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The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Directorate of Intelligence (DI) employs a number of political analysts responsible for informing U.S. policymakers through written assessments on both domestic politics and international relations.
CIA political analysts examine the goals and motivations of foreign governments and their interests, which also includes investigating their ideologies, cultures, values, and society. The main goal of these CIA analysts is to assess the political strategies of foreign governments. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these strategies, political analysts can assess the impact these strategies may have on the U.S.
A Closer Look at Political Analysis
The major hurdle of political analysis is to establish credibility, as policymakers often view politics in general with a certain degree of skepticism. As such, political analysis must be relevant, objective, timely, informed, and written in an expert voice. As a senior political analyst with the CIA said, “With credibility comes impact.”
As such, the goal of political analysis is not to determine the outcome of the policy process, but to instead provide an in-depth, complete analysis that allows the policymaker to make the most informed decision possible.
Therefore, political analysts must:
- Be able to achieve a certain degree of insight that comes with expertise, not just staying current on political topics
- Remain aware of U.S. history and culture as to understand the biases that shape our perceptions of others
- Be able to recognize when American cultural biases may lead to tension in a foreign relationship
- Be able to learn a foreign country’s history as they teach it
- Understand the literature, philosophy and key thinkers of the foreign country in which they study
- Have a deep understanding of how power is acquired, how it is wielded, and the acceptable and unacceptable uses of power
- Understand the popular culture of the U.S. and foreign country and how it may shape the attitudes, prejudices and expectations of other nations
- Understand that there is simply not substitute for being able to speak and read the language of the country
The Path to Becoming a CIA Political Analyst
Individuals with aspirations of becoming a political analyst with the CIA must be United States citizens, and they must hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree (with a minimum 3.0 GPA) in one of the following (or a closely related) fields:
- Political science
- National security studies
- Foreign area studies
- International relations
Candidates for CIA political analyst jobs may also qualify if they possess the following degrees, provided they have an international focus:
- Comparative politics
- Media studies
Preferred candidates are those whom have:
- A higher GPA
- Relevant experience
- Strong verbal presentation skills
- Strong writing skills
- An interest in a career that requires regular writing assignments
- A foreign language proficiency in their area of expertise (e.g., Mandarin Chinese for China specialists)
The employment process for a political analyst job with the CIA includes a medical and psychological examination, a background investigation, and a polygraph examination. Applicants must include a cover letter, their college transcripts, and a 5 to 8 page essay describing their specialty area with their application.