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Counter-Terrorism: Career and Salary Information

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In a post-9/11 environment where terrorist attacks globally are on the rise, the outlook for counter-terrorism careers has skyrocketed. Careers in counter-terrorism (also spelled “counterterrorism”) cover a wide range of agencies, occupations, and skill sets.

When many people think of counter-terrorism, they immediately think of federal government careers. Federal agencies are often charged with the task of preventing terrorist activities, gathering evidence relating to these activities, and apprehending and prosecuting individuals who are planning or engaged in acts of terrorism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are the most highly visible government entities involved in counter-terrorism; however, various other agencies are involved in the fight to keep US citizens and interests secure.

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Counter-Terrorism Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

While every job within the broader field of counterterrorism is distinct, people in counter-terrorism positions may analyze the intentions and motivations of groups that may be linked to acts of terrorism in order to predict threats and essentially prevent attacks from being carried out by these groups. Ultimately, the counter-terrorism professional aims to disrupt and disband terrorist groups’ networks in order to defeat them. Counter-terrorism professionals may study the activities of known terrorist groups, research the activities of suspected terrorist groups, and report their findings to intelligence agencies, government officials, law enforcement agencies, and US policymakers.

Steps for Becoming a Counter-terrorism Agent

While each counterterrorism position will be different, you can expect steps similar to the following in order to be hired. The following are the steps needed to become a counterterrorism agent with the Central Intelligence Agency. In addition to being a US citizen, applicants must:

  1. Attend a degree program and/or obtain the experience needed to become a counterterrorism agent.*
  2. Apply for an open counter-terrorism position and submit a resume, cover letter, transcripts, and writing samples.
  3. Undergo a medical examination.
  4. Undergo a psychological examination.
  5. Take and pass a polygraph interview.
  6. Agree to an extensive background investigation.
  7. Take and pass a drug test.
  8. Be interviewed.
  9. Be hired as a CIA counterterrorism agent.
  10. Receive on-the-job training once hired.

*According to the CIA’s website, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related field, like International Affairs or National Security Studies, is needed to become a counter-terrorism agent. Prior experience in a related field may command a higher salary.

Counter-Terrorism Requirements

Education requirements for careers in counter-terrorism vary depending on the agency and the standard of expertise in that particular field. For example, a forensic accountant will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting. A law enforcement officer, however, may only carry a minimum requirement of a high school diploma or an associate’s degree. Counterterrorism analysts employed by the CIA will need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in international affairs, national security studies, or a related field and should have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Counter-terrorism professionals should be knowledgeable about current events. They should be good communicators, as they may have to brief military and government officials and/or intelligence agencies on anti-terrorism efforts. Counterterrorism analysts should be critical thinkers and excellent problem-solvers so that they can provide analytic support to colleagues. They should be long-term learners, willing to study, receive training, and network to continually improve themselves and their position. Since counter-terrorism can be a high-stress field, professionals entering it should work well under pressure and be able to function well under strict deadlines. Previous experience traveling or working abroad, as well as proficiency in a foreign language, is a plus.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

Professionals who may be involved in the counter-terrorism field include:

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Counter-Terrorism Salary and Job Outlook

As the US continues to fight the war on terrorism, the career outlook in this field continues to be favorable. The average salary varies depending on the particular job description and geographic location of the job. You can find salary information on individual job postings of counter-terrorism jobs on USAJobs.gov. CIA counterterrorism analysts may earn between $54,308 to $80,505 per year, or more with previous experience, plus benefits.1

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kind of counter-terrorism jobs are available?

    Counter-terrorism jobs include a wide variety of positions, including CIA jobs, FBI jobs, and other government positions. Counterterrorism also covers positions such as TSA screeners, law enforcement officers, and forensic accountants.

  • Do I need a degree to enter a career in counterterrorism?

    It depends on the job. Many government jobs, including counter-terrorism analysts, must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Other jobs, such as law enforcement officers, may only need a high school diploma or an associate’s degree to be hired. Check with the job requirements for a particular position to find out more details.

  • What kind of schedule do counter-terrorism specialists typically work?

    The schedule depends largely on the job, but in general, counterterrorism professionals should expect to work long, even irregular hours, based on the demands of their job.

Additional Resources

1. Central Intelligence Agency, Careers & Internships, Counterterrorism Analyst: https://www.cia.gov/careers/opportunities/analytical/counterterrorism-analyst.html

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