The events of September 11, 2001 forever changed our nation and brought an increased demand for security and intelligence professionals. Counterterrorism analysts gather information, conduct investigations, analyze data and present their findings to key government and military officials and intelligence partners, ensuring the safety of our nation.
Counterterrorism analysts primarily work within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). They also serve in other government agencies, such as the Department of Defense (DOD) and National Security Agency (NSA). Some may work for private security firms and government contractors.
To work as a government counterterrorism analyst, you must be a U.S. citizen who has cleared certain government assessments, including a background check and medical, physical and psychological exams. At minimum, a counterterrorism analyst must have a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, a master’s level degree covering matters of international affairs, national security or other related topics can make an applicant more desirable.
CIA Counterterrorism Analyst
Employees of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center work in conjunction with intelligence specialists of other government agencies to identify, disrupt and thwart potential terrorist activity and plots.
The methods by which CIA counterterrorism analysts collect intel are constantly changing, as are the tactics of those who wish to do us harm. The analysts must understand the motivations, methodology and capabilities of the terrorist organizations, so they can terminate current plans and predict future ploys. Disrupting terrorist networks is an integral aspect of a counterterrorism analyst’s job.
FBI Counterterrorism Analyst
The three branches of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division are the Integrative Operations Branch, the Operational Support Branch and the Counterterrorism Analysis Branch. Individuals working within the Investigative Operations Branch coordinate and manage terrorism-related investigations. Their Operational Support Branch cohorts work to deny U.S. entry to foreign terrorists, and when necessary, remove and persecute any terrorists who do penetrate our borders. These analysts also provide support to law enforcement officers and consulates.
The Counterterrorism Analysis Branch is divided into two sections: Counterterrorism Analysis and Communications Exploitation. Analysis Section analysts work in one of five internal divisions: Terrorist Group Composition, Activities, Tradecraft, Ideology and Linkages. The skilled linguists and decoders of the Communications Exploitation Section process and retrieve relevant data.
Working together, members of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division intercept terrorist communications, identify intelligence gaps, locate terrorist cells, find the sources of terrorist funding and identify assets working within terrorist groups. To learn of potential attacks, information must be gathered from both assets and perpetrators. The information collected is shared through the Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
The Skillset of a Counterterrorism Analyst
Individuals who combat terrorist plots must possess impressive analytical capabilities. These capabilities allow them to connect the necessary dots when deciphering complex information, which must then be quickly dissected and clearly presented to key government officials. Depending on the analyst’s assignment, foreign language skills may be relevant. Each counterterrorism analyst brings significant intelligence work experience to the job.
In order for appropriate officials to make informed decisions, analysts must carefully present and cogently explain all relevant information. Analysts who gather important information, but are unable to clearly convey their findings, have only done half the job.
Information gathered by these analysts is often used to justify the modification of current laws. Analysts who understands our nation’s policy perspective, legal system and current political climate can present their findings in a more well-rounded manner. Certain educational programs, such as a Masters in Public Administration (MPA), can lay the groundwork for this knowledge.
These security and intelligence specialists work each day to protect our population and ensure our continued safety.