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Now hiring: Army needs counterintelligence agents

While the Army finalizes plans to trim tens of thousands of soldiers, its counterintelligence community is hiring.

Enlisted counterintelligence agents serve around the world, investigating threats of all types alongside CI officers and law enforcement officials from multiple agencies. Their skills and experience, plus a top-secret security clearance, can create a path to a post-service career with the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security or similar organizations.

Interested yet? If so, here's a primer on entering the counterintelligence field.

Q. What ranks are eligible?

A. Specialists E-4s who have been in the Army for at least 36 months and have held that rank for at least eight months, along with sergeants who are not in a promotable status.

Q. What are the requirements?

A. The basics:

  • At least 21 years old.
  • A minimum Skilled Technical (ST) score of 101, if you took the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery after July 1, 2004, or of 105, if you took the test before Jan. 1, 2002. If you're in the middle, the minimum is 102.
  • Ability to qualify for a top-secret clearance, which you’ll receive prior to training.
  • A driver's license, normal color vision, a physical profile of 222221 and a high-school diploma (or equivalent).
  • The soldier and the soldier’s immediate family members must be U.S. citizens.

The full requirements for the MOS are available in the MOS Smartbook (DA Pam 611-21).

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jamie Turner instructs soldiers at 35L training in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Photo Credit: Tanja Linton/Army

Q. Can I get a waiver?

A. For some of the above, yes. Color vision waivers are possible, for instance, and family-citizenship waivers can be easy to obtain depending on the home country of the family member in question: An official said a spouse from Canada, for example, likely wouldn't stall an application packet.

Family members from other countries where "current and ongoing subversion is known to take place" could present a problem, according to an emailed response to questions from program officials.

Waivers are rarely awarded for poor test scores. Program officials suggest re-taking the test with support from your local education center to avoid the waiver process.

Waivers will not be granted for rank, time in service or time in grade, or security-clearance concerns.

Q. How many can qualify?

A. The program had 518 authorized spots for E-5s as of July 8, with 427 of those occupied. That's an 82 percent fill rate rate.

Q. I thought specialists were eligible?

A. They are, but they won't be E-4s for long. That is because 35L is a STAR MOS at the grade of E-5, which means soldiers who graduate from the 17-week-plus Counterintelligence Special Agent course at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, will arrive at their new duty stations as newly minted sergeants.

Q. How do I apply?

A. Find a field agent and express your interest in the program. After an initial interview, about 20 minutes long, you'll be given the full application packet and instructions. It'll take about a week to put together, officials said.

Once you're done, you'll need to sit for a three-hour interview, which includes timed writing samples. You'll have to provide a motivation statement — why you want to join the counterintelligence ranks — as well as a biography.

Q. How long does the process take?

A. Applications are screened once a month, and selected soldiers are slotted into the next available training course — Huachuca runs three of them each year, and officials say there are seats available throughout the sessions. Once an applicant completes the packet, he or she should expect a response in 30 to 90 days, officials said.

Q. How do I stand out as an applicant?

A. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jamie Turner, course manager for the 35L program at Huachuca and part of the panel that approves applications, said the best applicants show "the ability to put that two-hour conversation with somebody into writing" — a must-have skill for 35Ls in the field. The timed essays provide more than just facts about the candidate, Turner said, also serving as a way for evaluators to judge writing ability.

An engaging personality — one more likely to develop sources of information, or get a subject to open up in an interview room — is another plus.

Q. What's the training like?

A. The course focuses on proper interview and meeting techniques, Turner said — walking soldiers through the right ways to ask questions and take information.

And be ready to write. A lot. Various types of reports make up the bulk of training assignments, and soldiers without strong writing skills will struggle.

Problems with compiling reports are a chief reason why some soldiers do not complete the training, Turner said. He offered a tip to get a leg up on the competition: Familiarize yourself with the types of computer software (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, etc.) that some soldiers try their best to avoid.

Q. Where will I serve?

A. The short answer: anywhere. In addition to the Army's various military intelligence groups, brigades and battalions, brigade combat teams of multiple stripes (infantry, Stryker, etc.) include counterintelligence positions, as do various infantry and airborne units stationed around the globe.

Field agents can be found near any U.S. post, Turner said, as well as overseas, with multiple positions in South Korea, Italy and Germany.

Q. What will I do?

A. CI agent tasks include obtaining foreign intelligence and detecting and neutralizing terrorist threats targeting U.S. forces.

An 18-year veteran of Army counterintelligence, Turner said the daily grind can be a bit of a crap shoot, though agents frequently interact with FBI and CIA officials, as well as fellow soldiers and Army civilians who may be reporting wrongdoing or part of an investigation.

Regional law enforcement liaison work also plays a part and could be location-specific — more time with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for field agents near the border, for instance, and less time working outside the base gates for agents in foreign countries.

Enlisted soldiers will work side-by-side with officers and warrants, Turner said, often out of uniform (field agents are more likely to be found in polo shirts) and sometimes in the same interview setting.

"You really know that person; you feed off each other when you're conducting an interview for an investigation," Turner said. "You're in a suit and tie, or in polos and khaki … all of my enlisted agents are always respectful of me, and I rely on them. I may have an off day, and they're on, and they come up with all the questions we need to ask."

Q. When I re-enlist, can I cash in?

A. Yes. Soldiers in the MOS are eligible for selective retention bonuses; 35L sergeants can earn an extra $11,600 if they re-up for five years (smaller amounts for shorter commitments). The maximum payout dips slightly to $10,400 for staff sergeants and sergeants first class, according to May SRB figures.

The counterintelligence specialty also is included in the Special MOS Alignment Promotion Program, which features automatic promotions to sergeant and staff sergeant for qualified Regular Army soldiers who retrain and reclassify to 35L.

Q. How will this help my post-service career prospects?

A. Earning a top-secret clearance can up your civilian salary by nearly 13 percent in some career fields, according to reports. And the investigative techniques used by Army officials provide excellent training for jobs in any law enforcement field, Turner said. Some 35Ls have moved into analyst roles with the CIA and FBI, he said, and recruiting materials for the MOS list private investigator and social worker among possible post-service options.

Q. I have more questions.

A. More details are available at the official CI recruiting link (Common Access Card login required) or from Sgt. 1st Class Paula Cummings, 35L life cycle career management noncommissioned officer, at 520-533-1189.

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