What did I do?

Whenever I’m asked, “What did you do in the CIA?” I’m a bit stuck.

There’s no good snappy answer. I did a variety of things, many of which can’t be defined in layman’s terms.

One of the reasons for such a varied career was that I was balancing work and family. The Central Intelligence Agency might not seem like an employer who accommodates such a balance, but by being flexible and honing transferable skills like communication and decisonmaking, I was able to have it all.

Taking a helicopter view, I was an analyst for the first 7 years and an intelligence collector for the next 23.

Thirty years is a long time, but I can honestly say I was rarely bored during my CIA career. Many colleagues became life-long friends. I have good memories and some great souvenirs.

CIA challenge coins

Challenge coins from the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

 

Related post: Inside my CIA Career: The Analysis Puzzle

Mission areas

Unlike most officers who remain in one “mission” area for the entirety of their Central Intelligence Agency CIA career, I was lucky enough to work in all mission areas:

  • analysis,
  • operations,
  • science and technology,
  • digital innovation.

 

Carmen Amato at CIA 2016

Nove 2016, on the CIA seal with my Career Intelligence Medal.

 

I also worked in three collection disciplines.

HUMINT: information provided by human sources,

SIGINT: information gleaned from electronic signals and systems used by foreign targets, such as communications systems, radars, and weapons systems, and,

OSINT: information gleaned from publicly available sources.

Playing Favorites

Looking back, my favorite positions were all in the intelligence collection arena. As a collector, I felt the greatest sense of purpose, accomplishment, excitement, and job satisfaction.

There is nothing like being faced with a key intelligence question, especially during a crisis, and knowing that a major national security decision could hinge on some nugget of information you ferret out.

Yes, lives could be at stake. Outcomes mattered.

What you did made a difference. Sometimes you knew that, other times you didn’t.

It’s all about the People

I had the best bosses in those jobs, too. People who were dedicated to results. They understood the dangerous consequences of doing a job with indifference.

They kept indifference at bay by creating inclusive work environments that kept us motivated.

I had some terrific colleagues, too.

The CIA attracts a very high caliber of employee. Unique skills and talents are required, as well as the willingness to adapt to swiftly changing events and requirements. A unity of purpose quickly develops when you work with someone on matters of critical national security.

It’s natural. The work is unique.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

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