Military Intelligence
July 29, 2004 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Military Intelligence: I've thought about joining the military for about six years. Now it seems that it might become reality. I'd like to become an intelligence officer because it seems like I'd use a similar skill set to what I do now (I'm a journalist.) But what branch of the service should I check out? Army/Navy/Marines/Air Force/Coast Guard? What about the CIA or NSA? Anybody know people in any of these branches? [more inside]

I have a four-year degree, great test scores and a clean background, which I understand is required. Most of all, I'm looking to join to build better self discipline and learn leadership skills (I plan to return to the newspaper business some day.) From what I hear, the Marines are best at leadership/discipline, and the Navy has the best intel people. Any insights, anyone?
posted by Happydaz to Work & Money (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My brother was involved with intelligence in the military for ten years or so. He was in the Marines, although he didn't know which area he would get into when he joined up. After he left the military, he continued in the intelligence field with the government. Said the Marines were a great base for that line of work. Good luck!
posted by cyniczny at 5:29 PM on July 29, 2004

Due to the current political situations in the world, the Navy is likely your best bet in terms of safety. If you're looking to build better self discipline and learn leadership skills, you're better off taking a Karate class. The military is definitely not what the commercials show you. A guy I knew a while ago came back after quite a few years in the Navy, having been promised technical skills, etc. When asked what he had learned he replied, "I learned how to push a mop".
posted by banished at 5:52 PM on July 29, 2004

What am I blind? Military Intelligence... I must have missed the whole intelligence part. Where is my head today? I guess my comment on that is... why bother with military intelligence? A bright young man like you would be better off running intelligence in the FBI or CIA. Then we wouldn't need to get involved in these stupid wars that are based on poor information.
posted by banished at 5:56 PM on July 29, 2004

banished: You're missing the point. A few screwups do is not always indicitive of the whole culture. Believe it or not, there are a lot of very intelligent officers in the military. People will use the bad information to their means, though.
posted by jmd82 at 7:37 PM on July 29, 2004

From, what I've understood, if you want the greatest chance of advancement, Navy or Air Force. And the of all the branches, the Air Force has the highest 'quality of living'.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:06 PM on July 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of intel shops for which you don't have to be inducted to serve your country. NRO, NGA, CIA (?), NSA... Explore those options, too.
posted by NortonDC at 8:41 PM on July 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Banished: Right, but I'm looking for a whole new culture along with a job/hobby. That's why I think the military might be useful.

Steve: I'll keep that info about the Navy and Air Force in mind. I think I care more about advancement than "quality of living," as you're allowed to just pocket the money the military would have spent for on-base housing in return for a nice apartment or house of your own.

Norton: I am exploring those options. Do you know anyone in any of those intel shops?

Thanks for the feedback everyone. Anyone have personal experiences with being in military intelligence, or any other intel shop?
posted by Happydaz at 9:40 PM on July 29, 2004

Not in any capacity that would help you get a direct-hire position (as in becoming a federal employee). I see that the NGA has an employment page, but's all the insight I can give right now.
posted by NortonDC at 9:51 PM on July 29, 2004

I enlisted in the Navy in 1999, hope to go officer within the next year. I'm currently crypto, but hope to go to Intel. Most Intel candidates usually have a Masters in a specific area of interest, but you never know what you can do. I'll probably be automatically shuffled back into Cryptology, but maybe I'll get lucky. As a journalist, they'll probably say you have more potential to be a PAO (Public Affairs Officer) or they'll put you in SWO (Surface Warfare Officer). Stick to your guns when dealing with the officer recruiter and get everything in writing.

Banished, as the saying goes, choose your rate (that's your job), choose your fate. If you take a rate without many opportunities you won't get much out of it, but you also make your own opportunities in the military. So far, I've had schools in system administration for Windows and UNIX, network security, and the full CCNA course on the Navy's dime, so it has given me much more knowledge than how to push a mop (though I did my share of field day as a seaman). It's also paid 12 hours/year of my tuition, and GI Bill has covered the rest, so I haven't paid at all for my degree, and I won't have to for my Masters either. As for why would someone want to join the military, well how about to offer something more, to elevate the character of the military and change it from what you see in the news to an institution worthy of the secrets entrusted to it. If the military only gets the people that need to join out of desperation, how will it ever rise beyond a gaggle of thugs?

Safety? I guess Navy would be considered the safest since there's really no foreign navy that can compare, but obviously military life is no cakewalk, and who knows what's around the corner. As a tech I thought I would always be in the rear with the gear, but I deploy in a couple of months, not to a combat zone, but isolated duty. I don't mind though, I didn't join expecting to stay stateside forever. Hazy gray and underway or overseas are inevitable (yes some people join believing they won't go to sea or overseas in their career..go figure).

Air Force does have the highest quality of life, they treat their people very well. The Navy's made great strides in this area recently, and works hard at it constantly. Navy and Air Force intel is more along the line of analysis, Marines and Army you have a better chance at field work. All depends on what you want. I never would have joined the Marines or Army, the technical opportunites are too much in favor of Navy and Air Force.

Consider carefully why you want to join. I joined because I wanted discipline, wanted a challenge, and as unfashionable as it may be, wanted to serve to my country. The NRO, NSA, etc are also good options, but I personally felt there was a certain respect you earn having served in uniform. Look at this site very carefully. When they say report in top physical shape they mean it. I spent four years in Pensacola, and had the opportunity to see what they go through, it's no joke. Also, to be an Intel officer you'll need security clearance which means an extensive background check and polygraph, if there's anything you may need to explain, be ready, because they'll find out about it. Good luck in whatever you decide, if you want need more info, let me know.
posted by tetsuo at 9:54 PM on July 29, 2004

FYI, low amounts of illegal drug use won't automatically disqualify you, but it will draw extra scrutiny and it better have been more than a year ago. A heavy drinking history will also draw scrutiny.
posted by NortonDC at 10:17 PM on July 29, 2004

"You're missing the point. A few screwups do is not always indicitive of the whole culture. Believe it or not, there are a lot of very intelligent officers in the military. People will use the bad information to their means, though."

jmd82: I apologize, I didn't mean to generalize, but I can't imagine getting only positive outlooks is going to help someone make a serious life choice. Balance my friend's experience with what Tetsuo said, and you get a more balanced picture. The more information the better.

"Right, but I'm looking for a whole new culture along with a job/hobby. That's why I think the military might be useful."

Happydaz: It's precisely that culture that makes me personally uneasy about the military. Here's some information on what they go through, I think it may be helpful to know before you go in: (From the link)

c. Total institutions and stripping.
Erving Goffman in his book Asylums presented us with a detailed description of re-socialization that takes place in total institutions. The process consists of removing any vestige of former identity (stripping), making the person dependent on the authority, then replacing the former sense of self or identity with a new one. Mental hospitals, prisons and the military are examples of total institutions. I will use the Army as an example. When I entered the Army, I was awakened at 3:30 on the first morning, sent out to breakfast, from there to the quartermaster where my clothing was removed, I was given a haircut (nearly a shave!), and issued new clothing. The key thing about the new clothing is that it is indistinguishable from any one else except for the name plate on the left chest. The Army then proceeded to humiliate me (and my fellow trainees), to make us dependent upon one another and the first sergeant for virtually everything we did. We were also isolated from other servicemen and women and from our families. We were taught how to blindly obey orders, how to move in unison and how to kill. All things that as Americans we did not do well or easily before. When we left basic training we were trained in the rudiments of combat and would go on for additional training. (I did not, I went to work in medical research).

This process is the one described by Goffman -- an original identity is stripped away and a new one put in its place. You have heard this referred to as brainwashing, you may also have read about people being drawn into a cult and undergoing similar experiences. It is all the same thing, and virtually every organization does something of this type to some degree or another. The difference between the total institutions and a fraternity or IBM is the latter are entered voluntarily and do not have complete and absolute control over the individual for any period of time.
posted by banished at 10:32 PM on July 29, 2004

banished: Good call on needing balanced view points. I fully agree.
That said, the last line of your entry implies that the person does join not voluntarily, when in fact they do. They may not be expecting the aforementioned to happen and my think they will not go overseas as tetsuo implied. Alas, that is the volunteers fault for not checking out the facts, as Happydayz is correctly doing. I do not claim to be a military expert, but it would only seem apropriate that army members can 100% depend on their crew. In times of gunfire and true warfare, dependece on your mates to accomplish their task is of utmost importantance as it may involve your life. The last thing a person out on the field of battle needs is to think, "Wow, I hope I can trust my comrade! He sure didn't agree with those orders..." The type of training your refer to is not just to prepare them for a future in civilian life in terms of schooling, but above all else, it must train them for warfare. Hate it or love it, we do have the best military in the world and there's a reason beyond the funding for it.
(btw, I don't even know if I agree with what I just said. I just love to play Devil's Advocate)
posted by jmd82 at 11:12 PM on July 29, 2004

latter are entered voluntarily and do not have complete and absolute control over the individual for any period of time.

The military is entered voluntarily, and does not have complete and absolute control over recruits. Basic training is the worst of the experience and only lasts 6 weeks, and you CAN quit if it's not for you. There are strict limits on what can be done to a recruit, and while it is very unpleasant, is not brainwashing. Getting up obscenely early, wearing the same clothes, and doing repetitive drills trains people to be part of a team when the job requires it, not to abdicate their individuality in thought or soul. The implication that the military is a reprogramming organization similar to cults is disrespectful to the intelligence of people who are or have served.
posted by dness2 at 11:35 PM on July 29, 2004

dness2: The implication that the military is NOT a reprogramming organization is misleading and silly. Of course they are, and for the good reasons stated by jmd82. Accept it with open eyes. 'Reprogramming' doesn't have to be viewed as a negative thing.

Sometimes the lesson to be had in such an environment is that there is a core that is 'you'. It is immutable. You can learn to do lots of things, and still be 'you'. You can become tougher, leaner, smarter, but remain yourself. You can crawl on your belly through shit, and you will still be yourself, as you are tougher than any of that unimportant crap. You can even learn to laugh your ass off while remaining motionless and expressionless.

Happydaz: Don't be too sure about the 'nice house or apartment' off base. Junior officers don't make a lot of money, and sometimes they are barely getting by (especialy those with families).
posted by Goofyy at 12:40 AM on July 30, 2004

Well, there is always a civilian way into MI that might appeal to you.
posted by Dagobert at 2:55 AM on July 30, 2004

Goofyy, note I was objecting to the comparison to cults. I think actually you, jmd82 and I all agree on what it is (and isn't). The military has to train people to be soldiers, and the soldiering thing is difficult and very different than civilian life. So the training is intense and certainly not for everyone, but the comparison to cults is not a balanced viewpoint. For some it becomes an all encompassing identity, but for most it remains a job and a community. The community is a big draw for a lot of soldiers/sailors. I think it is much closer to a fraternity, a band of brothers. Of course, with fewer parties and a higher chance of getting shot at, which is a downside...
posted by dness2 at 4:21 AM on July 30, 2004

If you choose the Navy, do your very best to avoid becoming a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO). These make up the general officer corps of the Navy, and are notorious for being insanely hard on people. "They eat their young" is not a joke in the Navy (at least in the surface community).

I spent 7 years on active duty, and hated almost every minute of it. Now, some of that was undiagnosed and untreated depression, but a lot of it was the culture and the fact that I did NOT fit in psychologically. If you are a Myers-Briggs kind of person, you will understand this: The Navy is a very strong -STJ organization. I am a hard INFP. I did not fit, and it was a problem.
posted by Irontom at 4:57 AM on July 30, 2004

I'm partial to the US Air Force, naturally. Definitely a higher quality-of-life and nicer facilities, overall, but at the expense of being perceived as less "tough" and warrior-like as our Army, Navy, and Marine brothers & sisters.

And Officer Training School is 12 (or 13?) weeks long, in Alabama, FWIW.
posted by davidmsc at 5:42 AM on July 30, 2004

Happydaz: Have you talked to any actual recruiters yet? When it comes to collecting and analyzing intelligence, a good place to start is with what the target is willing to feed you.
posted by mischief at 5:46 AM on July 30, 2004

In the Navy "re-socialization" was pretty much learning how to take care of the ship, maintain our uniforms, and pay arduous attention to the minor of details. Killing was one day, two tops. Seriously though, for a inexperienced kid right out of high school going through boot, it could definitely be seen as a mindf**k in some ways, but at 28 it was mind games, and my identity survived intact. I didn't become a right-wing gun-loving nutcase, in fact every year I'm in affirms the principles I believed in before I joined. I allowed my bad habits, like tardiness, laziness, and procrastination to be reprogrammed, but my outlook on life went unchanged. Marines are a different story, there's a true cult-like transformation there.

Basic training varies according to what branch you joing. Air Force is six weeks, Navy nine weeks, Marines and Army longer, I believe around 13 weeks.

Banished brings up a good point, a variety of viewpoints are necessary in order to constitute effective advice. When it comes down to "Dialogue vs Diatribe" I think we all know what's more productive. I'll freely admit the military isn't for everyone, hell some days I'm not sure that its for me. Yet some days I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. That's something I struggle with every day, and currently a subject of careful consideration for my future plans (deciding whether or not to commit to an officer program, I often think that my doubts indicate I shouldn't). Not everyone gets the opportunities I did, and many leave disenfranchised.

I can relate to Irontom's experience, as a hard INTP with liberal ideas suffice to say I often don't fit in, but most of the time you can get around those differences.

About the housing..BOQ (bachelors officer quarters) once you get of OCS are very nice. JOs are sometimes just getting by, but you in addition to basic pay, you get allowances for housing and subsistence. You'll be making 2264.00/month basic pay as an Ensign or 2nd Lieutenant.
posted by tetsuo at 5:47 AM on July 30, 2004

there's a good document - it's been linked here - describing the inteview process. anyone have it? it wasn't positive, but it would be useful reading anyway, i would think.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:14 AM on July 30, 2004

found it - it describes the nsa's polygraph test
posted by andrew cooke at 6:21 AM on July 30, 2004

How about the Secret Service?

Or, the Coast Guard? I was Air Force enlisted for 7 years and although it is known to have a better quality of life than the other services, the Coast Guard beats them all.

No matter what, it's an incredibly long process and you will not be accepted if you have more than "tried" marijuana once many years ago. You will not be accepted if you have ever taken anti-depressents. You will not be accepted if you have declared bankruptcy within 10 years. And for the military, you will not be accepted if you have had laser eye surgery.
posted by Juicylicious at 7:52 AM on July 30, 2004

A friend and coworker of mine was formerly of the UK version of the NSA, GCHQ.

She lasted 5 years and quit over quality of life issues. Suffice it to say in such organisations be prepared for almost continual security interrogations. Obtrusive, obnoxious and gratuitously offensive was her recollection of her treatment at GCHQ. Seriously, be prepared to be asked what you did last Saturday night and with whom by someone who already knows and is trying to catch you out.
posted by dmt at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2004

After he left the military, he continued in the intelligence field with the government.
My brother is part of the the Navy Seal teams now. Prior to this he did MIS work keeping open lines of communication in the world where a war was happening {all he could tell me} His boss was a contract civilian in Germany making $200K a year with added money for his family's living expenses there.

Check out the government, unless you are looking to be one one fit intelligence officer.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:17 PM on July 30, 2004

My brother is a SWCC.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:21 PM on July 30, 2004

Have you thought about joining a government contractor? Some of the benefits, none of the not being allowed to leave if you don't like it.
posted by callmejay at 4:48 PM on July 30, 2004 [1 favorite]

Some thoughts. Some of this is gospel truth, when it comes to the Marine Corps, so listen up.

Are you planning to stay intelligence after your time in the service? Frankly, you might end up staying in the service and going DIA, for all we know. But...are you wanting to go Intelligence to be an analyst, or a field officer?

If you want to be an analyst, go Navy or Air Force. Being an analyst translates in the civilian world to an intelligence analyst, natch. You'd be like Jack Ryan in the Tom Clancy books, basically (even though Jack Ryan was a Marine). You wouldn't be doing anything clandestine, but you'd probably get to travel the world. You might even get to be a handler/foreign service attache...that is, you'd be like Julia Stiles in the Bourne'd be the contact with diplomatic immunity.

If you want to be a field officer, go Army or Marines. You'll be in the thick of it (and it's hard) while you're in the service, doing a lot of infantry-based intelligence. You'll also be responsible for gathering local contacts and developing them. This translates to clandestine service/foreign service officer in the civilian world. An FSO is just like the foreign service attache I mentioned earlier, but you'd be more directly involved with the actual spies, and you would have official cover. Clandestine is just actual spy. The vast majority of spies are nationals that an FSO cultivates for one reason or another...perhaps they hate their country, etc. But some jobs require clandestine activities like breaking and entering, etc. (like the Liev Schreiber/Willem Dafoe character in the Jack Ryan novels)... and you're pretty much guaranteed to NOT get one of those if you're not military.

Clandestine officers (as opposed to the moles and long-term spies who do their job slowly over 20 years) are kind of like the Delta force...they're officially not talked about. Do you know a foreign language? That'll really help you get a job, especially if it's in an Asian or Mid-Eastern one.

So...let's talk about how to do the military. I would, obviously, recommend Marines. Officer Candidate School is 10 weeks's the "boot camp" for officers, and it's more strenuous than enlisted boot camp, however, they don't play any games (like trying to do 1,000,000 push-ups over a span of 5 hours). You WILL be doing a lot of running in boots and in full gear and you WILL be sleep deprived. The OCS Crucible is harder than the enlisted Crucible, also.

After that is The Basic School, which is right next to the FBI fact, they share some of the same grounds. You will be there for 6 months, where they will teach you how to be a Marine Officer, from sword drills to weapons training to hand to hand name it. You'll also receive etiquette training and about a million classroom hours learning under colonels and generals. You will also do things like Double Obstacle Courses and Hill Physical Fitness Tests which really REALLY test your mettle. After all this training, you'll basically be equivalent to an Army Infantry commander. Next up is your MOS school.

Now, intelligence is a "ground" contract with the Marine Corps...they equate you with infantry/armor/artillery officers. You will have a HARD time as a ground officer...they really like to weed out the chaff in this group, cause it's the bread and butter of the Corps. But they're the real glamour MOS's.

Once you finish TBS, you'll go to intelligence school, which is pretty long....but here my knowledge ends, for I was not in intelligence.

I can tell you this...I am a computer geek, and I had long hair in high school. I made it as a Marine Corps officer...if I can do it, so can you...SERIOUSLY. And it'll give you SUCH a leg up in the intelligence field.

On preview: I checked out some of the physical fitness stats for an SWCC (that thomcatspike mentioned) and the week 7-9 ones (which I assume are the hardest) are basically less than you'll be at by the end of OCS. It's HARD, but they provide 100% of what you need to get there. I mean, they did such a good job at keeping me healthy, things like my fingernails were 3x as strong. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by taumeson at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2004 [2 favorites]

No matter what, it's an incredibly long process and you will not be accepted if you have more than "tried" marijuana once many years ago.

Clearances have been granted to people applying just beyond one year from their most recent marijuana use.

And for the military, you will not be accepted if you have had laser eye surgery.

And though I'm less certain on this point, I thought the eye surgery restriction applied to the old-school RK techniques, not the newer LASIK procedures. Searching, searching... Ahh, here we go: waivers are available for entrants with LASIK or PRK. Old-school RK means you're out of luck.
posted by NortonDC at 9:34 AM on July 31, 2004

No matter what, it's an incredibly long process and you will not be accepted if you have more than "tried" marijuana once many years ago.

False. I know people first hand who have done pot, acid and coke in the past and have gotten extremely high clearences. All it takes is time.

You will not be accepted if you have ever taken anti-depressents.

Again, not the case.

You will not be accepted if you have declared bankruptcy within 10 years.

Just so so wrong.

And for the military, you will not be accepted if you have had laser eye surgery.

As Norton said, that is for RK. I know a guy with very high clearence who had the Army pay for his recent corrective eye surgery.

The big thing here is not what you've done but what you tell them. It's the hidden stuff that they worry about because that might be used against you for blackmail purposes. So when you fill out your EPSQ, list that bankrupcy, explain what happened in great detail and what is being done about it. The newish doctrine is a whole picture approach. They look at all that you have done, good and bad, what you have admitted to, what steps you are taking and then, you, now, are you a risk?

As far as the corporate way, it's hard to find a contractor that will sponsor you for a clearence because 1. it takes a long time and 2. while you are getting it, you can't do the job you were hired for because it requires a clearence and they don't want to pay you U$75K to do clerical while the paperwork gets done.
posted by Dagobert at 1:33 AM on August 5, 2004

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