Liberty University’s Helms School of Government kicked off its first-ever Strategic Intelligence Studies Week on Monday with guest speaker Jim Melnick.
A retired U.S. Army Reserves colonel, Melnick is the director of global threat intelligence at iSIGHT Partners, a risk mitigation and management service provider. He served for 16 years as a civilian analyst in the U.S. intelligence community — and he shared his personal experience Monday afternoon in the Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center.
“The threats that we face today have changed,” said Melnick, whose career has taken him from working with intelligence that helped fight the Cold War to, more recently, combating hackers who might want to get your bank account number.
Melnick’s colleague, Josh Work, also spoke to students about the career path – telling them it’s definitely competitive but not unobtainable. As the week progresses, students will hear from more speakers affiliated with the FBI, CIA and other areas of the intelligence community.
Helms School Dean George E. Buzzy said the Lord laid the idea for a Strategic Intelligence Studies Week on his heart last fall. Buzzy wanted to provide a jeans-and-pizza atmosphere in which students could hear from intelligence professionals, ask them questions, exchange email addresses and network.
“I was trying to bring in representatives of the civilian and military intelligence agencies, as well as those that work in private companies, to get students thinking about good jobs that pay well but that may not be included in the average ‘what I want to do when I leave Liberty list,’” Buzzy said. “Our speakers were drawn from personal friendships with folks in the [intelligence community] and associations we developed with an individual immersed in the field currently.”
For the past two years, the school had geared its events toward professionals already working in the field. This time around, Buzzy wanted to inform the students themselves and let them know that the intelligence community offers far more job opportunities than just being a spy.
“The truth is there is a broad range of organizations that comprise the [intelligence community], and there is an even larger number of companies — large and small — that employ psychologists, nurses, business professionals, journalists, information technology, graphics, librarians, costume designers and [those schooled in] the sciences. Just take a look at the FBI and the CIA’s websites, and you will see the range of jobs our students can compete for,” Buzzy said.
To successfully secure one of these jobs, however, students can’t wait until three months before they graduate.
“Especially for the students wanting a career in the intelligence community, regardless of their major, they have to begin thinking about that as a freshman. What you do, where you go, what you post on Facebook, etc., will either help you or hurt you when the selection process begins. Liberty students have a leg up on the competition because we have students with a moral compass. But that can be undone with a bad cover letter, poor interviewing skills, an incomplete [form], and summers spent a the local sub shop instead of securing an internship or volunteering with some organization in the field,” Buzzy said.
That’s why the Helms School of Government is partnering with LU’s Career Center for Strategic Intelligence Studies Week. The school hopes students will follow up with the center’s expert assistance in preparing cover letters, resumes and interview skills.
He believes Liberty students are definitely interested in intelligence careers — and more of them are directing their studies toward the field. In fact, the Helms School recently launched a Strategic and Intelligence Studies specialization under the B.A. program, as well as a Strategic Intelligence Studies minor. The Helms School has also partnered with the School of Engineering and Computational Sciences to offer an electrical engineering and software engineering degree with an intelligence specialization, and it has joined forces with the School of Communications to create a crisis communication minor.
In addition to preparing students through this specially-tailored week, the school is also offering professional advice for completing the SF-86 form required for a government intelligence job. This advice session, open to all students, will be held April 4 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Teacher Education Hall, Room 133. Contact the Helms School of Government to register.
Students gathered in the Helms of School of Government suite on Tuesday as three representatives from Kelly Government Solutions shared their experiences and offered valuable career advice.
John Plummer, a retired CIA employee, started out as a mail courier. Before retiring from the agency in 2007, he worked his way up the ladder as the Director of Business Process Management for the National Reconnaissance Office.
“In the beginning, I was kind of an ordinary guy that stumbled into the intelligence community,” Plummer said. “The way I look at it, I was very fortunate to live an extraordinary life.”
From the time he began working for the CIA, Plummer dreamed of travelling to East Asia. By the mid-1980s, his dream had come true when he found himself living in such places as Hong Kong and Thailand. While in Asia, he met Peter Brigham, who was assigned to diplomatic duty by the State Department.
In addition to his work with the State Department, Brigham served as a communication specialist in Europe and the Middle East. He later founded an information technology company, assisting the government in various projects.
“There are many entry points into the federal government,” Brigham said. “If you are very interested in the government, do some research and see where you’d like to work. Sometimes it’s best to stay in an agency where you feel comfortable.”
Soon after Plummer’s retirement, Brigham introduced him to Michael Carter, a former Marine Corps officer who once served as officer-in-charge of security, a deputy security advisor and special assistant to the President of the United States.
Carter addressed students on the reality of entering the job market.
“The interview process in government in general is very complex,” he said. “Once you think you’ve hurdled all of the tough stuff … there might be someone else that’s vying for the same position you don’t even know about. You are truly on a competitive playing field.”
Also visiting for Strategic Intelligence Week Tuesday was Michael Elliott, who spoke to students in the Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center. A former supervisory special agent for the FBI, Elliott served as the assistant section chief for the Electronic Surveillance Technology Section.
Liberty University students looking for a contact in the intelligence field received a leg-up on Thursday, March 26, when Col. Jay Chambers, a retired U.S. Air Force officer who was formerly responsible for the National Reconnaissance Office, spoke at the Helms School of Government. Currently Chambers is working as a contractor for the Director of National Intelligence. Chambers’ visit was part of the Helms School’s first-ever Strategic Intelligence Week.
Col. Chambers told students that a career in the intelligence field would come with sacrifice, but could also be very rewarding.
“You’re going to see incredible things,” Chambers said.
There are some important guidelines for students interested in entering the intelligence community.
“If you want to serve this nation and you want a top secret clearance, don’t do certain things,” Chambers said. “That’s a lesson for life. Think about what you say and think about what you do if you want to serve this nation.”
A DUI, involvement in or viewing child pornography, physically harming people, and illegal phone calls to a foreign country are a few of the major no-no’s for students who want to apply for intelligence positions.
The intelligence field is varied, he said. Careers are not limited to government, business or criminal justice majors.
“If you’re a media services kind of person that can work in a sound lab or a video lab, and you studied theater or video production, there are jobs out there for you in federal service,” Chambers said.
Intelligence departments are looking for hires with many diverse academic backgrounds, including accounting, computer science, mathematics, and web technology and design.
“One of our biggest vulnerabilities is computer-based attacks. You’ve read about them in the papers, but what you don’t read is even scarier,” Chambers said. “And if you know budget and you know money, the federal government can use auditors.”
Although landing a job at an intelligence agency is not always easy, Chambers said students interested in that field should not be discouraged if they are not hired right out of college.
“I have a cousin by marriage who applied to work at the ICE Agency (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and it took him 18 months before he got a call back. You may have to go out and find other employment while you try to achieve results; the important thing is persistence,” Chambers said. “Do not let the bureaucracy dampen your desire because it will if you let it.”
Chambers answered many questions about topics such as sharing information between intelligence offices and seeking job venues into the selective field.
On Friday Dr. Jeff Mcillwain, the co-director of San Diego State University’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Homeland Security, and Homer Pointer, a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board to the White House, spoke to students on careers in their field.