How to Become a Core Collector with the Central
Intelligence Agency

Core collectors, who work within the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) National Clandestine Service (NCS), are responsible for the acquisition of human intelligence through overseas activities.  Their work requires them to engage in the “full cycle of clandestine operations” during overseas missions, which includes the “safe, secure and effective” collection of evidence.

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CIA core collectors may serve through one of two careers tracks, based upon skills assessments during training:

  • Operations Officers (OO)
  • Collection Management Officers (CMO)


CIA Core Collectors: Operations Officers

Operations officers are responsible for identifying and recruiting individuals to be used for the collection of foreign intelligence related to national security issues. As such, operations officers are crucial to the development and implementation of U.S. foreign and national security policy, which include protecting U.S. interests.

Operations officers must be experts in foreign languages and cultures and have specific subject matter expertise and knowledge of foreign areas. Assignments in this career track may include human intelligence collection, counterintelligence, and covert action in areas related to U.S. national security, such as:

  • International terrorism
  • International crime
  • International trafficking
  • Weapons proliferation
  • Capabilities and intentions of rogue nations

Operations officers must possess:

  • Sound judgment
  • Common sense and flexibility (the ability to think on their toes)
  • The highest level of integrity, honesty, and honor
  • Excellent interpersonal and communications skills (people and street smarts)
  • An excellent judge of character and motivations
  • The ability to establish trusting relationships with foreign sources as to acquire only the most valuable intelligence

Operations officers can expect to spend between 50 and 70 percent of their time working overseas, with typical assignments ranging from 2 to 3 years.

CIA Core Collectors: Collection Management Officers

Collection management officers are the core collectors responsible for collecting, evaluating, classifying, and disseminating the foreign intelligence that is captured through overseas clandestine operations and sources. Their work involves ensuring that the acquired foreign intelligence is always relevant and always addresses the “highest foreign policy and national security needs” of the U.S.

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Collection management officers work with operations officers during overseas assignments as to ensure that the recruitment process and the interaction with clandestine sources are handled as effectively and efficiently as possible. They also ensure that all intelligence reports convey only the most timely and relevant information. Like operations officers, collection management officers are always involved in the full cycle of clandestine collection operations.  Collection management officers can expect to spend between 40 and 50 percent of their career working overseas.

Collection management officers also often work at CIA headquarters, where they are responsible for identifying and prioritizing intelligence collection and ensuring that operations officers in overseas missions receive this information in a timely fashion.

Collection management officers must:

  • Possess a thorough understanding of overseas operating environments
  • Possess a thorough understanding of current and pending international issues
  • Be able to work with minimal supervision
  • Be able to deal effectively with individuals at all levels and in any situation
  • Possess excellent written and verbal communications skills
  • Have excellent time management and multi-tasking abilities
  • Have sound judgment


Meeting the Requirements to Become a CIA Core Collector

Individuals seeking careers as core collectors must possess, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree with a strong academic record (a minimum 3.0 GPA) in a concentration that is relevant to international affairs.

Ideal candidates are those with foreign language proficiency and foreign travel and area knowledge, as well as prior residency abroad. Some of the “critical” languages of interest to the CIA include:

  • Indonesian
  • Korean
  • Russian
  • Turkish
  • Somali
  • Persian
  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Dari
  • Pashto
  • Kurdish
  • Urdu

Further, the CIA recognizes degrees of interest as:

  • International business
  • Finance
  • International relations
  • Economics
  • Physical science
  • Nuclear science
  • Biological engineering
  • Chemical engineering

Candidates for core collector jobs with the CIA must successfully complete two personal interviews, a thorough background investigation, a psychological evaluation, a medical examination, and a polygraph examination.

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Further, chosen candidates must them complete the CIA’s Clandestine Service Trainee (CST) Program or the Professional Trainee (PT) Program. The CST program is designed for candidates with a bachelor’s degree and several years of work or military experience, while the PT program is for individuals with a bachelor’s degree but little substantive work experience.

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