Students pursuing a degree in intelligence studies often envision a career as an intelligence analyst for the CIA or another organization in the Intelligence Community (IC). Many students don’t realize the vast opportunities for intelligence professionals in the private sector. In this episode, AMU Intelligence Studies professor Dr. Beth shares her experience working in competitive intelligence as part of the intelligence unit of a large corporation. Learn the most important skillsets for intelligence professionals, including research, language, communication, and critical thinking skills. Also hear advice on finding a job, the importance of ongoing networking, and tips on communicating transferable skills into business language, especially for those with military experience.
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Leischen Kranick: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Leischen Kranick. Today we’re going to learn more about the intelligence field and what opportunities exist for those interested in pursuing a career as an intelligence analyst. We’re going to focus largely on learning about opportunities in private sector intelligence, which requires analysts to assess threats and risks to private corporations and businesses, and as a value added function for the business.
Today I’m joined by AMU faculty member, Dr. Beth. She teaches both Intelligence Studies and Homeland Security courses at American Military University. She’s also worked in private sector intelligence. As an analyst, she authored or co-authored, hundreds of reports on various aspects of information technology and delivered conference presentations globally. Dr. Beth’s research interests include terrorism and counterterrorism and politicization of intelligence. Welcome to the podcast, Beth.
Dr. Beth: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Leischen Kranick: Absolutely. It’s great to have you. So I’d like to start our conversation today by just distinguishing between public sector and private sector intelligence. So when most people hear the term intelligence analyst, most people think about someone who works for the intelligence community, someone who works for the CIA, for example. But working for the government, while it’s one path in the intelligence field, I’m hoping that you can give our listeners kind of an overview of the difference between public sector and private sector intelligence.
Dr. Beth: There is a difference. I’m glad you pointed it out. Let’s break it up into public sector and private sector. And then within private sector, let’s break it up again into two more aspects. One of those aspects supports the public sector, so the IC that you talked about, the CIA, for example.
The other aspect of private sector is the business side you mentioned. And that’s the value-add that an intelligence analyst can bring to a business.
Leischen Kranick: Interesting. So can you distinguish for our listeners the difference between some of, I’m going to use the word “products” that the intelligence analyst generates, and I hope that’s the right terminology, but can you just give us a little more insight into that?
Dr. Beth: Yeah, sure. Generally, the word “products” is used in the public sector. It’s also used in the private sector that supports the public sector, but you generally aren’t going to hear that term in the business side. Rather, you’re going to hear “deliverables.”
And the word deliverable stems from the consulting industry, where you deliver something to your client. So in the business intelligence side of a business, you might be doing something like a win-loss report, or an after-action report, that might actually be the same terminology, but it’ll be an after-action report or a deliverable, not necessarily a product.
Leischen Kranick: Interesting. So are a lot of the skills or the tasks required of an intelligence analyst the same or similar, whether you’re working in the private sector supporting a business, compared to an analyst either working in or supporting the public sector? Are they using the same skillset? Or can you point to any big differences there?
Dr. Beth: I believe it’s the same skillset. You need project management skills. You need research skills. You may or may not need language skills. It depends on the company that you go work for. You need to be able to pull all of that together to come up with an unbiased assessment of whatever it is that you’re working on in terms of your project so that you can give that unbiased view to the decision maker, be it a decision maker in a private industry, or a decision maker in the intelligence community, who might be a policy maker, a Senator or House of Representatives person, for example.
Leischen Kranick: You teach students who are interested in pursuing careers, whether it’s public or private sector. Do you have either recommendations or advice for them about how to build some of those skillsets. Because to me, it seems like a fairly overwhelming task on some level to be conducting all this research, gathering all this intelligence and information, and then figuring out how to put it into something that’s very digestible for a decision maker. Do you have recommendations for students on how they can build those skills?
Dr. Beth: Well, many of our students are building those skills on the job because many of our students are already involved in a military or a public sector agency. And so they pick up those on-the-job skills depending on which agency they’re part of, or which branch of the military they’re working in.
In those environments, there’s specific products, and they’re defined a certain way. So think of it like a template. And you’re going to fill in the blanks of a template, or you’re going to use the terminology that’s required for that template to be able to deliver your message.
In the private sector, you’re going to have those same types of concepts, same templates, but maybe different terminology. For example, when somebody may be considering leaving the military, let’s say they’re a military analyst today, but they want to go into the private sector. They may have two different choices in front of them that they don’t even realize. One of which is to go work for one of these companies that’s a private sector company that supports the IC, or they may decide to go work for the business side of a company that supports the business.
And here’s an example of what I’m talking about, an intelligence profile. If I’m in the IC, the intelligence community, perhaps I’m doing an intelligence profile on a world leader. But if I’m in the business side of intelligence in a private sector business, I might be doing an intelligence profile on the CEO of a company that my company is trying to sell work to.
The whole intelligence profile, the whole process of learning about either of those two people, either the world leader or the CEO, is the same. The tools you might use will be different though because, for example, in the IC, you probably are going to have access to classified information that’s unavailable in the private sector. But that doesn’t really matter because in the private sector, if you’re trying to get information and build an intelligence profile for this particular CEO, all of that can be found in open source tools, and you really don’t need any classified information on the CEO in order to go sell a project to a CEO if you’re in the business side of the business intelligence world. Make sense?
Leischen Kranick: It does. And I’m so glad you gave that example because it helps me distinguish between what information a business is wanting to get that’s different than what a government agency might want. So I really like the example of a CEO and how they’re essentially trying to gather information that helps the business be more informed, whether it’s making a decision about starting a business in a foreign country, what are the risks involved? Or like you said, with the background of a CEO. And actually, can you talk a little bit about sort of the risk management part, the risk assessment, and how that plays into the private sector?
Dr. Beth: Yeah. So risk in the private sector is a little bit two part answer to that. There’s the risk of security. There’s also the risk to the business. So typical services or typical deliverables in the private sector intelligence might be third-party due diligence, where you are looking at maybe a compliance program to help decrease the risk of a company’s products harming one of their customers.
Maybe you’re doing pre-transactional due diligence, like you just suggested. A company may purchase another company or want to start up a business in a foreign country. There’s operational and security risks in that type of a situation. You could be providing litigation support. You could be helping with disputes and investigations, asset tracking.
Some of the companies that I worked for, well, let’s just give you an example of one. It was a 200-person intelligence function with a $300 million budget, so you can imagine all the different deliverables that we had, and all the different services that we provided to our business leaders throughout the company. And all of those services and all of those deliverables relied on the same skills that we talked about a little bit earlier, and that’s the same skillset that you need in the private sector as you do in the public sector. So we’re back to project management skills. We’re back to research skills. We’re back to language skills. All of those come together no matter which side of the business you’re on.
Leischen Kranick: I really like that breakdown the business of intelligence because as you know as a faculty member, you’re teaching a lot of students who are interested in this field. They’re pursuing a degree. But I think that there is a limitation or maybe there’s just a lack of knowledge about what it actually looks like to work in a private sector on the business side like you’re describing.
And I’m wondering just to help illustrate it even more for our listeners. Is it possible for you to just even tell us what a typical day or project might look like for you when you worked in that private sector business?
Dr. Beth: I did a couple of different things, so I’ll give you three. Let’s start with something called competitive intelligence, and I’ll refer back to that CEO. Say my company decided it wanted to sell a couple hundred million dollar project in consulting to another company. Well, that sales team would have to put together a proposal. And they’re going to have to sell that proposal and all the services that we would provide to solve whatever this business’s problem is.
In order for me to have a really great proposal, one of the aspects is to know who it is I’m selling to. So I mentioned intelligence profiles and I mentioned the CEO. But these days, the CEO doesn’t just make the decision. The CEO, he or she, farms it out to a team of people that includes the CFO, perhaps the VP of customer service, perhaps the VP of sales, perhaps the legal department gets involved.
So in order for me to sell this multimillion dollar project, and I’m in competition with other companies, I do intelligence profiles on each of those different positions, the person in that position, so that I can get to know them, so that I can make a personal connection with them as we go through the sales process. So that’s one example of using competitive intelligence in a business that’s akin to the same competitive intelligence that I’m going to use when I’m talking to a world leader.
Then let’s say I won that service, that multimillion dollar contract. I beat out competitor B and C. So maybe my company, my CEO wants to know, how did I win that over company B and C? Because typically, we’ve lost before.
So I might do something called a win-loss report, where I would then go study the reasons why we won over companies B and C. And I would be interviewing people. Let’s pretend it was a project that was a global project. I could be interviewing people that don’t speak English and need a third-party translator. That’s why language skills might come into play.
So that’s an example of another deliverable that I might be working on in a day. It’s also known sometimes as an after-action report. Those are I guess two examples that I spent much of my day on when I was in the business side of a private company doing intelligence work. That’s not all I did, but those are two concrete examples that I think play well and translate well, so that if you don’t understand the business side of intelligence, now you have something to compare it with.
Leischen Kranick: Those were really great examples, and it really helped me understand some of the activities and responsibilities that folks who work as analysts in businesses have. I’m wondering too, you mentioned earlier how important open-source intelligence is, especially on the business side. You mentioned the possibility that you wouldn’t have access, or I guess you wouldn’t have access to classified information.
But can you talk a little bit about both the importance of open-source information and then maybe a little bit about the strategy of research? Because I imagine just as the internet has exploded and the access to open source has just become increasingly massive with all the data, that seems like a really big task in many ways. But can you just break down for our listeners what it’s like to use open-source information, what the research process is like?
Dr. Beth: Thanks for that question. A lot of people focus on classified information and open-source information. And there’s big debates about that. There’s actually a whole lot of academic research that you can read about it. But for now, let’s set all that aside and let me just give you a couple of practical examples.
I’d like to quote General Anthony Zinni. He’s a US Marine Corps retired General. And he’s on record as having said that the secret sources that he had access to provided, at best, about 4% of his command knowledge. He went on to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, that he used the 80/20 rule. And that just about anything he needed, he was really able to get. And ultimately, he boiled all of this down to classified information really only gave him a minuscule amount of his command knowledge to undertake his strategic, operational, and tactical command.
The other thing that’s interesting in this ongoing academic debate is Allen Dulles, the former CIA, actually, he was the first civilian Director of the CIA, and its longest serving director. When Congress was initially debating setting up the CIA, there’s an old document that I have, where I essentially discovered that Dulles believed exactly what Anthony Zinni believed. That most of the knowledge did not need to be classified.
So when you ask about classified knowledge versus open source, I work primarily with open source. And there’s pretty much everything out there, one way or another, and I’m not talking about any nefarious way to access data. People don’t realize how much data is out there on a person, on a place, and on a thing, until they actually start looking at it.
And some of the data that’s available is collected not just by Googling, but there are companies that collect various different types of publicly available data and make it available in databases that if your company subscribes to, you have access to all sorts of records that you didn’t even know were just out there for the taking. You just had to pay the subscription fee for the database.
Now the company that I work for, that I referred to earlier, they had access to those types of databases. So my daily job was looking in a lot of these proprietary databases for data that just was difficult to find on the open-source internet using a Google or some other search engine’s search. I had to actually use a proprietary database that had other ways of collecting that information. All of it above board, none of it nefarious whatsoever. And I was never not able to answer a question that came from the business.
Leischen Kranick: That’s really fascinating to learn that pretty much everything that’s important information that’s out there is accessible in an open-source format, so that’s very surprising to me. During your career as you worked for this business and you’re searching for open-source information and collecting data, was there a learning curve in terms of the research methods that you use? Do you have any insight into just what either tips or strategies that really helped you during the research efforts? I don’t know if there’s something you can point to that might be helpful for students or other analysts.
Dr. Beth: Yeah. Well, everybody thinks that they’re a great researcher until they figure out, or until someone else shows them that they don’t really even know how to use Google correctly. And the reason I say that is because what you search for and using those search terms, if you become an expert searcher, you can find almost anything. You can be a really big value-added researcher to any business that you go to.
Leischen Kranick: Did you learn that skillset on the job just through almost trial and error? Or was there something in your academic career that helped you with that?
Dr. Beth: I would say two ways, one, practice makes perfect, right? I first learned some of it in an open-source class that I took when I was in school, and that’s where I learned to be an expert Google searcher. How many people are aware of Google’s advanced functions? Most people really aren’t.
But once you start taking advantage of all of that, instead of returning hundreds of thousands or millions of results that mostly come up with ads, you can really strip away those hundreds of thousands or millions of results into a set that becomes manageable, specific to whatever it is that you searched for.
Here’s just a really simple example. Say you’re looking to find some information about a domestic terrorist group, or a domestic extremist group. You don’t want just anything that’s out there. Let’s say you want only sources that are peer-reviewed and scholarly.
So did you know that if you put the name of a group into a Google search bar, and then put site, SITE: EDU, that search is going to be limited only to domains ending in E-D-U, so those are academic domains. You can do the same thing with any search and put dot E-D-U, or dot G-O-V. Or if you’re looking for organizations, dot O-R-G, something as simple as that.
Leischen Kranick: Those are some great tips and great example. So Beth, I wanted to talk a little bit more about skillsets that are really important for intelligence analysts to develop. And I’m thinking about communication skills. Can you just talk a little bit about the importance of communication in this field?
Dr. Beth: The importance of communication isn’t just this field. The importance of communication is every field. In fact, there are studies upon studies that show that businesses, be they private or public, one of the top skills is not core content. Rather, it’s communication. Can the person read, write, speak, source, cite correctly? But the strength of your communication skills will sometimes make you the choice to get a job over somebody that doesn’t communicate correctly.
Leischen Kranick: Interesting. I think that’s great to put it in kind of a bigger context too because it’s something we probably want all our students to know for any career or any job that they’re looking for, how important communication is. And I’m assuming similar thought for critical thinking. Do you have any advice for those in intelligence about how to either improve or kind of hone your critical thinking skills, or if there’s any particular way of enhancing critical thinking?
Dr. Beth: Yeah, I’ll give you a good example. Well, first of all, let’s just back up for a second. Being able to appraise and apply security and national policy and ethical and reform and all these different aspects of a problem, being able to apply all of that to critical thinking is paramount. So what is critical thinking?
Critical thinking means you do research and you get multiple perspectives, and you understand what the bias is in each of those perspectives. And then you use your own brain to come up with a way to explain to a policy maker, or maybe the CEO that I referred to before, why he or she may want to take a particular course of action. And the only way that you can explain that is if you’ve critically assessed, from multiple perspectives, to be able to anticipate the questions that policy maker or decision maker is going to ask.
It’s not about quoting from everything that you read because if it was about quoting everything that you read, they wouldn’t need to ask you. Would they? They could have their aide just go get it, read it to them, and they’d be done.
Leischen Kranick: I really like how you talked about the importance of anticipation too. It’s think from multiple perspectives, anticipate what people are going to ask you. And then that’s a great way to prepare, I would think, what information is most important and relevant to that audience.
So I want to turn our conversation a little bit to focus on the career aspect. Obviously, you’ve done an excellent job giving us, sort of painting a picture for us about what it’s like working in this field. But I want to talk about getting into the field. So as you’re aware, American Military University has a lot of military students, either active duty or veteran. Could you talk a little bit about that transition from the military for those who are interested in going into the private sector side? Do you have some advice for them?
Dr. Beth: It’s a transition. You have to realize that the language and the wording and the description of the skills that you bring to the job as a military person are going to be very different than the language and the wording that you bring to the private sector. So you can’t just say, “I wrote after-action reports,” for example. I know I used that as an example, but the company I worked for stemmed from military people who understood those words, and they taught the business the word after-action. So they had some meaning in the business world. But if I had gone to a different intelligence organization in a different company, I’ll bet you if I used the word after action, people would’ve rolled their eyes.
So you have to consider the language of where you’re heading, not the language of where you came from. And the best way I’ve found to do that, to get a job in this field, is to look at job postings. See the language that’s used in the job posting, and use your resume as your canvas to paint the picture that you know how to do all of these things in the private sector using the private sector language. So you have to transform the military language to the business language. The skills are transferrable, you just have to be able to explain them.
Leischen Kranick: I think that is such an important point, how you really need to put in the work to make sure that someone who is in HR in the business world understands what you did in the military and how that can translate, and the benefit, all the amazing skills that our veterans and military servicemembers can bring to the business world. But it’s largely just a matter of, like you said, that language transition, so very important for really all fields.
Anything else, any other advice or recommendations for those leaving the military?
Dr. Beth: Couple of things, there are two organizations out there that you should check into. One is the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, known as the AFIO. You can Google that, and you’ll find they have a wonderful website. And you can start to network and make connections through that website and by joining that organization.
On the business side of competitive intelligence, there’s an organization called the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals, or it’s fondly referred to ask SCIP. It’s headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. And you can join that organization. And through those two, you can network around. You can develop a mentor-type relationship with somebody. Go to their meetings.
But here’s the biggest tip I have for anyone looking for a job. When you ask for a job, you’re going to get advice. But when you ask for advice about getting a job, chances are you’ll find a job.
Leischen Kranick: That’s really interesting. Can you talk a little more about that? Because I’m intrigued.
Dr. Beth: I just found that as I learned how to network. I told someone I was looking for a job, you can’t directly say, “Do you have one?” But you have to develop a relationship with them. You have to ask them for their advice about how you should go about looking for a job. Keep in touch with them.
And then as they’re talking around and networking with their friends and work colleagues, one day somebody’s going to say, “I’m really looking for a person that has X, Y, and Z skill. And we’ve really been having a hard time finding that person.” And that’s all it’s going to take, is that one conversation that you had, or those two conversations that you had with someone. You’re going to pop into their mind. They’re going to send you off an email or text you. Guess what? They’ll make that link, and perhaps you’ll be that person that got the job because you had a referral from someone that somebody else trusted, and it miraculously turned into a job.
Leischen Kranick: That’s such a great way to look at networking and just it really is about talking to people who work in that field. And like you mentioned, it’s really just getting some inside information, like we just learned, I just learned a lot from you about your experience in this career field. I have a much better sense of what your responsibilities and job tasks were like, so that’s just great to put out more feelers and get some insight, so you really know what you’re walking into, too. And the more information, the better.
Dr. Beth: One thing about networking that I’d like to have all of our listeners understand, the time to start networking is now. When you have a job, it’s easier to talk about where you want to go in the future with your networking contacts.
But when you’ve just been laid off, or you’re going to process out of the military, that’s not the time to start from zero developing your network. You’ve got to develop your network before you need it. And it’s more than just using social media sites and hooking up with 500 people on LinkedIn, or 8,000 Twitter whatevers.
It’s not just about that social media, those numbers. It’s about true relationships with people that ultimately you build over time and keep those relationships going so that you can feel free to call them up when you are in a bind and ask for advice. And if the advice is about how do I get a job, ask for advice about how to get a job. They can figure out that you’re looking for a job.
Leischen Kranick: That’s really excellent. It’s inspirational and it’s a great reminder that you kind of always should be networking and always reaching out to people because if you just go to them when you need something, I feel like people are less likely, or they’re more skeptical of helping. But if you just keep in touch with them on a regular basis, and then when something does come up, they’re more likely to really help you when you really need it, so great advice, Beth. I like it.
Dr. Beth: Thank you.
Leischen Kranick: So as we kind of wrap things up here, I wanted to just check in and see if there was anything else that you wanted to share with our listeners, anything we didn’t talk about that you wanted to leave us with.
Dr. Beth: Yeah. I guess just one thing. In the traditional private sector intelligence community side of intelligence, we talk about knowing our enemy, that old Sun Tzu quote. Well, just as the public sector wants to know the enemy from a national security intelligence perspective, so too does the private sector want to know their enemy, which is all their competitors. So keep that in mind because the skillsets really are transferrable. You just have to go back to that language and wording to make it make sense for one or the other.
Leischen Kranick: Well, excellent. That’s a great way to end. So thank you, Dr. Beth, so much for joining me today. I really appreciate all your insights.
Dr. Beth: Thank you. It was a pleasure being here. And if you have any other questions, feel free, reach out. I’m happy to help.
Leischen Kranick: Thank you. And to our listeners, thank you for joining us today. Be well and stay safe.