back

How to Become a Spy

So you want to be a spy, an international man — or woman — of mystery, jet-setting the globe in search of evil overlords and their criminal minions? Well, don’t believe everything you see in the movies.

But for those considering a career overseas in criminal justice, there are opportunities with a variety of employers such as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, or ICITAP, the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol, and even the United Nations.

The most well-known overseas criminal justice employer is the CIA, which employs men and women to work abroad, often undercover, gathering intelligence. If you’re truly interested, it’s helpful if you to speak a foreign language and have some experience working in another country.

But first, ask yourself, do you really know what a CIA agent does?

The agency is responsible for gathering information that is beneficial to the United States and often involves national security issues that are decided by the President or the National Security Advisor.

Spies aren’t really called spies, according to a report on the website, askmen.com. They’re more often referred to as Operations Officers, and they work in the Clandestine Service of the CIA, reporting to the Directorate of Operations.

An Operations Officer tries to get information that can’t be captured by satellites or through computer stealth. They recruit assets, people indigenous to a particular region overseas, who can assist them in their goals. But not all Operations Officers are spies – some work as intelligence analysts or foreign language specialists.

A former CIA operative offered the public a rare glimpse inside the lifestyle. A January 2015 report by Business Insider focused on a book authored by former CIA officer J.C. Carleson, who served eight years as an undercover operative.

According to Carleson, who translated her spy experience into a series of tips for succeeding in business, operatives need to be quick studies, capable of identifying trends and connections.

They must perfect the art of hooking a target, which includes finding a reason to meet the individual and devising a reason to continue meeting. Operatives need to be wary when people do assist them in the event there is an ulterior motive. They should never share too much information. And they must be aware of their own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others.

Because the CIA in particular is looked upon to help protect national security, applicants seeking employment with the agency must possess the right background and skillset.

CIA operatives must have at least a bachelor’s degree and it would be helpful to have that degree in a major course of study related to criminal justice or law enforcement. Because of the technical aspects of the job, degrees in engineering, information technology or science also are a plus.

The CIA requires applicants to have at a minimum a 3.0 grade point average. They also need at least three years of experience with criminal investigations.

Finally, the intangibles, such as fluency in foreign languages, particularly Arabic or related languages, experience with different cultures or a background in sociology or psychology can help you stand out amid a crowded field.

Not everyone who dreams of becoming James Bond or Jason Bourne gets that opportunity, but for a select few applicants, the path to becoming a spy might not be as difficult as you imagine.

Explore Programs