What Background Do You Need for an Intelligence Community Job?

Intelligence

Last month the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released figures that highlighted the number of minorities working within the intelligence community (IC), and the unclassified report noted that the IC lags still behind both the federal government and overall workforce in terms of diversity. The report did note minorities in the IC are on the rise however; 23.2 percent in fiscal year 2011 to 24.9 percent in fiscal year 2015. The question becomes – do millennials hold the key to the IC’s diversity struggles?

For millennials interested in an intelligence job, there are pitfalls to be aware of, as well as requirements to consider.

The Right Background

Beyond school and course of study, the right background – both in terms of ethnic background but also in actual world experience, matters.

“It isn’t as simple as looking at someone’s particular ethnic background,” said Dr. Ron Sanders, vice president and fellow at Booz Allen Hamilton. “On a form someone may check ‘Asian’ but the IC will see Koreans as different from Chinese, and this is considered during the recruitment process. Today the IC reaches out to ‘heritage’ Americans, those with backgrounds from Korea, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other areas where the IC might take interest.”

Yet, recruiting from these communities present a number of challenges for the IC. The biggest issue maybe that those minorities never contemplated such a career in the first place.

“Minorities may not think of a career in the intelligence community because the field is not modeled in their schools, communities, or families,” said Dr. Kathleen Hogan, program chair of the Intelligence Management Program at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) . “Nor has there been as active a marketing strategy to attract people in general into the community compared to employment in the military service, law enforcement, healthcare, education, or other fields. Working in the intelligence field also requires a security clearance and may prove a hindrance to some.”

The clearance issue is another piece in a very complex puzzle. Belonging to the ‘wrong’ mosque, or having extended family in another country that might not be entirely friendly to America can also be among the issues that minority millennials face today when applying to the IC.

“We see a lot of younger people who have ties to a foreign country among the current generation when it comes to minorities,” said Bradley P. Moss of the James Madison Project and the Law Offices of Mark S. Zaid, P.C. “The agencies like to recruit those who have knowledge/experience in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, but depending on the ties this can raise challenges in getting clearance.”

Youthful Idealism

Even those millennials who don’t have direct ties to another country may have sympathies or sentiments that the IC could see as a potential problem. When it comes to the average college student this could be chalked up to “youthful idealism,” but this can be a serious issue for IC recruiters.

“Every generation has its cultural moment on how it can be viewed in terms of security clearance,” added Moss. “In the past it might have been the Vietnam War and Civil Rights, today it is the 99 percent and Black Lives Matter, and depending on the depth of involvement that can be seen as a problem.”

Those students in school today who are on a potential IC career path may want to steer clear of today’s hot button and controversial issues.

“‘Loyalty’ might not be the right word, but if you are too expressive in these issues you could end up being too exposed to the events as they are happening,” said Greg T. Rinckey of the Tully Runckey Law Offices. “The IC doesn’t want to see people with involvement that is too far to the left or the right.”

The issue of youthful indiscretion is just one reason the IC tends to prefer to bring on talent early – ensuring they remain on the right path for a clandestine career.

“One thing we learned early on with the last hiring surge was to make sure that we are reaching out to students who have aspirations for a career in IC [and let them know] that there are things not to do,” said Booz Allen Hamilton’s Sanders. “All youth have a lack of awareness and take their lifestyle for granted.”

Before you think that any ethnic or political involvement is a non-starter, keep in mind sometimes ties to one’s ethnic community may be seen as an advantage.

“The IC absolutely wants people who have life experience, so it could help that someone went to the mosque, listened to the imam and made up his/her mind, rather than someone who is totally squeaky clean and avoided everything controversial,” added Sanders. “That said there are still plenty of things you can’t do or else it will tank your security clearance chances.”

This can include joining the wrong club, speaking at the wrong meetings and even posting the wrong thing on social media.

To keep candidates on the right path, Sanders further noted that one lesson the IC has learned is that recruiting needs to begin upstream.

“The IC community needs to look at sophomores and even freshmen at the university level,” he explained. “Students need to know that this is more than GPA, and there are other things that the agencies consider –  including the wrong affiliations.”

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.

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