper reseach along with the othe three core abilities (language skills, diverse knowledge, and teamwork), an Intelligence analyst will not only be successful, but our Nation is more secure in these critical times.

    Dr. Michael J. Springs


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