This page gives information on the privatized sector of intelligence work, and builds from the Intelligence Public Sector page. Although private sector intelligence organisations exist in most countries, the sector is by far the biggest in the USA. There are also several large intelligence firms that work internationally.
According to a New York Times article, 70% of the USA’s intelligence budget now goes to private sector intelligence companies—making it a $56 billion a year industry. 500,000 private contract workers currently have top-secret security clearance in the U.S. alone. This is a relatively new phenomenon and does not hold true in the UK to that degree. Most people spend many years working in intelligence in the public sector, including typical agencies such as the CIA or MI6 but also military or police operations, before transferring to the private sector. Many private firms were actually established by retirees from the public sector. It’s now common for public sector agencies to contract out of a lot of the work they used to accomplish in-house to private consultants. The private sector can also often offer higher compensation than government jobs on average, a heady temptation to successful public sector employees.
The private intelligence sector can be harder to break into than public intelligence. As mentioned above, most people break into the private sector first worked publicly, although there are entry-level jobs as well. Intelligence requires very specific personalities. Much, if not most, of the work is research based. These jobs will often involve some travel and an extensive amount of regional and country knowledge. For students who are interested in politics, current events, and security, private sector intelligence can provide a fascinating career choice.
The following sources should give you an introductory background on private sector intelligence:
|Key attributes/skills needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes|
|Project management skills|
|Research skills||Developed through your academic studies and any relevant work experience|
|Language skills||Improve your fluency in a second or third language. Arabic, Russian or Mandarin may be particularly useful. Evening courses are available.|
Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?
In intelligence and security agencies that work internationally, you can generally find positions in your home country and abroad, however, overseas postings may have both higher security risks and expatriate tax advantages. Furthermore, the positions can vary based on the size of the organisation. Typically, smaller to mid-sized companies will give you more responsibility but larger ones have better benefits, training and job security. Many private intelligence and security agencies have roles similar or even identical to those listed in the Intelligence (Public Sector) page. With the rise of the use of private intelligence “consultants” in the public sector, private agencies have taken on the roles that public intelligence analysts used to supply. This means there are positions in the field abroad and also as analysts at home, as well as linguists’ positions, IT positions and positions that parallel the public sector.
To profile a prototypical private intelligence agency, Booz Allen Hamilton is arguably the largest private intelligence contractor. Their website cites them as serving civilian agencies, defence and intelligence organisations, international organisations, commercial organisations, and the non-profit sector. This firm serves a variety of interests, not all of them directly related to intelligence accumulation. They divide their career opportunities into six different tracks: (1) Analytics (2) Cloud (3) Cyber (4) Energy (5) Information Technology and (6) Strategic Innovation. Although Booz Allen Hamilton is a much larger operation than most, these categories are similar in many private firms.
Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to assist you with your application. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (the Fast Stream has its own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have been accepted on the European and Generalist Fast Stream as well as jobs within the Scottish Government. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
Many degrees can be helpful to a career in intelligence. A demonstrated interest in foreign affairs is a must, so a degree in international relations or area studies can be beneficial. Intelligence agencies are also looking for linguists, particularly in languages that are currently deemed critical (including Arabic, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian and Turkish, among others). With the rise of cyber-terrorism, computer skills are in high demand. Biology and chemistry degrees can also provide critical backgrounds for intelligence, particularly for analysing advanced weaponry systems.
Postgraduate degrees are often, but not always, extremely helpful for pursuing a job in intelligence. Like undergraduate degrees, any program that focuses on international relations, security, studies, or languages will be useful to making your application stand out from the crowd. In addition, certain universities (St Andrews included) have started to offer degrees in counterterrorism or terrorism studies.
Intelligence internships are amongst the harder to find, but a few firms do offer them. The following is a list of private intelligence companies that provide internships. Check out our Sample Employers, below, for further possible options. This list is not exclusive by any means, but should give you a good starting point for your search. Search for “intern” or “junior job” if there career sections allow the option.
|Frontier Horizons||London (offers political risk analysis positions)|
|Booz Allen Hamilton||Offices worldwide|
|Northrop Grumman||Los Angeles, London, Washington D.C.|
|Ake Intelligence||Locations worldwide|
Again, most people go through some sort of public intelligence pathway before transferring to the private sector. However, if you’re determined to start with private, there are a few options.
To get a job in this field, you will need to be flexible and persistent. It can also be beneficial to have a background in consulting, business, accounting, HR, finance, business development, management, operations, logistics, or the military. Successful candidates often speak additional languages, have strong communication and writing skills, and are well-organised. You will be more likely to be promoted if you show patience, have a strong work ethic and are open to travel and new assignments.
You are likely to have to create the building blocks of your career through a careful mix of postgraduate training, experience, skills and networking. It would probably be helpful to have an up-to-date profile on Linked In. Sculpt your CV and cover letter to highlight skills and characteristics necessary for intelligence work. The Careers Centre provides advice and example CVs.
The following is a list of sample employers to start your job search with. Most of them have online applications forms but speculative applications usually don’t hurt either. If many jobs are listed, search for “junior job” or “entry level job” to discover jobs that could be suitable for your current level of expertise.
|Booze Allen & Hamilton||Offices in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the US (entry level jobs in multiple locations depending on current need)|
|Computer Sciences Corporation||Offices worldwide (entry level jobs in multiple locations depending on current need)|
|Good Harbor Consulting||Based in the DC metro-area with offices in Boston, Albuquerque, and Abu Dhabi|
|International Crisis Group||Offices in Brussels, New York, Washington D.C., Moscow, London|
|Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)||Offices in 18 countries|
|Aegis||British security and risk management company with overseas offices in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq and the US|
|BAE Systems||Opportunities in Australia, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the US, and Sweden|
|Boeing||Employees in 70 countries|
|EADS||Operates across the globe|
|Lockheed Martin||Partners in more than 50 countries|
|Northrop Grumman||Offices in LA, London, and the DC metro area|
|Raytheon||Offices in 19 countries; 5 separate companies: Australia, Canada, Germany, the UK, and the US|
|Textron||US-based with a presence in 25 countries|
Private Military & Intelligence Contractors
|Triple Canopy||US-based with operations worldwide|
|New Century||Employs experts from the UK and the US|
Logistics, Operations and Training
|BAE Group||Based around home markets in Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US|