Q&A with Jason Collins, MS, National Spokesperson for the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association
CriminalJusticePrograms.com recently spoke with Jason Collins, the national spokesperson for the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association (FBIIAA). The FBIIAA is a private, non-profit professional association for FBI analysts, which is not part of the FBI or acting on the FBI’s behalf.
Below he shares his thoughts on how someone can get started in the FBI intelligence field and what he or she can expect once a part of the Bureau.
Q: How did you get started in the FBI intelligence field?
A: I have a bachelor’s in political science and history…and a master’s in criminal justice and intelligence. I worked in law enforcement as a volunteer, but I had a very wide ranging education with political science and history. That is why I went the analyst route instead of law enforcement. I had other educational experiences that I wanted to utilize.
Q: What kind of training, in general, is needed to work in FBI Intelligence?
A: The FBI is always looking for analysts with varied backgrounds. Social sciences are always good: history, political science and social studies. But, the FBI also looks for people with hard sciences, business degrees, etc. The FBI is the largest investigative agency for the Department of Justice; it has a lot of different programs that it is responsible for. We have FBIIAA members that are working criminal justice, financial fraud, political corruption, etc. We have scientists with PhDs in hard sciences who work with weapons of mass destruction. The FBI can be an option for more people than some other intel agencies.
Once on board, the FBI is very generous in its support of education and building skills-funding is available for advanced education for analysts. The FBI funded Ph.D. level coursework for me in biodefense, for example. If you can find academic or professional training that is applicable to your specialization, you can get support toward that training.
Q: How can someone stand out during the interview process?
A: The analysts in the Bureau are a very educated group. Last time we checked, 60 percent had an advanced degree. Now, we require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Having an advanced education or having experience in the field is going to make you stand out. The Bureau hires people both at the entry level and at the experienced level. If you’ve had directly related experience to the intelligence world-law enforcement experience in which you’ve done intelligence work or intelligence education-highlight that. In general, we’re always looking for people with some exposure to the government because the government has kind of a steep learning curve. You have to learn how the government does business. It’s a little easier to get someone up to speed on how the FBI does business, if they’ve already operated within the federal government.
Q: Is there anything that would disqualify someone from working in FBI intelligence?
A: You have to be a US citizen to work in the Bureau. Also, we look very closely at the individual’s background. There is a limit to the amount of times you could have experimented with certain drugs. If someone is starting out and they’ve experimented with drugs, they need to stop now. There are certainly things in your background that can hurt your chances of being employed by the FBI. Felony convictions are definitely going to provide a challenge. The FBI jobs website (http://www.fbijobs.gov/) lists the drug use rules and explains the security background process-people are interviewed; they have to go through a polygraph. We are always looking for people with international travel and regional expertise, but if you’ve traveled a lot that might slow down your security check.
Q: Are there any specific traits that work well in this career?
A: In the Bureau, because it’s part of law enforcement culture, people who are extroverts or extrovert/introvert mixes do very well. All intelligence agencies, though, are looking for people who are intellectually curious, interested in current events, and well-traveled. We’re a domestically based agency, but we have international duties as well. The general things you need to do well to be an analyst are: read, write and speak well.
Q: What should someone expect as he/she starts an FBI analyst career?
A: In the very first month, people can expect to be reading a lot depending on the roles they will fill. In the FBI, we have analysts who work tactically and support investigations and we have strategic analysts who watch multiple investigations over a region or a functional assignment like weapons of mass destruction. If you’re new to the FBI, you’re going to be learning about the FBI. You’re going to go to a mandatory training assignment, which is about 11 weeks. You’re going to get introduced to what the intelligence community does, how the different agencies work together, how we protect our information and how to write.
Q: Are there any particular challenges in the field that students should be aware of?
A: It can tend to be kind of an introverted career. You’re going to be doing a lot of reading and a lot of writing that is punctuated by short bursts of excitement. It’s not the James Bond type of career that people might think of. You get to meet some very important people, but that is a reward of building up expertise. It may be a very slow pace. You need to have an interest in supporting an investigation; you won’t necessarily be doing the investigation. It can be confusing for people who think they are going to be doing the exact same work as an FBI agent. Expectations of the job are very important.
Q: How has the FBI analyst position changed in the last few years?
A: There are more of us now. When I started in 2002, there were 800 people; now there are almost 3000 people. With more resources there are more responsibilities and more expectations. We’re doing a lot more work for the Bureau now and there’s a greater variety to the work. We’ve been trying to make it more of a career path-more professionalization and more standardization of training. Since 9/11, there have been a lot more opportunities for analysts.
Q: How does the analyst position fit into overall law enforcement?
A: Analysts in the FBI have the opportunity to interact with their law enforcement partners. You’re going to work with many local police departments, international agencies, and national investigative agencies. The analyst in the field or in headquarters has a lot of opportunities to do both the intelligence and the law enforcement mission. I had opportunities to work the national security mission with terrorism, counterintelligence, weapons of mass destruction and cyber missions, but I’ve also worked the criminal side of the FBI.
Q: Any other recommendations for students hoping to enter FBI intelligence?
A: What we’re really paying for is for you to think. We’re asking people to take information from multiple sources and make sense of what is going on. We want analysts who look at something and can see the multiple actions people might take. We always have to account for what’s most likely to happen, but we’re also looking for people, who can say ‘this might also be a possibility and this is why.’
*Please note that the interview above is with the national spokesperson for the FBIIAA, a private, non-profit professional association for FBI analysts, which is not part of the FBI or acting on the FBI’s behalf.