Intelligence: Why Intel Troops Want Out of Uniform


November8, 2006: The United States is having a hard time keeping highly skilled intelligence troops in uniform. It's common knowledge that there is a major problem retaining interpreters, but all manner of other intel specialists are leaving. What's going on here? It's not about sex, as the media have made much about translators being discharged because they admitted to, or were found to be, homosexual. No, the problem has more to do with the "culture" of the intelligence community in the military.

It works like this. Like the rest of the military, each branch has its own "culture." Artillery, infantry, aviation, whatever, each has its own way of doing things. A newbie encountering any of these groups for the first time, can't help but notice the differences. But the intel branch is really strange. More so than most other branches, the officers do not have a big advantage in education, experience and smarts over the enlisted personnel. Lots of geeks among the enlisted troops in intel. Linguists are a form of geek, especially if they are right out of language school and still learning. Picking up on such an unfamiliar (to a native English speaker) language like Arabic requires a pretty bright soldier.

So what's the problem? Well, it seems that cliche that " officers not really good at anything, but not bad enough to dismiss, were dumped on the intel branch", is partly true. For the bright young enlisted troops, the intel culture seems to be full of bureaucracy, oafish officers, and poor promotion opportunities. Now part of this is the fault of the hotshot young troops, who are on a roll and want the world to pay attention. But the intel officers are the crucial factors in turning off a lot of the intel enlisted folks. At times, there seems to be a war going on between the intel officers, and their enlisted specialists. Only part of this is caused by the sometimes low quality of intel officers (especially in the leadership department.) An even more important angle is the need for security. Intel troops not only deal with a lot of classified documents, they are the people who produce many of them. In order to keep these secrets secret, there has developed a lot of regulations and procedures that make everybody, but especially young enlisted intel troops, kind of antsy, and prone to not stay in. Even those who do stay in, continue to get irritated, especially when they discover that, when they do make some rank, they are likely to be assigned to some desk job, that has nothing to do with their specialty (like photo analysis or interpreter).

The senior brass are only dimly aware of these problems, but the mid-level NCOs know all about it, and have not been able to do a lot of please the troops, or enlighten the officers.


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