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Veterans and Working at the CIA

Your prior military service could qualify you to continue to serve your nation at the Central Intelligence Agency. Opportunities for qualified applicants are available in the U.S. and abroad. This article will take a look at the CIA, how it is organized, and basic requirements for working at this prestigious government agency.

The primary mission of the CIA is to collect, evaluate and disseminate foreign intelligence in order to help the president and senior United States government policymakers make national security decisions. At the request of the president, the CIA may engage in covert action.

The United States government relies heavily on the people of the CIA to provide domestic and international intelligence to help maintain national security. The current focus of the CIA is terrorism intelligence, but there is also a strong need for counterintelligence, espionage and covert activity.

The CIA does not create policy or law. Although it has been accused of doing both, the CIA is not allowed to spy on the domestic activities of American citizens or to participate in assassinations.

The home of the CIA is located at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in suburban Langley, Virginia. Most of the jobs with the CIA are located at the home office or in D.C. proper. The CIA will reimburse new appointees for some of the cost of relocation and associated travel.

Before you seek a job at the CIA, take a look at their stated mission, vision and values. These are posted on their website, and offer good insight into the character of the organization as well as the kind of individuals they seek.

Basic Requirements for All CIA Positions

You must be a U.S. citizen and complete a thorough medical examination, a polygraph interview, and extensive background investigation. It is important to note that the CIA is not a veteran preference agency.

A college degree is highly recommended, although life experiences are taken into consideration. A college degree is a standard requirement for overseas officers, intelligence analysts and some other non-clerical positions.

If you are currently serving in the military and are considering a post-military career in the CIA, you may wish to consider completing your college degree using your education benefits.

CIA Structure

Like every large organization, the CIA has its own unique structural components. The CIA is made up of four separate teams, each with its own areas of responsibility. These groups are the National Clandestine Service, the Directorate of Science and Technology, the Directorate of Intelligence and the Directorate of Support. To give you an idea of what these areas encompass, an overview of each is below.

National Clandestine Service

The word “clandestine” should tell you that this is where the spy action happens. NCS employees are the people who go undercover to collect intelligence. They cannot tell you exactly what it is that they do, because it is, truly, a matter of national security.

To work in NCS, an applicant must be well-educated, be fluent in other languages, adaptable, physically and mentally fit, and capable of sound judgment in dangerous situations. Good college degrees to hold for a role in Clandestine Service include international economics and business and the physical sciences.

It’s worth noting that the maximum age for Clandestine Services Trainees is 35 years of age.

Directorate of Science and Technology

Where the NCS team collects “human intelligence,” employees of the DST collect overt, open source intelligence. This means they gather information that appears in public media sources, but they also use electronic and satellite photography to gather data on global scale.

DST employees are also well-educated, often fluent in languages other than English, and enjoy science and engineering.

Directorate of Intelligence

The Directorate of Intelligence is the team that interprets and presents the findings of the NCS and DST.

DI team members must have first rate analytical skills and must have excellent writing abilities. They must be comfortable presenting detailed and technical information in front of groups, and they must work well under pressure. 

Directorate of Support

The Directorate of Support is exactly what it says it is. This group supports the rest of the organization, handling hiring, training, finance and administration.

Historically, the amount of oversight over our nation’s Central Intelligence Agency has ebbed and flowed. The CIA is accountable to both the executive and legislative branches of government. The National Security Council, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the Intelligence Oversight Board are the three groups on the executive side to which the CIA must answer.

The National Security Council is made up of the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a group of individuals from the private sector, studies the CIAs effectiveness and performance. In addition to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, The Intelligence Oversight Board is another group created to ensure that all intelligence gathering activity is executed in a legal fashion.

On the legislative side, the CIA works with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Along with the Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees, these groups oversee the CIA and its programs. The appropriations committees appropriate funds for the CIA and all U.S. government activities. Since 1949, the CIA budget has been deemed classified, secret information.

Military Service and CIA Benefits

As a veteran, if you are hired by the CIA, your previous military service could affect the benefits you earn as a federal employee. The following is an overview of what you can expect in terms of benefits when transitioning from the military to a CIA career.

Annual Leave

Military personnel who separate from uniformed service receive full annual leave credit for service performed under honorable conditions. Based on the number of years of uniformed service performed, you earn a predetermined number of hours of annual leave each pay period.

Years of Military Service Hours/Pay Period Days/Year

Less than 3 4 13
3 but less than 15 6 20
15 or more 8 26

Retired military personnel are generally not eligible for annual leave accrual credit. Exceptions to this rule are outlined below, and detailed in the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004. According to this Act, active duty when retirement was based on a disability received as a direct result of armed conflict or caused by an instrumentality of war and was incurred in the line of duty during a period of war as defined in  38 U.S.C. 101(11). "Period of war" includes World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam era, the Persian Gulf War, or the period beginning on the date of any future declaration of war by the Congress and ending on the date prescribed by Presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of the Congress.

Sick Leave

Your military service does not affect sick leave accruals. Full-time employees accrue four hours of sick leave per pay period, or up to 13 workdays leave per year.

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)

If you had a Thrift Savings Plan retirement savings and investment account while serving in the military, you can merge most of your account balance after you establish a civilian account. Tax-exempt balances (contributions from combat zone pay) cannot be transferred to your civilian account.

New employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System must serve a waiting period before becoming eligible to receive Agency contributions. Military service does not count towards eligibility for Agency Automatic (1%) contributions and Agency Matching contributions (up to 5%).

Service Credit for Retirement

Separated military personnel can use their uniformed service for credit toward civilian retirement. To do this, they must make a deposit to the retirement fund of 7 percent (for Civil Service Retirement System - CSRS) or 3 percent (for FERS) of basic military pay.

Retired military personnel can use their uniformed service towards civilian retirement by making a deposit to the retirement fund and waiving their military retirement pay at their civilian retirement. If a military retiree wants to keep their military retirement pay, they cannot use their military service toward civilian retirement.

Military Leave Accrual for National Guard or Reserves Duty

Full-time federal employees who serve in the National Guard or Reserves for Active Duty or Training accrue 15 days (120 hours) of military leave for each fiscal year. Accrual rates are prorated for part-time federal employees.  Federal employees on military leave receive both their civilian and military pay. Any unused military leave is carried over into the new fiscal year. Any unused leave of more than 120 hours is forfeited.

Military Leave Insurrection

If a federal employee is required for an emergency duty (law enforcement or protection of life and property) as ordered by the President of the United States or by a State Governor, or in support of contingency operations as defined in 10 U.S.C. 101(A)(13),  they are eligible to receive the following leave military leave benefits:

Employees earn up to 22 days per calendar year, which cannot be carried over into the next calendar year. Their civilian salary is reduced by the amount of pay for days of military leave, but they may opt to take annual instead of military leave and receive both military and civilian pay.

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