The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the federal agency responsible for providing intelligence to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and other government officials who are tasked with developing and carrying out U.S. national security policies.
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The CIA provides the intelligence that is used by policymakers when creating or amending national policies by: (1) providing accurate and timely intelligence regarding foreign threats to national security; and (2) conducting counterintelligence related to foreign intelligence and national security under the direction of the President.
Careers with the Central Intelligence Agency
CIA agents are not law enforcement officials, but rather investigative professionals. However, the CIA works with other federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, on a number of issues, such as counterintelligence. CIA agents follow an Intelligence Cycle, which ensures that the actions and measures taken are supported by a system of checks and balances overseen by the U.S. Congress.
The Intelligence Cycle consists of the following, five components:
- Planning and Direction
- Analysis and Production
CIA jobs are found within the agency’s four teams (directorates), all of which specialize in a specific area of expertise. CIA teams include:
- National Clandestine Service (NCS)
- Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T)
- Directorate of Intelligence (DI)
- Directorate of Support (DS)
The NCS and the DS&T are responsible for the collection of intelligence. The DI analyzes the intelligence and produces reports that are given to policymakers, while the DS is tasked with overseeing the entire process to ensure that all operations run smoothly.
CIA agents are highly trained and skilled investigative professionals who often possess expertise in certain areas. As such, these federal agents may be scientists, engineers, computer experts, accountants, economists, and language specialists, just to name a few.
How to Become a CIA Agent: CIA Job and Training Requirements
Although CIA agents are often skilled professionals with honed talents, most CIA agents begin their careers as entry-level core collectors. Those interested in learning how to become a CIA agent by entering the agency as a core collector, may follow one of two paths:
CIA Professional Trainee (PT) Program – The CIA Professional Trainee Program is a competitive program that accepts only those individuals with bachelor or graduate degrees. Although PT candidates have little to no work experience in the field of federal investigation, they do have a history of academic excellence, and their formal college program and background often displays an interest in international affairs.
Clandestine Service (CST) Program – The Clandestine Service Program also requires a bachelor or graduate degree, although individuals within this program also have a number of years of military or business experience. CST candidates must also have a clear history of academic excellence with an interest in international affairs.
Desirable college programs for both the PT and CST programs include:
- Biological engineering
- International business
- Chemical engineering
- Nuclear engineering
- International relations
- Physical science
The application and employment process for new CIA agents is complex and highly selective, with only the most qualified candidates given consideration. The employment process includes, at a minimum, a medical examination, a number of personal interviews, a psychological assessment, and a thorough background investigation, which includes a polygraph examination.
Upon being hired, new hires must complete an 18-month CIA training program. Individuals who have successfully satisfied all of the components of the training program are then assigned as either Operations Officers or Collection Management Officers.
Advanced and specialized CIA training is conducted at one or more of the agency’s learning institutions:
- CIA Academy: The CIA Academy provides CIA-specific coursework through traditional classroom learning, online course, podcasts, professional workshops, and professional conferences.
- Kent School for Intelligence Analysis: Located within the CIA Academy, the Kent School for Intelligence Analysis provides CIA agent with specialized training in intelligence analysis.
- Career Analyst Program: Part of the Kent School the Career Analyst Program is designed for new employees. Coursework is focused on briefing, writing, and basic thinking skills, including denial and deception analysis and counterintelligence, among others.
- Center for Leadership Development: The Center for Leadership Development is focused primarily on the development of leadership and management skills. Programs within the Center for Leadership Development include leadership coaching, a senior schools program, experiential learning programs, leadership development tools, and corporate assignments.
Outside training for CIA agents is commonplace, with CIA professionals often studying at Washington D.C.-based universities and at the nation’s highly competitive military service programs, including the Naval War College, the Army War College, and the National War College.
CIA Agent Salary Expectations
CIA agent salaries are largely dependent upon a candidate’s background, including education and experience.
Special agent/investigators with the CIA, who must have a bachelor’s degree and at least 3 years of investigative experience, earn between $75,000 and $136,000. These CIA professionals must have extensive knowledge of investigative techniques and procedures, and they must be able to analyze large amounts of data.
CIA protective agents are called upon to provide support to protective operations, and also frequently oversee training and operational assignments. The salary range for CIA protective agents is between $50,000 and $95,000. The preferred education for this position is a bachelor’s degree, and the preferred experience is at least 7 years of experience in security, law enforcement, or the military.
CIA Security Professionals, who work as part of the agency’s national security intelligence, are part of a worldwide program that is designed to protect CIA personnel and the activities and programs in which they are involved. These services of these CIA professionals include physical and technical security, program security, cyber security, and personnel security, among others. The salary range for CIA security professionals is between $46,750 and $74,000. CIA security professional must possess a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of at least 3.0. Preferred areas of study include: criminal justice, economics, computer science, journalism, systems analysis, and sociology, among others.