The growing link between intelligence communities and academia

His book forms part of the Security and Professional Intelligence Education Series, another resource developed for the emerging IC after September 11. This is a range of books focusing on intelligence, foreign policy, national security and business intelligence.

Some universities have already recognized the role and value of intelligence. There are a number of new bachelors and master’s degrees, particularly in the United States, which focus on the areas of intelligence and national security.

Graduating into intelligence agencies
The goal of these new university degrees is to help create the next generation of professionals for the IC. One of the pluses of this arrangement is that universities have four years to develop skills like critical thinking and report writing. Intelligence organizations have only a limited amount of time to teach these abilities.

Here are five skills or characteristics that students who want to work in intelligence communities can develop at university.

  1. A global focus: students need to start understanding how the world works. Many universities offer basic global politics courses, but regional focus minors, say in African geopolitics or the working of South East Asia, are helpful too. Students considering a career in intelligence should also try to study overseas to broaden their horizons.
  2. An inquisitive nature: thinking critically is arguably the most important skill one can develop in universities. Universities need to train problem-solvers who understand analytic methodologies and strategic concepts – and who can apply that knowledge. My conversations with staff from organizations like the NSA show they want young, creative thinkers who can think out of the box to identify gaps or problems. They don’t want “yes” men and women.
  3. Technological savvy: a minor in technology is recommended in this era of internet saturation and “big data.”
  4. A sense of immediacy: when I say current affairs, I mean seriously current. Universities must be quick to adapt to changing concepts and threats – like offering courses in cybersecurity or the IS.
  5. Communication skills: intelligence agents must be able to communicate effectively in writing, in a boardroom or in an elevator when they have just seconds with a director or policymaker.

Multilingualism is a huge bonus, too.

Research is another area where academia can contribute to the IC. It can be used to fill in gaps. There is also a major role for university students in open source intelligence — information that is already publicly available but needs to be gathered and analyzed.

Students are often the same age as those who are joining extremist groups, and they are familiar with the latest social media platforms. They know what to look for and where to find it.

What does the future hold?
It’s early days for intelligence studies as a university subject or academic discipline. In many ways, it is like criminology 100 years ago. Then, criminology was trying to distinguish itself as a unique specialty within the emerging disciplines of psychology, sociology and economics. Specific societies and journals were created. Observations, experiments and theories were developed.

The number of universities offering an intelligence studies-related degree started with a handful. It has now expanded to a few dozen. Universities are starting to develop curricula that feature practical real-world exercises and structural analytical techniques. This is often happening in collaboration with the IC. Like most businesses or agencies do, universities are starting to develop specific niches.

This expansion is being led by the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE), which was formed in June 2004. Its mission is to advance research, knowledge and professional development in intelligence education. It is becoming more truly “international” as organizations like the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies and Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers come on board.

The field will only grow. It’s a necessary expansion to produce the professionals needed to ensure America’s national security and that of its allies for generations to come.

Scott Firsing Research Fellow, International Relations, Monash University. This article is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivative.