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.

The work is unique.


You may also like


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


Mystery author newsletter

I think we have something in common.

We both love a great mystery!

Join the Mystery Ahead newsletter.

2 x month | book news & must-read mystery reviews

Check your email for a warm welcome and your Bonus gift! All the best, Carmen

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This