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Emerging Career Opportunities in Private Sector Intelligence

Podcast featuring Leischen Kranick, Managing Editor, Edge and
Daniela Baches-Torres, Faculty Member, Intelligence Studies

Many large companies created security intelligence units after 9/11, which mostly focused on generating business and competitive intelligence. In this episode, AMU Intelligence Studies professor Daniela Baches-Torres discusses the recent emergence of private sector intelligence units that provide risk assessments and generates intelligence products related to the security of a company’s assets, operations and employees. Learn about the similarities and differences between public and private sector intelligence careers, the unique skillsets needed for the private sector, and advice on pursuing a career as a private sector intelligence analyst.

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Leischen Kranick: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host Leischen Kranick. Today we’re going to continue our conversation about career opportunities in the intelligence field, particularly investigating careers for analysts in private sector intelligence.

Today, I’m joined by Daniela Baches-Torres, who is an instructor at American Military University. She has 10 years of experience in intelligence research analysis that she gained in different roles across academia, government, and the private sector.

In addition to teaching, she also currently works as an intelligence analyst in the private sector and is also the co-editor of the first academic volume dedicated to intelligence in the private sector called the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies or JEAIS. Welcome to the podcast, Daniela.

Daniela Baches-Torres: Thank you for having me. It’s a real pleasure to have this opportunity and share my thoughts with the AMU community.

Leischen Kranick: We’re very excited to have you and pick your brain a little bit about private sector intelligence. So, I was hoping to start our conversation today by actually helping our listeners distinguish between public sector and private sector intelligence. I think a lot of times people just assume if you earn an intelligence studies degree, that you’ll go right into like the CIA, for example. But there’s a lot more opportunities out there. Can you talk a little bit about some of your career in the private sector?

Daniela Baches-Torres: Sure. Let me start by saying that I absolutely agree with you. For many people, intelligence is considered as a function of the government. Intelligence aims to protect the country’s security, including its territory population and interests. That’s how most of the people see intelligence its role and its function as part of the government’s broader security function.

But when talking about private sector, let’s think about companies that are increasingly facing security threats nowadays. Threats to their operations, to their facilities, to their personnel. And therefore we can understand or try to think about this need that they have to anticipate these threats and therefore mitigate the associated risks. What do they need in order to be successful? Well, intelligence capabilities.

And as a result, many companies specifically here in the United States began creating these security intelligence units after 9/11, and then expand their intelligence capabilities that previously have been focusing mainly on what was business and competitive intelligence.

And now in the last five years is emergence of private sector intelligence as a complementary domain or career path to the government intelligence became more visible. And you see more students and more job candidates aware of and interested in this professional opportunities.

I started my career in intelligence, professional career, working for the government. I worked for the Romanian Intelligence Community. And then I transitioned to the private sector about three years ago. And I was one of those many people who became aware of this new environment and wanted to know more, and then accessed different sources, different platforms. And so I was able to use my experience and my knowledge and try to transfer it to a new setting, to a new environment that was not that different, but it had its own features.

Leischen Kranick: Interesting. I’m glad to learn that you’ve been in both courts, so to speak. That you’ve had the experience of working for a government agency in an intelligence capability. And now you’ve sort of entered this world of what sounds like a very new and emerging private sector intelligence.

And I’m wondering if you can just talk a little bit about, what is your day or what are your responsibilities look like as someone who’s working in the private sector intelligence? I know, you can’t tell us specifics in terms of what you’re actually working on. And I also know everything that you’re talking about today is just your experience and your thoughts and opinions, and doesn’t have anything to do with your specific employer. But can you just kind of walk us through what you’re doing in terms of tasks and responsibilities?

Daniela Baches-Torres: Sure. As an intelligence analyst, just like in the government, in the private sector, one is expected to provide timely, actionable intelligence to help the customer make informed decisions in order to mitigate the security risks. Now, in essence, intelligence plays a similar function, both in the government and the private sector.

There are of course, some differences, as I mentioned earlier. In the private sector customers are business executives, are operations managers and other stakeholders responsible for the decision-making process that involves the security of the company’s assets, operations and employees. Also, unlike the public sector, the analyst is also a collector. So, as an intelligence analyst, I’m not just processing the information that has been gathered. But I’m also doing that gathering. I’m also organizing the collection process. I find, I identify sources. I try to see what’s relevant, what the gaps are. And then I work with the information that I have.

And then in many cases, the analyst is also the briefer of the decision-maker. So, it’s interesting that in this corporate environment, the relationship is much closer between the collector and the analyst, the same person, and the final customer of intelligence. And this enables the permanent communication and feedback between the two parties, which if we think about what is being written in many books and the theoretical model of the intelligence cycle, things tend to be more or less separated.

But the good thing in the private sector is that the separation tends to disappear. Of course, it depends very much on the size of the company. Depends very much on the structure of the intelligence division and many other things. But there is this closeness between the different actors and between different stakeholders.

Leischen Kranick: I want to expand a little bit on that relationship that you’re talking about. And I’m curious, we’re going to get into skillsets and what you advise those who are interested in this career field work on, but I’m curious since you had the experience working in government and then also in private sector, did you really have to consciously change your language or the way you presented information to someone who’s working in a business field, opposed to someone who has a government, possibly a military background? Was that something that was very noticeable in your career shift?

Daniela Baches-Torres: That’s an interesting question. I mean, definitely in the government, in the intelligence community, there is a certain terminology. There is a certain jargon that intelligence practitioners, intelligence analysts and managers use that is not used in the corporate world. But at the same time, once you enter this new world, the private sector, you have to adapt to the language of the business.

There is a corporate culture and there is a corporate language when it comes to security, when it comes to risks, when it comes to the needs of the company you’re working for. So, that’s where the change comes. Most of the time, the language used for different products is more or less the mainstream terminology that people learning, studying about intelligence and working in this environment are used to.

Leischen Kranick: Interesting. And I think that’s an important point to just emphasize that as an intelligence analyst, obviously your job is to collect information and analyze it. But you also have to know the best way to present it to an audience, because if don’t present it in a way that they can understand, not that it’s pointless, but it may not have the same end result that you’re hoping for. So, I would just imagine obviously communication, in general, is a very important skill for intelligence analysts. Would you agree?

Daniela Baches-Torres: Yes. It’s very important for intelligence analysts to have and continuously develop communication skills. And at the same time, there is a certain need for flexibility and being able to adapt your communication style. I mean, especially because as I said before, the analyst is also the one who usually briefs the customer or actively participates in that process. So, you have different ways that the customer wants to receive the final product in a certain way. You have people who like to read more. You have people who don’t have that much time. Although they like reading longer product assessments that provide more detail, but, unfortunately, they don’t have the time. So, you have to be able to deliver the message quickly.

You have to be able to be concise, but at the same time, make sure that everything you consider necessary that the customer has to know in order to make an informed decision, then you deliver them in half a page, in maybe less than a page or in just a few lines. You need to be able to convey that message concisely and in a timely manner.

Leischen Kranick: And I like how you talked about flexibility too, because I think it really is like a flexibility in your mindset. You may think that they should really read this three-page document that you wrote, that’s very comprehensive. But you know your customer, you’ve worked with them and you know they’re only going to read the first paragraph or whatnot. So, you have to really be mindful of that when you’re presenting that information. I think that’s a really good mindset to have. Thank you for sharing that.

Now, in terms of other kind of skillsets, I know you’re an instructor, you work with a lot of students. Can you talk a little bit about what are those skills that you really work with them on? I imagine the written word is obviously very important form of communication as well, but can you talk about some of the other skills that you really try to develop in your students?

Daniela Baches-Torres: Of course. I personally think that research, communication, and when I say communication, I think especially about being able to convey a written message in a proper way, and then critical thinking. These three skillsets are the most important and any person wanting to pursue a career in intelligence, either in the government or the private sector should aim to develop them.

I think that research, communication, good writing, critical thinking are the foundation that the rest of the skillsets will build and develop around as one starts such a career. It is also important to mention that these skills are embedded in and driven by tireless curiosity. And this is something that I always mention to my students, be curious, ask questions, never stop reading.

I tell them to use different sources to build their responses in the classroom. To write even when they have to write simple assignments, not because it is a course requirement, but because research engages and develops curiosity at the same time.

And I think that it is important for students to be aware of the infinite sea of knowledge and the many paths they can take to reach some of that knowledge. And then once they start understanding the ups and downs of research and expand their universe of knowledge, the critical thinking is stimulated and put to work.

Also, every prospective intelligence professional should aim to become a good communicator and a critical thinker. These are two attributes that will accompany an analyst, an intelligence manager, an information collector for the rest of their careers. So, regardless of what you’re going to do as an intelligence practitioner, these skillsets will be with you all the time. And at the same time, you need to be aware of the importance of developing them every day. This needs to be a priority for every intelligence professional. And this starts when students are still in college, are still studying because if they don’t create that mindset as early as possible, it’s going to be very difficult after that.

And then as I said, this foundation helps developing other necessary skills, such as analytical abilities, networking, communication, for example, is very important for networking. And this love for research will eventually force people to reach out to other experts, to other analysts, to other colleagues in order to close those gaps that they have or to reduce them.

And then I also tell the students that I’m working with and when we talk about what’s needed in order to succeed in intelligence, one must learn to be a good manager, because as an intelligence analyst, you need to manage resources, you need to manage time, you need to manage connections. And eventually you need to manage the different tasks that you receive on a daily basis.

Leischen Kranick: Excellent. Such good advice there. And I like how you tied it all together with the thread of curiosity. Really that curiosity is sort of the foundation driving all of those different skills from the research to the critical thinking, to the management. And that’s how you kind of build that skillset is by being curious about everything. That really stood out to me.

I want to talk a little more indepth about one of the skills that I know that you really enjoy and have essentially become really an expert in, and that’s the research. And I know that students maybe can get overwhelmed by the research aspect. Can you talk about your experience with conducting very indepth research and very diverse research and perhaps share some of the things that you’ve learned along the way that might help students tackle some of the research projects that they’re assigned?

Daniela Baches-Torres: I think that a good researcher is a very hungry reader. You cannot conduct research or be a successful researcher if you don’t like to read. And the more you read, the more you understand how little you know. And I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. And especially in intelligence, because whenever you receive a question or you have a question in order to understand an event that is happening, or you cannot answer a question because you don’t have all the information that you would like to see, then you start reading and then as you read, you get new questions. And then, nowadays we conduct research on our computers and then we open different pages. We use research engines, we use keywords. And then we open page after page and there are new questions. There’s new information. There’s more knowledge and so on.

And that’s what leads an analyst to conducting good research, this hunger for more information. And being a good researcher is also about being able to navigate through different domains. And that’s why, again, I tell my younger colleagues, I tell my students, try to read as much as you can. Try to read about as many things, domains, countries, events as possible.

There are also things that maybe we are not comfortable with. We were not particularly interested in, we just don’t like. But it is important to also be able to know where to look for information about that specific thing, about that domain. Because one day you might have to work with that type of information or knowledge.

Also, do your own research about things that you like. And then when you become an analyst, create your own database of sources, of people that might guide you that might tell you where to look for the answers that you need.

And then for example, many people ask me, how do you collect information? Of course, in the private sector, everything open source. And then you’ll have like sources that provides general information about things that happened in the last 24 hours. And then you have your specific interests, and then you create your own list of trusted sources that can go from media sources, social media accounts, platforms, more specialized literature. And then you have blogs, you have academic articles.

So, again, research means accessing very different sources, very different platforms. And sometimes you get to read things that you would have never thought of. And one can talk about research for days, but I think that successful research goes back to curiosity, once again, and staying curious and investing in your personal and professional development. And at the same time, reflecting upon your strengths in terms of research, and also your gaps when conducting research either as an academic, as an intelligence analyst, it is important to be aware of your gaps, not just gaps about how good I conduct research. But also gaps about the information and the knowledge that you have.

Leischen Kranick: I think it’s interesting to kind of point to that last aspect you just mentioned, which is essentially sort of being humble about what you know. I’m sure after years and years of conducting a lot of research, you know a lot about a lot of different things. But sort of having that approach where you’ll never know everything and there’s areas that you still want to learn more about. I think that’s an interesting, again, kind of a mindset to recognize that you don’t know everything. And how do you find different sources of information?

And as you were talking about those sources of information, I was fairly aware that the majority of your research would be conducted in using open-source materials. But you mentioned about using other experts. Could you talk a little bit about that aspect of research? Do you approach people that you know are experts in perhaps a certain area of the world for their insight into things? Or how do you use other people as a resource?

Daniela Baches-Torres: The good thing, or the bad thing, I’d say is that you have to specialize. As an analyst you have to be able to answer different questions to address different issues from around the world. But it is impossible to be able to cover and know so much. And not because one wouldn’t like to be so knowledgeable, but because the day has only 24 hours and out of those 24 hours, you don’t get to read and to do research continuously.

So, eventually you get to focus on a certain region or on a certain type of events, on certain trends. But then you will receive questions. You will have tasks that go outside your area of let’s say expertise, or just the area that you’re supposed to cover at a certain moment. So, you definitely need to reach out to other people who are more knowledgeable, who have more experience and more expertise.

And in the private sector, unlike the government, cooperation is in intelligence sharing and networking are much more accessible to the community of analysts. That’s because in the private sector, OSINT and the intelligence products are mainly based on open source information. So, there’s almost nothing that is confidential or couldn’t be shared with other parties.

Of course, we’re not talking about sharing assessments about how a certain threat might impact a specific company. But I’m talking about assessing a general threat and the type of risks that type of threat could be protest. That could be crime. That could be a natural hazard. The risk that all these things pose to a certain industry. And, in general, companies they share the same threats and at the same time, there is this shared duty of care for the employees.

There are a lot of round tables, analyst round tables. Some of them focus on specific threats, such as extremism. Others are focusing on regions. For example, I cover a certain region and I am a member of this analyst round table. So, I can reach out to other colleagues in the industry and then we can discuss about a certain threat. We can discuss about a certain trend that we see emerging in the coming months.

So, it is very important to get to brainstorm together, to share one’s experience and views. Because that basically creates more collective knowledge and at the same time, you have that “aha” moment where you realize that your approach is incomplete, or you don’t have all the answers. And then same thing, you can share your knowledge and then help others get more insight into similar questions as yours.

Leischen Kranick: Well, I’m so glad to hear that there’s a lot of cooperation within industry because it really is in everyone’s best interest, like you said, to share that information because you’re kind of facing the same problems and the same potential threats. So, that’s really great to hear.

So, I want to talk a little bit about how to get in to private sector intelligence. And you had mentioned that you started your career working for government agency. Do you have some thoughts for someone who’s maybe getting their degree, looking to start a career as an analyst and are interested in the private sector? Do you have advice on how to try to get their foot in the door?

Daniela Baches-Torres: Well, currently there is more and more visibility into this new field in private sector intelligence. And lately I’ve seen a lot of webinars and conferences for students specifically, so they can learn more about these professional opportunities. That’s because a lot of companies establishing this private sector intelligence units are recruiting graduate students who don’t necessarily have experience working for the government or have little or no background in intelligence.

Also, LinkedIn is a wonderful source. There are quite a few groups that were created by people working in this industry by senior intelligence analysts who posts different job opportunities, different resources. So, that’s a wonderful place for students to start their research.

And these people are also encouraging them to reach out. And that’s a piece of advice that I’ve been hearing again and again, that students and candidates, and people wanting to apply for such a job should just reach out to people in this business and ask questions, attend these webinars, attend these conferences.

And, of course, I mentioned before, there are some round tables for analysts. There are different groups. Most of them are accessible only to people already in the sector working as intelligence professionals. But, again, there will be more and more opportunities for students.

There are also some podcasts, in addition to this one. A lot of the intelligence practitioners who transitioned from the government to the private sector have their podcasts, where they discuss what private sector intelligence is, what is expected from a future analyst, how to make this transition from law enforcement to the private sector. Some of these projects are the business of intelligence, you have Conversations In Close Protection, Cop to Corporate, Chiefs of Station. All these projects are aimed to increase the visibility and also they offer tips to people who want to start a career in the private sector.

Leischen Kranick: So, one thing you mentioned in there was the importance of professional associations and organizations. And I was wondering, do you have any recommendations on associations for aspiring analysts to join, or any other organizations you’ve found really helpful in terms of networking and learning more about this industry?

Daniela Baches-Torres: The main professional organization for private sector intelligence is the Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals, also called AIRIP. This is a non-profit association created in 2015. It gathers intelligence professionals in the private sector, and it is definitely the go-to platform for networking.

Yes, it’s dedicated mainly to intelligence professionals from entry level analysts, to senior managers to exchange best practices, lessons learned, and resources. And the good thing about this is that they have monthly webinars that are available to the wider public. So, any person interested in learning more about the private sector should look into it.

There are also different companies that offer intelligence services, intelligence products that companies also use. This would be the intelligence vendors that I mentioned in an article that I wrote for AMU. They have a lot of newsletters. They have a lot of weekly products that they offer for free, people would just have to go to their website and subscribe to in order to receive them.

And I think that for a student, for example, is very important to get acquainted to this type of products, because they can understand what is required from an intelligence analyst. And then they can understand what it means to write in intelligence, what type of topics are being addressed, what are the threats, the risks that are of interest to these companies.

And at the same time, I always encourage students and people wanting to start a career in corporate intelligence to check LinkedIn and other professional platforms. And then look at the different job announcements. Now they can come under different names. You can have intelligence analysts, security risk analyst, and then so on.

And then you can see the skills that are being required, the expectations, and what are the different things that an analyst is supposed to do on a daily basis. And I think that’s very important for a student to have an idea of whether that’s what he or she wants to do. That’s what the skills that they have achieved so far are, or not matching the expectations, and whether they want to try to apply and eventually get interviewed, and get an offer if they really want to do this.

Leischen Kranick: Those are some great recommendations. And I like how basically an analyst, their curiosity, their hunger for knowledge, their research, all those skills that you talked about earlier can actually be applied to their job search, to learning more about the industry, to figuring out what language to use on your resume that best aligns with that job announcement or whatnot. So, I think that’s some really great advice. And as we start to wrap up this podcast, I’m curious, are there any other thoughts or anything that we didn’t really cover that you wanted to talk about?

Daniela Baches-Torres: Another question that I hear quite often is whether a security clearance or other government related permissions are necessary to access this world of private sector intelligence. My answer is “No.” Private sector intelligence jobs do not require a clearance or any other type of approval that would generally be requested for a role in the government.

For example, I know that here in the states being a US citizen is a main request. Same thing for those private sector companies that work closely with the government, also known as security contractors. There might be jobs for which the citizenship is a request. But otherwise, in order to work for companies that have intelligence units, the clearance is not a request. And that’s mainly because as I said before, it’s all about open source intelligence. So, there is no need for access to secret sources or to confidential sources that cannot be shared with third parties.

Leischen Kranick: Excellent. I’m so glad that you brought up whether or not security clearances are needed, because I’m sure that’s a big question for those who are pursuing careers. And one last thing I did want to ask you about, you mentioned in the very beginning that you’re one of the co-editors of a journal that’s dedicated to private sector intelligence. Can you talk a little just briefly about what inspired you to start that journal?

Daniela Baches-Torres: Well, the journal is not specifically about private sector intelligence. My husband and I, because we both started careers in private sector intelligence without having a lot of background about this field. We knew about intelligence after getting our graduate degrees and also I had the opportunity to work in the public sector intelligence environment.

So, we realized that there was very little information back then for students. And there was also a certain lack of understanding in the academic environment about this emerging private sector intelligence. So, as we started our journey in the corporate world and got to know other people, why to transition from the government, or just like us, we’re starting from scratch, we’re starting to build a career in the corporate industry. We felt this need that there is a gap just like before, there used to be a gap between academia and the intelligence community. There was this lack of understanding of private sector intelligence.

So, we reach out to some of the colleagues in the industry and we asked them if they agreed to share their thoughts, their experience in a more academic format and write an article for this special volume. And some of them agreed. And that’s how we were able to put together this special issue, which represents the first initiative of its kind. And it was very well received. And currently I know that it serves as a source for different programs in security and intelligence, and is being referenced so students can learn more about private sector intelligence.

Leischen Kranick: Excellent. Well, congrats on that. I’m sure it’s a big undertaking and it sounds like you’re really filling a gap there and helping to further the academic understanding of this field. Thank you so much, Daniela, for sharing your expertise. I learned a lot today. I really appreciate your time.

Daniela Baches-Torres: Thank you. It was my pleasure. And again, I hope this will be of use to the students and to other people who I hope will listen to the podcast episode. And if they have any questions, I will be more than happy to continue the conversation and answer these questions.

Leischen Kranick: Wonderful. Well, thank you again, and thank you to our listeners for joining us for this episode. Be well and stay safe.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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