It seems like every day there is news of a new global threat. ISIS, hacks from China or rumblings from North Korea are all commonplace. With these threats becoming more frequent, the importance of national and homeland security has increased tremendously. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the United States receives between 8,000 and 10,000 potential threats every single day. Although the majority of threats are empty and without merit, there are some that deserve the attention of the groups and agencies that protect Americans. 

To identify threats and take appropriate action requires the work of the intelligence community. As the need for intelligence has grown, so too has its formal study, leading to a rise in the academic discipline known as intelligence studies. Because the field is relatively new, many people do not have a clear understanding of what the discipline encompasses and how it can help keep the country safe. 

What Is Intelligence Studies? 

The intelligence community in the United States focuses on collecting information across the globe to separate real threats from non-credible ones. Intelligence professionals use a variety of skills, tools and strategies to turn tips into hard intelligence. Because this process is so critical to our security, the academic study of the field has exploded in both usefulness and popularity. Today, universities across the nation offer courses and degrees in intelligence studies. But what is intelligence studies and what can it offer potential students? 

The Study of Intelligence 

According to Merriam-Webster, intelligence is defined as “information about an enemy or potential enemy and the evaluated conclusions drawn from such information.” 

“information about an enemy or potential enemy and the evaluated conclusions drawn from such information.” 

Intelligence constitutes everything from the most miniscule of information, like criticism of American officials, to immediate threats, such as a credible terroristic plot against the general public or a government official. 

With a collection of 17 different agencies, the United States collects intelligence to both benefit foreign relations and also protect national security. Known as the U.S. Intelligence Community, these agencies include groups like the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and lesser known offices like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. These organizations work both together and separately to gather intelligence and distribute it to government leaders. 

Innovative technologies have completely altered the gathering of intelligence and made it easier than ever to gather information. However, the sheer volume of that data means there is a need for well-trained analysts able to filter through information and find credible threats. 

Analytic Tradecraft 

The process and methods that intelligence analysts use is commonly referred to as analysis tradecraft. Intelligence studies focuses on analytic tradecraft by teaching students the fundamentals. By becoming well-versed in the tradecraft, analysts are more prepared to produce quality and useful intelligence. 

The bible of analytic tradecraft, the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, identifies two main goals of successful analysts: 

  • A dedication to objectivity: All information must be looked at neutrally to be properly evaluated and maintain credibility and sensitivity in this complex field. 
  • Quick and efficient delivery: If intelligence is a product, it has to be delivered to the right people in time for it to remain useful. In turn, feedback must be used to improve production. 

While these basics are easy to understand, their application in the real world of intelligence can become highly complicated quickly. 

Pursuing a Career in Intelligence 

Finding a career in intelligence could seem like a challenge, but with the right degree and the right experience the path is far easier. Although these jobs require extensive training, there are opportunities available every year. 

The Need for Intelligence Professionals 

For those seeking a career in intelligence or similar security fields, there is a constant need for properly educated and trained applicants. Federal law mandates retirement at age 57, meaning the need for individuals in this field is continuous. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management estimates that between 15,000 and 17,000 security and protection jobs are available each year. 

Degrees and Backgrounds That Lead to Intelligence Studies 

Not all educations mesh with intelligence studies or lead to a career in the intelligence field. Some are more closely aligned with the skills and knowledge learned in the analysis tradecraft. The following degrees serve as a useful background for individuals interested in advancing their education within intelligence studies: 

  • Computer Science and Engineering: With the high importance of technology in the world of intelligence, having a deep understanding of how technology works and how to patch any vulnerabilities can be a significant asset. 
  • Political Science: Intelligence professionals deal with politics on a daily basis. Many analysts directly deal with political officials and foreign governments throughout their work. 
  • Foreign Languages: Because information isn’t all in English, intelligence agencies rely on language analysts to help develop intelligence in foreign countries. In the 1980s, Russian was one of the most useful languages to know; today, Arabic is highly sought after. 
  • Military Studies: Many intelligence professionals have a previous history in the military. Knowledge of military concepts is a great entry point into the field. 

Although not having one of these degrees or backgrounds will not prevent you from pursuing a degree in intelligence studies or a career in the field, it can make the process more difficult. 

The Importance of a Graduate Degree 

intelligence analysts median salary

According to the Occupational Information Network, 75
percent of intelligence analyst roles require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although many of these opportunities list just an undergraduate degree, earning a master’s degree also offers several benefits. Besides providing extensive advanced skills and knowledge, the degree can also improve your standing among employers. 

The salary statistics database PayScale also shows the benefits of earning a graduate degree. Entry-level intelligence
analysts have a median salary of $57,848 annually, while those
with a master’s degree in intelligence studies earn a median
annual salary of $75,872. 

Employment Opportunities 

Employment in an intelligence career can include work both across the country and across the globe. There are a variety of offices, agencies and private organizations in need of trained intelligence personnel. Traditionally there are two types of settings for intelligence careers: governmental work and the private sector. 

Intelligence Careers in the U.S. Government

intelligence careers in the government

The U.S. Government has 17 separate organizations that form the Intelligence Community (IC). Most intelligence careers involve one of these agencies, some of which are commonly in the news and others that are little known. Each has their own specialty and may work on their own or in concert with other intelligence community members. They include: 

  • Central Intelligence Agency: The primary agency providing national security intelligence from sources abroad. The CIA is the largest agency developing and distributing intelligence information for the U.S. 
  • Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence: Working under the DOE, this office seeks to protect vital national security information that relates to our sciences. It also provides scientific and technical expertise to the U.S. government. 
  • Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis: The primary intelligence arm of the federal government’s newest department focuses on the dissemination of intelligence throughout DHS. 
  • Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research: Serving as the focal point for all foreign policy issues involved in the Intelligence Community, the BIR is the secretary of state’s primary adviser on intelligence. 
  • Department of Treasury Office of Intelligence and Analysis: This office protects the American financial system from being used by groups that may serve as a threat to the U.S. 
  • Defense Intelligence Agency: Under the Department of Defense, the DIA provides military based intelligence to the armed forces and our allies. 
  • Drug Enforcement Administration: This office often collects intelligence relating to the trafficking and sale of illicit drugs both in the United States and abroad. The DEA commonly works with other IC members. 
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation National Security Branch: The federal government’s primary law enforcement agency often uses intelligence to understand threats that may penetrate our national security. 
  • National Geospatial Intelligence Agency: This combat support agency uses primarily satellite imagery to advise the military and other groups on possible human activity. 
  • National Reconnaissance Office: The NRO uses, manages and builds the nation’s massive reconnaissance satellite network. It also plays a primary role in providing intelligence for just about every IC group. 
  • National Security Agency: This high technology organization uses communications and information technology to produce foreign intelligence. 
  • Marine Corps Intelligence: The provider ofpersonalized intelligenceto the United States Marine Corps. 
  • Air Force Intelligence: The primary intelligence component for the United States Air Force. 
  • Army Intelligence: The division of the Army that provides intelligence for all military activity. 
  • Coast Guard Intelligence: A group that distributes intelligence for the U.S. Coast Guard. 
  • Naval Intelligence: The leading provider of maritime intelligence to the U.S. Navy and other forces. 

Each of these agencies provides different kinds of support to larger governmental agencies and even each other. They all offer unique opportunities to exercise the skills and knowledge learned in an intelligence studies program. 

Intelligence Careers in the Private Sector 

Although the federal government is the largest employer of intelligence analysts, the private sector offers unique opportunities using similar skill sets. Private intelligence firms offer contract work to the U.S. government and other organizations, and in many ways operate like intelligence community members. These jobs are highly rewarding, but often considered harder to obtain than public sector jobs. 

Some of the highest profile private intelligence firms are: 

  • Kroll 
  • Smith Brandon International 
  • Stratfor 
  • Booz Allen Hamilton 
  • Pinkerton 

Professional Groups in the Intelligence Field 

The stereotype of the intelligence community is that it is largely secretive and aloof. However, there are several professional groups and organizations that can provide guidance and education to those in the intelligence field. These associations often offer journals, trainings and other resources. They also offer invaluable opportunities to meet fellow intelligence professionals who may provide guidance and advice. Some examples of popular intelligence professional groups include: 

  • Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Intelligence 
  • Association of Former Intelligence Officers 
  • International Association for Intelligence Education 
  • National Military Intelligence Association 
  • Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals 

Common Misrepresentations About Intelligence  

common misrepresentations about intelligence

Although many may think of James Bond when they think of an intelligence professional, being an international spy is far from the norm. Hollywood and popular culture have dramatized the intelligence field for decades. Some films are better than others at portraying how the gathering and distribution of intelligence works, and there are still plenty of myths out there on what intelligence professionals do and how agencies work. 

Myth: Everyone in Intelligence is a Spy 

Movies focus on spies because they’re entertaining. However, spies are not nearly as common as Hollywood makes them seem. Intelligence analysts use a variety of methods to gather information and nearly all of them do not include spies. 

Myth: Intelligence Agencies Are Above the Law 

Scenes of gunfights in the streets are certainly more fiction than fact and intelligence agencies are constantly working within the law to do their jobs. Analysts must collect and gather intelligence efficiently and legally. This not only includes American law, but the laws of other nations. Violating these rules can lead to serious national security consequences. 

Myth: Intelligence Agencies Work Unilaterally 

In a movie you may see a secret team of spies heading alone into a deep undercover mission without any help. The reality is that intelligence professionals are constantly collaborating with other agencies from the United States and our allies. This is especially true when it comes to arrests, because nearly all of the intelligence agencies have no law enforcement power. 

How to Get Started 

For those seeking a unique and rewarding career choice that can have a significant impact on our homeland and national security, consider a career in intelligence. It’s a field that continues to have significant job opportunities in both the public and private sector. A degree in intelligence studies can be critical to becoming a part of this dynamic, exciting and important field.