Clandestine Service

The Ultimate International Career

The CIA’s Clandestine Service is the front-line source of clandestine information on critical international developments, from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to military and political issues. The mission often requires clandestine service officers to live and work overseas, making a true commitment to the Agency. This is more than just a job – it’s a way of life that challenges the deepest resources of personal intelligence, self-reliance and responsibility. National Clandestine Service Officers are individuals with varied backgrounds and life experiences, professional and educational histories, language capabilities, and other elements that allow us to meet our mission critical objectives.

View our available Clandestine Service jobs.


Operations Officer

Operations Officers serve on the front lines of the human intelligence collection business by clandestinely recruiting and handling sources of foreign intelligence. It takes special skills and professional discipline to establish strong human relationships that result in high-value intelligence from clandestine sources. An Operations Officer must be able to deal with fast-moving, ambiguous and unstructured situations. This requires physical and psychological health, energy, intuition, “street sense” and the ability to cope with stress. Operations Officers serve the bulk of their time in overseas assignments.

Collection Management Officer

As the link between the Clandestine Service Operations Officer in the field, the US foreign policy community and Intelligence Community analysts, it is the responsibility of the Collection Management Officer (CMO) to manage the collection, evaluation and dissemination of CIA intelligence information. Managing the collection effort requires determining what US policymakers need to know and then communicating those requirements to the Operations Officer. To be effective, the CMO must understand Clandestine Service operations and how they are conducted abroad, as well as international issues and overseas operating environments.

Staff Operations Officer

Based out of CIA Headquarters in Washington, DC, Staff Operations Officers (SOOs) plan, guide and support intelligence collection operations, counterintelligence activities and covert action programs. SOOs develop expertise on a particular geographic region or transnational target (such as terrorism, counterintelligence, proliferation, or crime). The SOO is the interface between Headquarters and the field, and the SOO serves a critical role in translating executive guidance into operational action overseas. SOOs must possess excellent communication skills, as they are often required to write nuanced operational guidance or brief complex developments, often at short notice.

Specialized Skills Officer – Targeting

The Targeting Officer is primarily based in the Washington, DC area with some opportunities for tours and short assignments overseas. In today’s fast-paced and technologically savvy world, targeting is critical to the success of the National Clandestine Service’s (NCS) global mission. Officers in this career track will directly support and drive complex worldwide NCS operations to develop actionable intelligence against the highest priority threats to U.S. national security. SSO-T’s develop in-depth, substantive expertise geared towards NCS operations. Effective SSO-Ts are inquisitive, investigative, and action-oriented. They must be able to synthesize large – often nonspecific – datasets and intelligence into a strategic picture and clearly and concisely convey the information.

Paramilitary Operations Officer – Specialized Skills Officer

Specialized Skills Officers focus on intelligence operations for US policymakers in hazardous and austere overseas environments. Military special operations or combat arms experience (ground, air, or maritime), previous foreign travel, combat service and foreign language proficiency are highly valued.

Language Officer

The Language Officer applies advanced foreign language skills, experience and expertise to provide high-quality translation, interpretation and language-related support for a variety of Clandestine Service operations. In addition to their expert language skills, Language Officers provide in-depth cultural insight — an important dimension of the job. They also work closely with officers in other Clandestine Service disciplines — particularly field collectors — to support the overall mission of intelligence acquisition. As with other Clandestine Service professions, foreign travel opportunities and certain specialized training are integral elements of the job.


The Clandestine Life

Operations Officers and Collection Management Officers spend a significant portion of their time abroad. Typically, Operations Officers will serve 60% to 70% of their careers overseas, while Collection Management Officers will be overseas for 30% to 40% of their careers. Staff Operations Officers and Specialized Skills Officers – Targeting, although based in the Washington, D.C. area, have the opportunity to travel overseas on a temporary basis. Language Officers also are primarily based in Washington, though short-term and some long-term foreign travel opportunities are available.

Officers in each of these careers are under cover. By the very nature of this clandestine business, officers can expect limited external recognition for themselves and their families. Instead, the Agency has its own internal promotions, awards and medals, and makes every effort to recognize the accomplishments of its personnel.

In addition to competitive pay when serving abroad, Officers are provided housing and receive overseas allowances and schooling benefits for their children. There are also other benefits, such as language pay incentives, that Officers can receive depending on their skills set and position duties. Collectively, the benefits enable Officers to make significant contributions that impact our national security, and experience a high level of job satisfaction and camaraderie throughout their career.


Is This the Job for You?

Traditionally, we have had an officer corps of considerable diversity in terms of politics, talent, personality, temperament and background. That said, there are some fundamental qualities common to most successful officers, including a strong record of academic and professional achievement, good writing skills, problem-solving abilities and highly developed interpersonal skills. Overseas experience and languages are important factors as well. Officers must be perennial students, in the sense that they are required to seek answers, learn other languages and study other cultures to enhance their abilities to deal effectively with foreign cultures and societies.


Getting Started: Clandestine Service Trainee (CST) Program and Headquarters-Based Trainee Program (HBT)

These programs are the launching pad for challenging positions in the National Clandestine Service, providing new officers an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of today’s senior NCS managers. Qualified trainees are groomed in a unique intensive training program to prepare them for the foreign-intelligence-collection challenges facing the US today.