By Erik Kleinsmith, Staff, Intelligence Studies, American Military University
Why is the late Muhammad Ali considered by many to be the greatest boxer of all time? Simple: He told us he was. If only it were that easy for the rest of us.
Ali was a great boxer, but what about a baseball or football player? Is there a measurable difference between a good and great player? How about an actor, author, doctor, teacher or stockbroker? What’s the measure of greatness in a career or profession? In almost every walk of life, there are many achievements and measures that help define greatness in an individual. Some are quantitative and many more are simply subjective.
For those looking to recruit or hire intelligence personnel, finding ways to discriminate between candidates’ varying qualifications is a never-ending challenge. It’s extremely difficult to determine and define which analysts are good, great or exceptional.
You can scrub thousands of resumes in an effort to find a match for a particular position and find several that meet the minimum qualifications. However, you will never have a guarantee that the person with the best resume will be the best performer or the best fit for the job. All recruiters have said at one point, “Hey, they looked great on paper.”
How to Identify Great Intelligence Professionals
Besides the sheer diversity in the type of work of intelligence jobs, the main reason it’s so hard to rate intel personnel is because the primary purpose of the job is to support someone else; that is, to support a customer, a decision maker, an operational planner, an investigator or even another analyst. An analyst’s success is largely based on the customer’s success. Whether customers are targeting enemy combatants, assisting in building a case for the prosecution, identifying bad people trying to enter the country or determining who is attacking a network, intelligence professionals provide support for customers to successfully do all these things.
Off the top, there are some obvious things that hiring managers and recruiters look for in candidates. Besides actual experience in a similar job, they also look for completion of academic degree programs and, most recently, professional certifications. Candidates who have a degree or certification in an intelligence-related subject show they have achieved a certain level of knowledge and applied skills, albeit dependent on the area of study.
Growth of Intelligence Certifications
While intelligence studies degree programs have been offered by American Military University and a handful of other universities for decades, intelligence certifications are relatively new compared to other professions like information technology and the medical field. These intelligence certifications are offered by the federal government as well as certain professional organizations. For example, two professional organizations that offer intelligence certifications are the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA) and the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF). Both organizations are dedicated to advancing the standards of law enforcement and geospatial professionalism.
Agencies are working to develop more certifications, but, like any endeavor that involves a paradigm shift within the intelligence community, it is a slow and deliberate process.
Certifications in Development
The most recent certification development is managed by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Training & Education Board (DITEB). The DITEB has existed for several years within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)) and has just recently started to create a series of accredited certifications and standards for intelligence professionals within the DoD.
Under the DITEB leadership, each of the various DoD intelligence schoolhouses are responsible for the development of certification standards and testing within their respective intel disciplines. There has been a growing emphasis on intelligence certifications that demonstrate analysts’ understanding of some fairly foundational topics and have been designed in multiple levels. For example, the Level I certification standards for All-Source analysts developed by a program office within the Defense Intelligence Agency tests an analyst’s knowledge of the joint intelligence process, creative and critical thinking, structured analytic techniques, and analytic communications (how to present and write in intel-speak).
Such initial levels of certification primarily show that an analyst has the aptitude to start in an entry-level position in intelligence. As an analyst seeks higher levels of certification (at this point, the concept is for four levels), they will prepare for a board of review that will investigate their level of knowledge in context with their relevant experience and presentation abilities.
How Certifications Will Change the Intel Job Market
While there are several sets of knowledge and experience standards in intelligence, we must acknowledge that the DITEB certs, as part of the DoD, will become the defining standards. As these intelligence certifications are released by the DoD, they will take hold within the intel community allowing other agencies to avoid reinventing the wheel.
Further, these standards will make their way into the commercial intel market, through both defense contractors who will need their people certified for specific contracts as well as in academia where these programs will undoubtedly be integrated into training and education programs.
[Related: Intelligence Work Expands Beyond the Core Intelligence Community (and so should your job search)]
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the consequences of the recent DoD Regulation 8570, now superceded by DoD Reg. 8140. These regulations detail requirements for IT personnel to hold positions as network engineers, system security managers and other IT-related positions; even ethical hackers. These certifications, some of which are simply known as CISSP, CNDSP, CEH and Security+, have taken root within both government and commercial sectors, completely changing the qualifications that hiring managers look for to fill IT positions. Intel certifications also originating from within the U.S. DoD are expected to have the same effect as these IT certifications.
As of today, there are no requirements to be certified in order to be hired or stay in any specific intel position. But make no mistake, certifications are coming and will affect almost everyone in intelligence. As these certifications are accredited and accepted within U.S. DoD intelligence agencies, they will be seen as a discriminator among job applicants. As certifications become more widely accepted and assigned to contractor positions within the federal government, they will become disqualifiers for job applicants. Those seeking jobs as well as those currently working in intelligence positions should consider completing the DITEB and similar professional certifications as they become available.
About the Author: Erik Kleinsmith is the Associate Vice President for Strategic Relationships in Intelligence, National & Homeland Security, and Cyber for American Military University. He is a former Army Intelligence Officer and the former portfolio manager for Intelligence & Security Training at Lockheed Martin. Erik is one of the subjects of a book entitled The Watchers by Shane Harris, which covered his work on a program called Able Danger tracking Al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. He currently resides in Virginia with his wife and two children.
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