So you want a degree in intelligence? (con’t)


I wanted to riff off of Analysis Montage’s post of the same name and more to say than would comfortably fit within the comments section.

The hiring process for analysts remains problematic across the board and highlighted in the recent study called:   Intelligence Analysis for Tomorrow:  Advances from the Behavioral and Social Sciences which I highly recommend.  ‘Degree inflation’ is a serious problem in which analysts are now increasingly required to have Master’s degrees when only a few years ago a Bachelor’s was fine.  I suspect this is an outgrowth of ‘grade inflation’ which is quickly turning college degrees into useless piles of sludge.  The ultimate problem is the the acquisition of a college degree is used as a proxy for determining if a particular individual has skills seen as essential for an intelligence analyst (critical thinking, writing, speaking, etc.).  That’s always been a bit of a dodgy assumption but it now can safely said to be in tatters.  As a side note, I’d also say the assumption that specific degree programs are essential to intelligence analysis is fundamentally flawed.  While some specific programs CAN provide some interesting insight and background into a specific discipline, requiring all analysts come from a ridiculously small slice of unimaginative fields is not productive.  I’ve always said I’d be happy taking a new analyst with a degree in medieval French literature over someone with a degree in criminal justice (or whatever) if the applicant had the requisite critical thinking skills.

This however, goes to my belief that while you can teach the methodologies of intelligence analysis to almost anyone, there are certain personality types that are better suited to the work than others.

And this is where I think the whole idea of degrees falls flat and doesn’t get us where we want to go.  I can craft a very realistic scenario where someone doesn’t even have any sort of college degree yet is qualified in both analytical techniques generally and specific detailed terrorism issues, yet those people will be automatically disqualified from working intelligence because they haven’t ‘checked the college box’.  Nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a huge proponent of university education but we shouldn’t make assumptions about what the possession of one means.  It simply means that the person has gone through whatever requirements were needed to get that degree (and maybe not even that in some cases).

My observations are that the best method for getting a job within the intelligence community (at least at the sub federal level) remains having a connection.  It’s certainly not the only way but knowing someone (or even knowing someone who knows someone) is likely to yield better results (all else being equal) than a high GPA from a good institution. In those cases, an academic degree is just a box that needs to be checked and the quality of the degree is incidental.

This leads to another question.  Once you’ve gotten a job as an intelligence analyst, how do you move up the career ladder?  Perhaps next time….

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Posted on 10 August 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is also a great place to find information on degrees and the intelligence field.

    http://www.intelligence.gov/careers-in-intelligence/what-degrees-are-we-looking-for/

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