Discretion, responsibility, and patriotism: working in national security is unlike any other career in the world. This fact has created an entire genre of books — both fiction and non-fiction — about the civilian men and women charged with protecting us from threats overseas. Below is a list of ten of the best books for cleared individuals looking for work in the intelligence, national security, and defense communities.
1) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Widely considered the best spy novel ever written, John Le Carré’s masterpiece tells the story of George Smiley, a former agent of Britain’s most respected intelligence agency, who is brought out of retirement to help find a Soviet spy at the top of the British Secret Service. In this gripping read, Smiley must risk his life navigating the secret world of intelligence work at the height of the Cold War to find out which one of four top British spooks is the double-agent: the tinker, the tailor, the soldier, or the spy.
2) The Wizards Of Langley: Inside The CIA’s Directorate Of Science And Technology – In The Wizards Of Langley, top intelligence historian Jeffrey T. Richelson, explores the personalities and operations behind the history of the CIA’s very own “Q”: the Directorate Of Science And Technology. From trying to use a cat to bug the Kremlin to redesigning a cargo ship to lift a Soviet nuclear submarine from the sea floor, the geeks of the Directorate Of Science And Technology have been behind some of the greatest, and strangest covert operations in history.
3) Body Of Secrets: Anatomy Of The Ultra-Secret National Security Agency – In 1982, investigative journalist James Bamford published a bestselling account of the work of the secretive National Security Agency. In 2002, Bamford revisited America’s eavesdropping masters in Body Of Secrets, revealing previously unknown parts of the NSA’s history. Despite being published almost a decade ago, Bamford’s book remains one of the most riveting, well-researched, and objective views of one of America’s least understood intelligence agencies.
4) Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, And Innovations – Roger Z. George’s Analyzing Intelligence is the de facto standard textbook of the intelligence community. It’s collection of essays from well-respected intelligence professionals offer theoretical and practical insights into the science and art of intelligence gathering in the modern world. This book is a must-have for any aspiring intelligence professional.
5) The US Intelligence Community – Jeffrey T. Richelson’s book offers a broad but well researched view into the myriad of agencies and organizations making up America’s intelligence community. With its focus on explaining the activities and organizational structures of the intelligence community, it is considered by many to be “US Intelligence 101”. While a little dry, the book is an excellent primer for any individuals interested in applying for a position with America’s spy agencies.
6) The FBI Career Guide: Inside Information On Getting Chosen For And Succeeding In One Of The Toughest, Most Prestigious Jobs In The World – Joseph W. Koletar’s book offers valuable insider information regarding getting a job and managing a career inside the FBI. Some of the most valuable sections present information on salaries, typical activities, and career suggestions for the wide variety of jobs inside the Bureau. Koletar’s book is essential reading if you are considering about applying for a job at the FBI.
7) Inside The CIA: Revealing the Secrets Of The World’s Most Powerful Spy Agency – The first journalist to get in-depth access to the CIA, Ronald Kessler offers a factual but enjoyable description and history of “the Company” and it’s operations. Kessler is open about the fact that the CIA is not all cloak and daggers and that much of the work is like that inside any large organization. Despite being originally published in 1992, Kessler’s work is still a must-read for anyone interested in pursuing a career in any of the CIA’s directorates.
8) The Craft Of Intelligence: America’s Legendary Spy Master On The Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering For A Free World – In probably the most well respected and cited book in the intelligence community, former high-ranking CIA officer Allen W. Dulles’ offers readers both in-depth history and practical information about intelligence work since the end of the Cold War. Dulles’ informed but entertaining writing style makes this book a great read, especially for those interesting in entering the intelligence community.
9) Ghost Wars: The Secret History Of The CIA, Afghanistan, And Bin Laden, From The Soviet Invasion To September 10, 2001 – Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, Steve Coll’s 600 page Ghost Wars tells the riveting and formerly secret story of the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. His account of the CIA’s successes and failures in the country is conducted with incredible and exhaustive detail. Just as important, Coll’s brilliant narrative style makes this book as enjoyable to read as the best spy thriller — even while not shying away from the complexities of the real world.
10) Chief Of Station, Congo: Fighting The Cold War In A Hot Zone – In his great book, Larry Devlin offers the riveting true story of his life as a CIA station chief in the Congo during the height of the Cold War. Considered one of the best memoirs from a CIA officer, the author pulls no punches about his experiences in the violence and chaos of 1960s Congo. The book’s chapters are a master class in the work of a CIA Station Chief overseas, including threats to personal security and the deep moral dilemmas that arise in the field.
Each of the books on this list offers enjoyable, informative reading about the work of those in the intelligence, military, and national security communities. Many are staples on the bookshelves of experienced intelligence professionals and are must-reads for budding national security workers. Looking for something specific to your job search? Check out some of the other articles on ClearanceJobs.com, including Job Opportunities Available for Veterans, Bullet-Proof Your Defense Industry Resume, and Job Search Homework: Researching the Employer.
Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.