By Erik Kleinsmith, American Military University
The term intelligence community, also referred to as the IC, was first coined by Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith in 1952 as a way to explain that his responsibilities as the fourth Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) went beyond just the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
While the CIA was only a few years old itself, Smith understood that mission necessity and developments in technology would require the creation of additional organizations and agencies specific to each new area. Formally defined in Executive Order 12333 during the Reagan administration, the U.S. National Intelligence Community is currently a collection of 17 organizations and agencies including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). By definition, this is a very exclusive group.
However, intelligence practices are no longer confined to these 17 core agencies and are now practiced in almost every part of our society. Thanks to the emergence of the information age and the relatively easy access to large amounts of data, the barriers to collecting, processing, and analyzing information have been shattered. As a result, the business and practice of intelligence collection has expanded far beyond the IC and into the private sector. This growth has widened the net for professionals seeking careers in intelligence.
Who’s Practicing Intelligence Now?
Today, virtually everyone practices intelligence in some form: banks, colleges, police departments, law firms, corporations, non-profit organizations, sports teams, and even individual citizens. While most of us may not recognize it as intelligence, information technology has allowed for the collection and analysis of information about our threats, adversaries and competitors.
[Related Article: Intelligence Career Options: What Degree Should You Consider?]
To help understand what the intelligence community (of practice) looks like, I’ve created this map. It visualizes the community as a series of concentric rings that group together entities that share common characteristics for how they practice intelligence.
In this map, the national intelligence community is at the core. It is well defined and works within formal and specific regulations, requirements, and budgets. From a market and job search standpoint, this is the most difficult part of the greater IC to penetrate. It is insular and relatively exclusive of external support, save for select contractors and niche subject matter experts.
Directly outside of the core is a ring of new and low-density IC members. These organizations are either relatively young or have only recently entered into the formal business of conducting intelligence as a major function within their organization. Twenty years ago, this ring didn’t exist. In most of these organizations, intelligence is only a supporting function of their main operational mission and purpose. While each can trace their parent organizations back to a member of the national IC, most of the members of these organizations do not see themselves as part of it.
In the next ring of organizations, intelligence is primarily conducted at the state and local levels. This is a heavily law enforcement and homeland security focused ring as it includes police departments, state fusion centers, and organizations whose missions have more of a regional focus.
The outer ring includes the commercial sector and academia. Business and competitive intelligence operations are among the standard practices as companies look to understand their competitors while protecting their physical assets, products, and services. Academic programs also reside here as some colleges and universities now have intelligence programs, usually within a larger department or school.
The further you go from the core intelligence group, the more unregulated, unstructured, and unstandardized this community becomes. There are relatively scant restrictions or regulations that govern the conduct of intelligence in this area aside from privacy laws that do little to protect online presence, commerce, or actions.
It also becomes more innovative and dynamic in developing capabilities for intelligence collection and analysis. For example, almost every successful link analysis and geospatial analysis tool used within the IC was developed in the outer most ring and grew in support of a customer out there. Only after being successful were these tools incorporated within the core.
From a marketing or business development standpoint this is your map of the intelligence market space. Every organization that you need to business with lies within one of these four rings. Understanding the characteristics of each ring will help you to understand your customer better, adapting your approach to better fit their needs. This map can guide you to understanding where the money is (and where it isn’t) and where the potential opportunities are going to be.
[Related Article: How to Begin a Career in the Intelligence Community]
From a career or professional standpoint, understanding this map is critical to the individual intelligence analyst or operator. This is your map of the job market as it can help you understand which organization has openings, types of intelligence professionals they look to hire, and the types of intelligence experience you will need and practice once you are on board with them.
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 of 23 years.