Defense Jobs in Honolulu – Spy Cities Off the Map

Career Advice

In this series, Clearance Jobs will take a look at booming “spy cities” across the country and around the world—cities that have seen massive growth as hubs for intelligence agencies and activities.

If you’re going to relocate for a job in the intelligence community, you’d may as well do it right. Ft. Huachuca? It’s the hummingbird capital of the world. Pensacola? Two words: Spring Break. And the river walk is lovely in San Antonio. But there is only one place where you can spy on the world from a tropical paradise: Honolulu, Hawaii—perhaps the least likely spy city on the planet.

You’re probably thinking two things right now: 1. Waitaminute—Hawaii? and 2. “That seems familiar for some reason.” To answer your first thought, recall that on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, achieving a major tactical victory. Much has been written about the intelligence fiasco that resulted in America being caught unawares. While researching my last book, Deep State, I was surprised to learn just how much we knew about the impending attack, and how impossible it would have been to do anything with that information.

Paradise Before the Bombing

Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a wiretap open on a man in Honolulu suspected of being a Japanese spy. While on a telephone call with a family member in Japan, Mori, the spy in question, mentioned that the Pacific Fleet was docked at Pearl, and passed on what were suspected to be codewords: “hibiscus and poinsettia.” J. Edgar Hoover relayed the information to the War Department, and after the war would make much noise to the effect that the FBI had done its job, and that it was the military’s responsibility to have taken action. What should be noted, contrary to the claims of conspiracy theorists, is that while the information was passed on to the White House, so too were thousands of other scraps of FBI intelligence—most of it meaningless.

Unlike the FBI of 2014, the Bureau of Hoover’s day was not in the intelligence analysis business. Hoover made no secret that the FBI’s job was strictly to collect facts, and that it was up to policymakers and other agencies to analyze that information and to connect dots. This was in many ways one of Hoover’s great skills—keeping the FBI focused on what it did well, while avoiding the kind of mission creep that would cripple the Bureau in the 1990s. This is also why, under Hoover, the FBI limited its global role to the legal attaché program (mostly to deal with fugitives and congressional junkets), and arguably why he was so opposed to the Huston Plan in 1970, which would have coordinated and unified intelligence operations. (Keeping the FBI out of such an arrangement would have insulated it from the new system’s inevitable failures.)

Obviously intelligence was a problem in 1941, and the United States made sure that wouldn’t happen in the Pacific again. Not long after the Pearl Harbor Bombing, a massive, underground, bombproof facility was constructed in Hawaii that would come to handle cryptology operations and intelligence. This facility—the Kunia Regional SIGINT Operations Center (pronounced: K.R.-sock)—still stands and is located near Wheeler Army Airfield in the unincorporated area of Camp Kunia, a stone’s throw from Honolulu and the heart of National Security Agency operations in the region.

Paradise after the leak

To answer your second thought: Why have you heard of this obscure spy center? Because in 2012, Booz Allen Hamilton hired a contractor to work there with the NSA. One year later, the contractor applied and was hired for a different job with the NSA (through the same defense contractor and at the same facility). Three months later, the Guardian newspaper ran the headline, “NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily.” The article described an ongoing order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court permitting the bulk collection of user metadata. That contractor in Hawaii was, of course, Edward Snowden, and the National Security Agency has yet to recover from his document theft and the subsequent revelations.

Today Snowden lives in Russia, which means something good for you: there’s at least one job opening near Honolulu. As we’ve discussed previously, where there is a spy city, there are jobs. Edward Snowden found one, and lost it. If he could do it, and if you promise not to steal the nation’s most highly sensitive signal intelligence secrets, you can get a job there, too.

defense jobs in paradise

Among the defense contractors hiring in or near Honolulu are ManTech International Corporation, which is looking for an analyst with a top-secret clearance for a network operations center. Apex Systems wants a network engineer. Northrup Grumman’s Counter Narco-Terrorism Program Support Office is hiring senior level intelligence analyst manager. (The position calls for someone who can speak Thai, so either they’re serious about their take-out cuisine or they’re tipping their hand as to which country you’ll be focused on.) And in what is probably the coolest job in the Pacific Ocean, Northrup Grumman is looking for an exercise scenario designer for Special Operations Command Pacific, in which you coordinate “realistic scenarios to facilitate warfighter’s ability to conduct operations in an asymmetrical environment.”

If you take one of the jobs in Honolulu listed on Clearance Jobs, there are some things you need to know about where you’re moving. Here’s how locals pronounce the name of Oahu, the island on which you’ll be living: oh-AH-hoo (there’s no “w” in there). The public schools in Honolulu are phenomenal. The cost of living is higher than the national average and housing prices are way higher, but the unemployment rate is low and crime is right at the national average. Also, it’s Honolulu. If living in an island paradise as a spy isn’t good enough for you, I’m not sure what I can say that’ll change your mind. Maybe an astronaut job or a position as a ninja will open up there eventually. In the meantime, spy cities don’t get any better than this.

David Brown is a regular contributor to Clearance Jobs. He is currently at work on his next book, One Inch From Earth, which tells the story of scientists who study the outer planets of the solar system. He can be found online at

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