Jason R. Collins Discusses the Role of the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association and Provides Intelligence Analyst Career Insights
Jason R. Collins is the National Spokesperson for the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association (FBI IAA) a private, non-profit professional association and is not part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or acting on the FBI’s behalf.
The association seeks to represent and advance the professional interests of FBI Intelligence Analysts within the FBI and externally to appropriate stakeholders in the executive branch and the Congress.
Collins is a 9 year employee with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is currently the Senior FBI Supervisory Intelligence Analyst detailed to the National Counterterrorism Center and has served in a number of analytic positions, including Presidential Daily Briefer to both the Director of the FBI and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Can you let readers know the history and role of the FBI analyst?
The FBI has had analysts for a good part of its existence in many forms. These forms have constantly evolved to meet the changing demands of the FBI and the intelligence community. From the beginning of their existence, analysts have worked among and with FBI Special Agents to prevent crimes of all sorts including working against foreign intelligence activity and terrorism.
For those considering a career as an FBI Analyst, who tends to succeed and why?
The FBI is always looking for analysts with varied backgrounds. Social sciences are always good: history, political science and social studies degrees abound. 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 FBI IAA members that are working criminal matters such as, violent crime, crimes against children, financial fraud, political corruption, etc. We have scientists with PhDs in hard sciences who work on weapons of mass destruction intelligence issues. The FBI can be an option for more people than some other intel agencies. So the answer is that a lot of people should be able to consider an FBI analyst career and have a chance to succeed.
All intelligence agencies, though, are in general 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. This may sound simplistic, but doing these things well at the level expected of a functional intelligence analyst could take years. We have specific ways we write, brief, and think about issues and events. It can be a big disconnect for those coming in who are expecting to function the same way they did in academia or in other sectors. Ultimately, the FBI and other agencies are likely looking for someone who possesses the potential to learn these new ways of writing, speaking and thinking and putting them to use to inform decision-makers at all levels in the FBI, Intelligence Community, and government as a whole.
What is the career path for a successful intelligence analyst?
Analysts in the FBI can pursue one of three career paths and then branch off into one of two tracks within that career path. Our analysts are designated as tactical, collection, or strategic analysts. Within those paths they will work on gaining experiences and training that builds towards becoming a subject matter expert or towards becoming a manager of analysts. Analysts get opportunities to try on the different paths early in their career, and movement between the paths are allowed, but not encouraged later in your career.
Analysts at the FBI are eligible for promotions and are well compensated in the government pay system, but must prove they meet the criteria for senior pay grades. Gaining certain experiences, such as having experience at another intelligence agency is required for promotion to senior executive levels. Other experiences may be necessary for an intelligence analyst to move up the ladder to being recognized as a subject matter expert with the goal of becoming a FBI Senior Intelligence Officer for example. Other intelligence agencies have variations on this and are beyond my expertise to fully explain.
What drew you into this field and why? Do you see similarity with your peers?
While I worked in law enforcement as a volunteer, I have to admit I grew up reading Tom Clancy novels and I liked what I read about analysts in the books (minus the over the top James Bond type stuff Jack Ryan always lands himself in) and was drawn to the intelligence field. I specifically plotted out my education to make myself attractive for intelligence work even before 9/11, and on 9/11 I was already half way through my master’s in criminal justice and intelligence. The events on 9/11 just solidified my life choice. Now with my education and specialization I wouldn’t consider a job outside public service, I wanted to utilize it and I thought the FBI was ideal for that.
As far as similarity, having been an interagency center I have worked with analysts from a lot of different agencies, and as I said previously, a lot of analysts tend to come from the social sciences side of the house, with PhDs being commonplace. But degrees and backgrounds are varied depending on an agency’s culture and needs. Some agencies have a greater need for analysts with degrees in area studies and hard sciences. All degrees are valued, and a person shouldn’t rule out a intelligence career.
It is my perception that analysts with criminal justice type degrees tend to be present more at law enforcement agencies or departments with law enforcement missions than elsewhere in community, DHS (Secret Service, ICE, CBP) and DOJ (ATF, FBI USMS) as examples. Again, these are generalizations, and shouldn’t preclude anyone from exploring a career with any of the agencies out there…there will be some that will be more focused on law enforcement vs. others that don’t have other responsibilities, but they probably need people from varied backgrounds too.
How do analysts in the FBI differ (or not) in mission with analysts at the CIA, NSA or Homeland Security? Alternatively, if you have the skills that qualify well as an analyst with one, can you consider a career in any? Analysts at the FBI and also DHS are obviously focused primarily domestically…But that is a bit misleading as we frequently have to be aware of and comfortable with international events and the groups operating overseas. All these agencies have individuals assigned domestically and abroad. Obviously the other agencies have primarily a foreign mission. Those agencies are very clear about their missions on their websites, and I would encourage anyone interested in any particular agency to fully explore any public website. Those websites are very clear about each agency’s role and responsibility. Again all analysts need to do the things I spoke about before, and every agency is looking for folks who give them good indications that they have a solid foundation to learn those skills. People will get opportunities to show that with their resumes and in interviews but these agencies are looking at it with the things I’ve pointed out, whereas most businesses expect you to plug in and be effective immediately, this business is one where you can expect you to do a lot of learning and adapting of your skills before you are truly effective.
How did 9/11 and the rise of our Homeland Security Department impact the FBI’s mission and how has this impacted the role of the FBI Analyst?
In my opinion the FBI vastly ramped up its hiring of intelligence analysts during about the same time DHS started hiring its core of analysts. Analysts at the FBI work to support the FBI’s mission and DHS analysts at their component agencies and at the DHS HQ are obviously focused on those component agency and DHS responsibilities. Both agencies have responsibilities with working with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. The exact nature of the responsibilities are beyond my level of knowledge, but both agencies work to secure the homeland from terrorism in addition to the other missions they both have.
How does the association support its members? What are membership requirements to be a part of FBI IAA?
The Association is primarily a professional association dedicated to furthering the interests and priority issues of its members, who are all FBI Intelligence Analysts. We serve as a voice for our members concerns with external audiences and internal audiences as much as we can, much the same way that other groups of employees have professional associations. We look to build events or partner with other organizations for the benefit of our membership. We’ll be having our annual conference this year as an example, but we also work to notify our members of interesting speakers through our relationship with intelligence organizations/universities etc. One specific benefit we provide is legal representation for our members. Members who need legal advice for an issue arising through the course of their work are eligible for a legal benefit and then discounted rates through our law firm. Unfortunately, that is something that has become necessary, and it was a gap we sought to address for our analyst membership. Our membership is open only to FBI Intelligence Analysts of all grades and responsibility.