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Up The Academy

An interesting proposition on the radio today spurred on by this story, about the need for a National Security Academy set up along the lines of West Point or Annapolis. Similar service obligation but a focus on the skill sets required by IC agencies.

If I am not mistaken the recent intel reform legislation talked of providing scholarships and setting standards for intelligence education within the community, but there is nothing that suggests there was any intent to create an institution along the lines of what was mentioned.

As it stands now the only IC agency that I’m aware of that confers degrees is DIA’s Joint Military Intelligence College (BA, MA). The Kent School does not issue degrees though for all practical purposes you get college-level instruction on the analytic discipline. NSA’s National Cryptologic School courses run the gamut from very basic technical classes to graduate-certificate-level knowledge about related disciplines (you can get an NSA-focused JMIC degree via a joint program). All the Service graduate schools and NDU of course offer programs in broader national security studies, as do a few universities. The only physical college I’m aware of that has a full-blown intelligence studies program is Mercyhurst and in cyberspace it is APU. Myriad schools offer courses in terrorism related studies.

The question remains: is a National Security Academy – a brick and mortar presence – the way to go? I’m inclined to say “no” but I’m open to your opinions.

First of all, we’re talking about Uncle Sam here, so even if they got things in gear now you’re still looking at 3-6 years before you find an institution you can take over, co-opt, or break ground for. Then you’ve got to hire faculty and staff, you’ve got all sorts of overhead to deal with and perhaps most importantly: you’ve got a counterintelligence nightmare on your hands. Granted, not everyone who graduates is going to get into the IC or other national security organs, but a lot are. As a public institution, with Web sites and email addresses and year books – every FIS in the world is going to have a roster of potential exploits in their hands. There is also the question of what the heck you do with your life if you don’t pass the voodoo box test or there is a hiring freeze and you are suddenly unemployable in your chosen profession? Do you have to pay The Man back for the book learnin’ he gave you? Does the gov’t write off that class year?

My information may be dated, but last time I checked graduates of the Service academies were among the least likely to put in 20 years. By and large ROTC graduates stay longer and climb higher in the ranks. Part of that is due to the larger number of new officers that come from the ROTC ranks, but I suspect that there are other dynamics involved. The same would probably be true for NS Academy grads, who can not only work for Uncle Sam, but for all those bandits trying to sell products and services to him.

I think VDH had it right when he called on the Cold War Russian-Studies approach. Have the gov’t come up with a core curriculum and areas of emphasis/majors, provide some funding, and let the academic marketplace do the heavy lifting. In the end you’ll be drawing from a much larger pool of candidates, the FIS’s have to work harder, and if there is a RIF because world peace has spontaneously broken out, well, its no skin off Uncle Sam’s nose.

More on intel education in this Kent’s Imperative post (scroll down).

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.