Consider the intelligence analyst. We find ourselves appealing to them to clarify the threat to our cleared programs.

Upon gaining a classified program, we need to know who’s out to steal or destroy it. We request a threat assessment through our government counterintelligence officers. 

But, to whom do they turn?

Threats to government programs vary like amoebas. Those who seek to steal classified information today might not be the ones to try to do so tomorrow. The next in line to take your information might not know whatsoever of others trying to take away similar classified data. 

Recently, we found a young U.S. Air Force airman arrested for illegally sharing classified information with a private online chat group. He did so to impress others with what he was privy to. Likewise, an Army retired lieutenant colonel has been arrested because he allegedly gave away secrets to an online admirer. 

Who would have seen these compromises coming? What possible motive could link these two? Note, there is no mention of a foreign government being behind either of these. 

Whereas during the Cold War, we could rely on a Soviet Bloc country driving the espionage directed against us; now the field has become so much wider. Thus we find the need for excellent analysis by analysts trained to separate the wheat from the chaff in the whirlwind of information available.  

The Importance of the Analyst

Analysts are jealously sought after. The government now offers scholarships to those who promise to work for the federal government for several years. 

Universities offer courses for degrees that would be the dream of any analysis staff.  Students are trained, not only in the history, methods, background, and language of targeted regions but also in how to avoid common analysis pitfalls. 

Students in the program also learn not to ‘mirror image’ threats, and to avoid confirmation bias. They learn how to direct their efforts away from frivolous generalities, leaning toward wise analysis which offers options to the decision-makers. 

But for how wide a region can we expect an analyst to excel? What limitations might such an analyst confront?


Those who claim the ability to judge and analyze our adversaries must be honest, not only with their managers but with themselves. The lifelong European master analyst must not make similar claims about his abilities in Asia. 

While general skills are equally relevant, detailed knowledge cannot be the same in such a case. We, who solicit their help, must know this. In short, we can’t hire a staff for ‘worldwide’ coverage. 

In today’s information overload world, moving an analyst from say, China to Israeli assessment would be foolish indeed. It is better to hire a professional whose long career covers one general area. 

Likewise, analysts are also subject matter experts. One engineer was asked to comment upon the threat to a given technology employed around the world. He’d never done so; nor did he realize that what he knew of a weapon system in the abstract could vary greatly if that same system was deployed in the dark of winter far away. 

What all this suggests is that a manager, seeking a proper threat assessment, must be sure his analyst is trained on the region and subject, the better to provide a useful product. 

Certified intel

Certifications for more narrowly concentrated training are now available for much less money than before. 

Previously, analysts had to travel to central locations for most training. Now, however, they can learn online through the auspices of the Center for the Development of Security Excellence. 

This government online project was created, among other reasons, to provide virtual certifications and training. As they say, “Virtual offerings are one of the many reasons CDSE is a pioneer in security education. Our learning management system, the Security Training, Education, and Professionalization Portal (STEPP), allows students to learn without the restrictions of previous models.” 

They offer endless options for a manager to help his analysts become better at what they do and expand their horizons to be wiser in their analysis. We find, to name but one instance, a case study of a Korean-heritage private contractor who stole his company’s trade secrets on behalf of the People’s Republic of China. The case study reviews what he did, how he did so, and the indicators of his malfeasance. Whereas previously government training facilities were proud of training 3,000 students a year, now the number of completed courses online is over 4.8 million in 2023 alone. 

Take advantage of such courses. The cleared program you save may be your own. 

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.