Growing up, playing spies and bad guys is almost a rite of passage. In the grown-up world, being a spy with the United States Central Intelligence Agency is an honor and privilege. CIA agents undergo an intense application and training process. Applicants entering the CIA's Directorate of Operations and DIA's Defense Clandestine Service, head to the “The Farm” for specialized, and somewhat mysterious, training. Shrouded in mystery, The Farm CIA is formally known as Camp Peary, a military reservation and CIA training center in York County near Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s where many CIA agents undergo the extreme instruction needed to make it in the organization.
To protect the CIA’s mission and goals, as well as its agents, the CIA shares very little about the inner workings at The Farm. The federal government has even gone so far to have never actually confirmed or denied The Farm’s existence. Although the sign at the main gate says “Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity,” that vague reference still does not divulge the secrets behind the gates. Only agents who attend training there are privy to the goings-on there, information that only agents, and not the general public, need to know. While what goes on at The Farm may be a secret, the CIA does divulge some of its other forms of training like the Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysis and CIA University.
What Do CIA Agents Do?
Portrayed in numerous movies and TV shows as enigmatic and fearless, CIA agents in real life are just as brave and mysterious. The CIA provides global intelligence with the ultimate goal of protecting the national security of the United States. While spies and covert agents are the main face of the CIA, the organization employs thousands of workers in a plethora of other areas like technology, science and engineering.
What Types of Jobs Are Available in the CIA?
CIA jobs fall into five different categories. Analysis employers are the problem solvers and critical thinkers of the organization taking on roles like counterintelligence threat analyst, cyber threat analysis and political analyst. Clandestine positions use technical skills to work in national security and foreign policy. These roles include Directorate of Operations and Technical Operations Officer.
Bringing specialized knowledge and skills, STEM roles include apps developer, data engineer, field IT technician, operations officer, and software engineer. Enterprise and Support jobs cover everything from business management, medical, security, legal, communications, and administration. The final category – foreign language – is key to the CIA’s success with people working as sign language interpreters and foreign language instructors.
If working at the CIA is a dream of yours, but you’re not sure where your skills fit in, the CIA offers a Job Fit Tool on its website. From your answers to the tool’s questions, the CIA offers suggestions for jobs that line up with your skills and interests.
Where Do CIA Agents Train?
CIA agents going into Directorate of Operations and Defense Clandestine Service positions train at Camp Peary, a U.S. military reservation in York County, Virginia. Agents going to into a Directorate of Analysis (DA) role take basic, intermediate and advanced courses from the Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysis. A DA agent follows this training program throughout their whole career, taking courses in foreign languages, regional studies, analytic methodologies, substantive issues and leadership skills. Numerous schools in the D.C. area and around the country partner with the CIA, offering training courses collectively known as CIA University. Training through CIA University includes classroom work, online seminars and telecourses.
Where Is the CIA Training Center Facility?
Just a couple of miles outside of Williamsburg, Virginia, right off Interstate 64, Camp Peary operates as a U.S. military reservation. It’s 9,000-acre campus is officially called the Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity and hosts covert CIA training. Nicknamed “The Farm,” Camp Peary is strictly controlled, with any and all visitors closely monitored and escorted on the grounds. The Farm CIA is closed to anyone not part of the CIA and is surrounded by mystery and intrigue.
The Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysis is located in Washington D.C., the location of CIA headquarters and where most CIA agents live and work. Training as part of CIA University can take place all over Washington D.C.
How Do You Become a CIA Field Agent?
The process of becoming a CIA field agent starts by applying for an open job. All current open jobs are listed on the CIA website, along with the minimum requirements for each specific field agent role. The CIA does an extremely thorough background check, searching your entire life history and examining your character, reliability and soundness of judgement. They look at any conflicting interests and your willingness to hold sensitive information private and secure. All applicants undergo a polygraph test and intense mental and physical medical examinations.
You cannot partake in any illegal drug use for at least 12 months before applying for the CIA. Even though numerous states allow marijuana use for recreation and medicinal purposes, the federal government does not grant security clearance to anyone using controlled substances.
The security clearance process is painstakingly slow and deliberate, outlined by statues and regulations outlined by the federal statutes and executive orders. The CIA understands that nobody is perfect and does not immediately dismiss candidates for past offenses. They look at the entire picture, keeping national security at the forefront when evaluating candidates.
What Is the Difference Between a CIA Agent and an FBI Agent?
While both are tasked with protecting national security, CIA and FBI agents have different roles and duties. The first major difference is who each works for – the CIA and FBI are both federal entities but different organizations. Both organizations are members of the federal intelligence community, but FBI agents have a law enforcement part to their jobs, while CIA agents do not. The CIA collects information and data, while the FBI is not allowed to gather information from any U.S. citizens or corporations.
The FBI works mostly in the United States but the CIA performs a majority of its functions outside of the states to protect national interests. When necessary, the FBI coordinates and works with local and state law enforcement agencies. The CIA generally focuses on foreign affairs.
What Is Involved in CIA Agent Training?
CIA agent training varies greatly depending on the agent’s exact role. Generally, training involves foreign language classes, leadership courses, analytic training and counterintelligence. Analytic positions, for example, take training classes in cyber threats, economics and military intelligence. STEM roles involve more specialized instruction in science, engineering, technology and mathematics. Training can be a one-time event or can take place over the course of a year or longer.
New employees in the Directorate of Operations program go into one of two training programs – the CIA Clandestine Service Trainee or Professional Trainee. If an applicant has previous professional, military and non-academic experience, they head to the Clandestine Service Trainee Program. Those applying straight from college or university join the Professional Trainee Program.
Other CIA jobs – like business, IT, security and language positions – also have specialized training pertinent to that role’s duties and responsibilities. IT employees stay up-to-date on cyber threats and security by taking technology and computer continuing education courses. Language analysts and experts continually develop and evolve their language skills. Staying abreast of foreign affairs and the newest technology is imperative to performing any CIA role. The organization takes every care to assure that its employees receive the continuing education they need to succeed.
How Do You Apply for a CIA Job?
Because of the delicate nature of the work, the application process for a CIA job is long and involved, taking anywhere from two months to a year. To start the application process, applicants must create an online account on the CIA website. Applicants must complete and submit their application within three days. If not completed within three days, the CIA shuts down the applicant’s account. Each application can only apply for four jobs at one time.
The extensive application asks for a thorough background inventory and outline of expertise and experience including knowledge, skills, abilities and college majors. Applicants provide work history, certifications and licenses, foreign area knowledge, military experiences, and languages and proficiency levels.
The second part of the application, the Personnel Evaluation Form, includes the security clearance, background investigations, polygraphs, military discharges, employment issues, and drug use and activity. This is also where the applicant shares any violations of the law, criminal convictions, delinquent federal debt, and Peace Corps employment.
For the third and final part of the application, you’ll enter your personal information. You’ll upload your resume and any supporting documents the job requires, such as transcripts or writing samples. After you submit the application, within in two days you’ll receive an email from the CIA letting them know if your application has been accepted. If not, you’ll have to resubmit.
If the CIA is interested in pursuing an applicant further, it will call or email within 45 days. The CIA receives over 1,000 applications each month, so if you don’t hear within 45 days, the CIA is not interested. To protect its employees and agents, the CIA does not allow any communications between and among its applicants when outside the U.S.
What Are the Benefits of Working for the CIA?
Along with a generous salary, CIA agents receive numerous benefits. Paid time off starts at 13 days a year for three or more years with the CIA and peaks at 26 days a year for employers with over 15 years of service. The CIA offers 10 paid holidays each year and allows employees to utilize flextime, compressed weeks and job sharing. It also runs a daycare center just for CIA employees and has a work-life programs to help employees balance their duties at work with their responsibilities at home.
Other benefits include a generous health insurance plan that includes an HSA account and three excused hours a week for physical fitness. Employees receive flexible spending accounts, life insurance, student loan repayment assistance and supplemental insurance.
As an Equal Opportunity Employer, the CIA also provides its employees with Personal Assistance Services. PAS helps qualified employees who need assistance with basic daily activities like dressing themselves, eating and using the bathroom. Employees qualify for PAS services if they have a targeted disability and having these services would help them perform the duties of their job.