Role and Mission of the CIA National Clandestine Service

The National Clandestine Service (NCS) is the undercover arm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the authority on all clandestine operations throughout the world that concerns the nation’s intelligence community.

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The CIA’s elite corps of experts is called upon to conduct clandestine missions worldwide. This is accomplished by collecting human intelligence (HUMINT) that is then used by the President, senior policymakers, and the military in strategic decision-making. This supports the CIA’s mission to strengthen national security and foreign policy objectives through the collection of human intelligence and covert action.

How the CIA’s National Clandestine Service was Developed

The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) National Clandestine Service (NCS), which was formerly called the Directorate of Operations, was created in October 2005 in response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. It was discovered, through a 9/11 Commission investigation, that the agency’s human source intelligence (HUMINT) had become severely degraded in the past two decades.

The result of the investigation was the drafting of a bill that called for the creation of the National Clandestine Service (NCS). The newly formed NCS absorbed the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and began serving as the coordinator of HUMINT between the CIA and a number of federal agencies, including (but not limited to):

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Defense Intelligence Agency
  • Office of Naval Intelligence
  • Diplomatic Security Service
  • Marine Corps Intelligence Activity
  • Air Force ISR Agency
  • Army Intelligence

Activities and operations within the Directorate of Operations that were taken over by the NCS include:

  • Counterterrorism and counter-narcotics teams
  • Nuclear proliferation tracking
  • Paramilitary operations
  • Special Operations Group (within the Special Activities Division) – highly skilled in weaponry, guerilla warfare, assassination, sabotage, and escape and evasion techniques


Today’s National Clandestine Service

Today, the NCS accomplishes its mission through the service of four, distinct types of officers:

Collection Management Officers

Collection management officers serve as liaisons between operations officers in the field and the U.S. foreign policy community. Their work involves coordinating and overseeing the collection of intelligence and how that intelligence is disseminated. Managing the collection of intelligence means determining the significance of intelligence and what should be communicated to U.S. policymakers.

Staff Operations Officers

Staff operations officers, who work primarily from U.S.-based CIA offices, are tasked with providing the research and case management needed to support their CIA colleagues engaged in overseas operations. These CIA professionals monitor counterintelligence issues and provide the necessary support to foreign contacts, as well.

Operations Officers

Operations officers, also commonly referred to as case officers, deal specifically with the recruitment of sources and the collection of intelligence. Their work requires them to ensure sources are in place and significance and relevant intelligence is captured and disseminated in a timely manner.

Paramilitary Operations Officers

Paramilitary operations officers work within the NCS’s Special Activities Division, which is responsible for raids, ambushes, unconventional warfare, and sabotage. It is common for the CIA’s paramilitary operations officers to be chosen from some of the U.S. military’s most respected groups, including the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and other SEAL teams, the Army special forces, the U.S. Army Rangers, and the United States Marine Corps Special Forces Special Operations battalions.

The Path to a Career in the National Clandestine Service

With the exception of specialized positions, such as paramilitary operations officers, the majority of NCS special agents enter the agency through four, specific channels:

Internship Programs

The NCS offers a number of internship programs designed specifically for undergraduate or graduate students who are interested in supporting the NCS mission. All NCS interns complete their internship at the CIA headquarters in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, and all individuals chosen for the program are afforded competitive salaries and federal benefits.

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Internship programs within the CIA include:

  • Undergraduate Co-Op Program
  • Undergraduate Internship Program
  • Undergraduate Scholarship Program
  • Graduate Scholarship Program
  • Graduate Studies Program

Professional Trainee Program

The Professional Trainee Program is designed as an entry-level program for individuals seeking a career as a core collector in an overseas mission. Candidates for the professional trainee program must possess a bachelor’s degree. Substantial work experience is not a requirement, as most trainees receive experience through a number of headquarters-based assignments.

Clandestine Service Trainee Program

Upon the successful completion of the professional trainee program, individuals may be chosen for the clandestine service trainee program, which is designed to train and certify individuals to successfully recruit and handle foreign sources who can provide access to vital human intelligence. Upon completion of the clandestine service training program, operations officers and collection management officers are then certified as core collectors and are prepared for field deployment.

Headquarters-Based Trainee Program

The headquarters-based trainee program is an entry-level training program for individuals interested in headquarters-based careers in the NCS. Candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and an interest in international affairs (college work and courses in international affairs). Candidates with business and professional work experience are deemed desirable candidates. Individuals who complete this program, which includes field training and interim assignments, are ready for careers as staff operations officers and specialized skills (targeting) officers.

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