Back in November 2014, SOFREP writer Frumentarius wrote an excellent piece titled Top 5 Qualifications for CIA’s Clandestine Service, which outlined the checklist of resume items for aspiring spies. The list included background prerequisites such as military experience, language, experience abroad, higher education, and life experience. In this article, I will discuss some of the internal qualities and attributes that the CIA looks for in a candidate and which successful intelligence officers must possess and maintain throughout their careers and even into retirement. Some of the attributes can and must be learned and taught while on the job, but most are intrinsic to the officer’s character.


1) Integrity

Probably the most important of all of the attributes, this is also the most difficult to maintain, as attested to by the fact that, despite the Agency’s strenuous vetting and hiring process, it has endured traitors. For example, Philip Agee, who published a book in 1975 titled Inside the Company: CIA Diary, which exposed the identities of roughly 250 alleged officers and agents. Or Aldrich Ames, whose 11-year span of treason compromised over 100 intelligence operations and who is responsible for the deaths of at least 10 CIA assets in the Soviet Union.

In essence, integrity comes down to the unofficial definition of “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.” We all know that the right choice is not often made by those who choose the easy road. Be it in training, in the office while writing up a report, sitting face-to-face with an asset at a meeting, or memorizing the details of the crucial information being passed, the common denominator in the equation is… you. The Agency and your colleagues trust that you will do the right thing every time, and not just because you’ve been pegged as “one of the good ones.” Lives can and will be at stake, and those trusted with our nation’s secrets must be above reproach — the same goes for our leadership (yes, yes, I know the history and I read the news… that is a debate for another time).