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Can Physics lead to an Intelligence Analyst career?

  1. Jul 18, 2013 #1
    I know this might sound like a very, very peculiar question, with a very, very peculiar description. Anyway, I am currently going for the fourth and last year of my curriculum in Physics school and I want to be completely honest with you before I even ask: I do have a noticeable bunch of courses that I still have to pass (fortunately or not, my country allows accumulation) because I wasn't the best student in the first year and I'm also struggling with my newly-discovered OCD. But now I'm on track and already spending my summer studying to not only pass, but get great grades in some courses.

    On to the actual question. I love and have always loved Physics, but what I love about it is its applications, not the theoretical stuff. I have always been fascinated by circuits, nuclear reactors, satellites, materials and the list goes on. The reason I still chose it over engineering is because I want to gain the most basic understanding of the principles that govern those devices, plus I can always get a Master's in Engineering afterwards. Since I'm also a programmer -and a 'computer wiz' in general- and I'll admit to watching a lot of '24', I'm very interested in the field of intelligence analysis. Be it signal processing of a satellite image, writing software for a radar system, or working in the defense sector, I love all of this.

    So, do you think I can somehow reach that goal? Feel free to ask for clarifications if I haven't made something clear. Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2013 #2
    I had a friend who left graduate school after obtaining his Masters in Astrophysics who then went to work the NSA. So it's possible. I'm not exactly sure what the details were in his case though. Picking up some experience in image analysis probably wouldn't hurt.
  4. Jul 18, 2013 #3
    The liklihood probably depends on your citizenship. The answers you get are likely to be US-centered, but if you're not a US citizen, many or even most of those may not be open to you.
  5. Jul 24, 2013 #4
    Depends on the analyst position. application of physics and computer programming is great for all positions, but most likely specific degrees will be wanted by government agencies for a specific job. One of the most important factors after that will be your US citizenship, and obtaining a clearance, meaning background checks, and possibly a polygraph test especially if you are a civilian trying to get into those agencies. NGA, NRO, NASA etc. heres some link that might help ya. Also consider joining the Armed Forces, the Airforce is one of the better ones for highly technical interdisciplinary, geospatial intelligence, network intel, signals intel, and the list goes on.
    http://www.intelligence.gov/how-to-apply/career-search.html<-- All those intelligence agencies

    https://www.usajobs.gov/JobSearch/S...ion=&search=Search&AutoCompleteSelected=False<-- A search engine for jobs for all US gov agencies
  6. Jul 25, 2013 #5
    "I'm very interested in the field of intelligence analysis. Be it signal processing of a satellite image, writing software for a radar system, or working in the defense sector, I love all of this."

    None of that is really intelligence analysis. The data generated by those things are used by intelligence analyst but the devices, software, etc that do them are created by engineers. An intelligence analyst takes data from a bunch of sources and tries to figure out what it implies about real world situations.

    So an intelligence analyst might take conversations from a variety of phone calls, known movement of people from various tracking sources, and a history of money transfers between banks/people and figure out that a terrorist cell is setting up a training center at some location. Sounds exciting but in reality each individual analyst is much more likely to waste time on fruitless work or spend months on end just sorting out irrelevant information than to actually discover the location of some important target.

    I suppose anyone can be an intelligence analyst. In general what would set a person apart would be things like

    Speaking the language(s) of the area they are assigned.
    Knowing the culture of the of the area they are assigned.
    Knowledge of how financial institutions work/money is typically transferred etc.
  7. Jul 25, 2013 #6


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    Given that much of intelligence analysis involves the analysis of large, often disparate sources of data, I would think that someone with a research background in statistics or computer science (particularly those who have research experience in machine learning) will have a good chance at finding a career in this line of work, either at the NSA or within the CIA or other similar agencies.
    Similarly, those with cognate skills in areas like math, applied math or physics will also likely have a chance, all else being equal.
  8. Jul 25, 2013 #7
    There is plenty of work doing programming and statistical work but I don't think these positions fall under the title "intelligence analyst". The point of what I was saying is there is a disconnect between the job title the OP wants and what the OP actually wants to do and is more qualified for.

    For example here is the desired degree of a current NSA intelligence analyst position:

    "A bachelor's or Master's degree in International Relations, Foreign or Regional Studies, Political Science (internationally focused only), Intelligence/Security Studies, Anthropology, Geography or topical studies such as counterterrorism, counterproliferation or other enduring transnational issues."
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