Security and Intelligence Studies in the Private Sector

By Scott Small

When considering a career in the field of international security, one’s mind is often first drawn to the public sector. Students graduating from academic programs in international security or intelligence studies may first think of pursuing a position with the U.S. or their home government, or working for a relevant branch of an international governmental organization such as the United Nations. However, numerous opportunities exist in the private sector for those possessing the skills developed in a security-focused degree program. Furthermore, contrary to common perceptions about the differing nature of the public vs. private sector, the vast majority of the day-to-day tasks and ultimate goals of an individual working for an international security company are the same as those of a public employee in a comparable position.

I work for a private company that helps other organizations identify and mitigate risk in the international supply chain. The ultimate goal of our company is to enhance our clients’ supply chain security – a term that describes efforts to ensure the integrity of goods from the point of production to the ultimate point of resale and consumption. As a member of my company’s intelligence team, I am tasked with collecting information about the myriad risks to international supply chains, analyzing this information, and then producing and disseminating finished supply chain security intelligence to our clients.

Much like analysts employed at a government agency, our team is responsible for producing a variety of intelligence products in any given week. Intelligence briefs give the consumer a concise overview of a particular incident and the significance of that event in the context of the broader risk environment. Special reports allow us to dig deeper into a particular country or a specific threat. Like many analysts employed in government intelligence organizations, I am responsible for a particular geographic region. While this provides the opportunity to delve into the specific risks present in a particular part of the world, the transnational nature of many supply chain risks also requires close coordination with colleagues focused on other regions of the world.

The overall objectives of an intelligence professional will remain the same whether the individual is working for a government agency or a private company. Most of the day-to-day tasks of an intelligence analyst are comparable between private and public employment. All analysts will follow some form of the intelligence cycle: first collecting raw information; processing and analyzing this information; disseminating a finished intelligence product; and constantly evaluating the entire process for areas of improvement or optimization.

Furthermore, the key tenets and ultimate goals of an intelligence professional should remain consistent regardless of the employer. Most importantly, objectivity is fundamental in order to provide the most accurate assessment of any issue to the intelligence consumer, whether they are a policymaker in Congress or the White House or a corporate executive. Critical thinking skills are essential in order to synthesize seemingly disparate pieces of information into a more complete picture. Finally, but certainly not least important, conciseness and solid writing skills are necessary to clearly convey your message to individuals who often have only minutes to read and process a finished intelligence product.

Although it may not often be as apparent, working for a private company in the field of international security offers a directly comparable experience to many similar positions in the public sector. The day-to-day tasks of intelligence officers are overwhelmingly similar regardless of the employer, and the end- goals and skill sets required to accomplish these goals are identical. My own experience with a private-sector company in the field of supply chain security has afforded the opportunity to further develop the skills I was first introduced to in the classroom, in addition to providing the chance to have a direct impact with my work.