August 23, 2011

Intelligence Analysts

Part 2: The Subject Matter Experts

Stock photo.

Intelligence analysts—IAs in Bureau parlance—are involved in nearly every aspect of FBI operations in every corner of the globe. And in the decade since 9/11, their role has continued to expand.

“Even though analysts don’t carry weapons or arrest individuals, there is a growing recognition that what we bring to the table is extremely valuable and that we are an integral part of the team,” said Sally Rall, an IA who works in one of our regional intelligence groups in Sacramento.

Analysts begin their FBI training with the 10-week Intelligence Basic Course to learn fundamental skills. Soon after they begin to specialize in one of three distinct analytic areas: strategic, tactical, or collection/reporting. Rall, for example, is a tactical analyst who works on domestic terrorism matters.

“Tactical IAs are less big picture and more boots on the ground,” she explained. “If an agent needs to get in the car and go arrest someone before that person hurts somebody, the agent can call an IA for vital information—information that can save lives.”

Strategic analysts, on the other hand, work on longer-term threats on a broader scale. Whereas a tactical IA might be focused on a gang case in a particular area, the strategic IA might be looking at the gang’s activities from a national or transnational perspective.

“Strategic analysis is less about a specific case and more about understanding what we know and what we don’t know about a threat,” said Marita Cook, a strategic IA in our Geospatial Intelligence Unit at Headquarters. “We look at threats, vulnerabilities, and gaps in our knowledge for every FBI program. Often, there is so much raw information—from cases, sources, and other data—that it’s difficult to bring it all together into one clear picture,” Cook added. “Our job is to provide clarity.”

The Analyst’s Role

Regardless of what discipline or program area they work in, the primary responsibility of intelligence analysts is to gather, analyze, and disseminate information. Below is a partial IA job description:
- Identify and extract essential information from intelligence products and investigations, analyze the data, and synthesize the information into reports that can be disseminated.
-  Develop specific expertise, discern patterns of complex behavior, and provide an accurate understanding of present and future threats.
- Apply highly developed inductive reasoning skills to provide a proactive approach to potential threats.
- Navigate a variety of records, reports, miscellaneous communications, case files, and other sources to support research and analysis.
- Initiate, establish, and maintain effective working relationships inside and outside the FBI.
What makes a good IA? According to Marita Cook, a strategic analyst at FBI Headquarters, “You have to be very data oriented. You need to understand the data and how all the pieces can be used together to see the larger picture. You need to be intrigued by questions—why are things happening the way they are? And above all,” she said, “you have to be persistent, following every lead to its logical conclusion.”

IAs who work in the collection/reporting discipline are generally responsible for understanding the Bureau’s intelligence collection capabilities and how they integrate across the FBI and with the entire U.S. intelligence community. They also ensure that information is disseminated in a timely manner.

“In collection, we’re not evaluating the why of the case or even the threat—we’re telling you how we’re positioned to collect against it and what capabilities we have—or need—to fill the gaps,” said Dina Corsi, chief of the Domain Collection Operations Support Section in the Directorate of Intelligence.

The goal, Corsi said, is to build collection and reporting capabilities and make the results available to all programs across the Bureau. “So if you are working in counterintelligence and the Criminal Division might have assets you could use, you would be aware of that and be able to leverage it. Our job is to streamline the intelligence process.”

Like many of her IA colleagues, Rall was motivated to join the Bureau to fight terrorism after the 9/11 attacks. She is impressed with the dedication and professionalism of her fellow analysts.

“I have met incredibly brilliant people who are analysts here,” said Rall, who has a doctorate in psychology. “There are lawyers, scientists, people who are multi-lingual, national and international experts in their fields with priceless institutional knowledge going back over 20 years. It’s an honor to work in this environment.”