By Dr. Matthew Loux and Derek Loux and Derek Loux  |  04/01/2024

intelligence analyst skills


Intelligence analysts are essential to investigating financial crimes, cyber attacks, fraud, terrorism, and many other crimes. Analysts also need to quickly detect, assess, and respond to complications.

In addition, analysts who work in the field of intelligence must develop creative solutions to solve complex problems. They need to have the ability to collaborate with other professionals to come up with the best possible outcomes and be able to pass security screenings.


How Analysts Use Data Science and Data Analytics

Researchers Tianxi Dong and Jason Triche note that data science and data analytics are different. Understanding the difference between these terms is helpful in understanding the role of analysts and how their work fits into the world.

Essentially, data science is a component of the data field that concentrates on data values and uses it to extrapolate that data into new forms. Data science is the area used by analysts and hackers.

When conducting data analysis, analysts inspect, model, and transform data to convert that information into recommended actions and influence decision-making by leaders. Data analytics encompasses data science in novel ways.

Developing and implementing a process to assess vital analytic competencies and proficiency is crucial for intelligence analysts. It includes improvements in areas such as critical thinking and adaptability. Practical intelligence analysis involves integrating information, developing and testing hypotheses, and producing inferences that lead to appropriate action.

Identifying valuable information from various sources is also essential, especially in dynamic and complex environments. Additionally, scholars Tiaan de Jager and Irwin Brown identify skill preparation, simulation modeling, stakeholder management, and strategic planning as essential skills for skill preparation, simulation modeling, stakeholder management, and strategic planning as essential skills for intelligence professionals, including intelligence analysts.

The ability of intelligence analysts to collect, interpret, and disseminate data necessary for decision makers makes them indispensable to national security. In a world of shifting threats and intricate geopolitics, it is impossible to overstate the significance of these experts.

Intelligence analysts need knowledge and a varied skill set. A diverse skill set is necessary due to the world's complexity.

Analysts must be multi-talented, make ethical decisions, communicate well, and be skilled at data mining and data analysis as they create actionable insights from the information they obtain. Anyone hoping to work in intelligence analysis must understand these abilities.


Analytical Skills and Problem-Solving Skills

Sound analytical abilities are essential for efficient analysis, including problem-solving, critical thinking, and identifying patterns in massive datasets. Analysts need to interpret complex data, recognize patterns, and make judgments, which is why analytical, data mining, and problem-solving skills are some of the most important skills an analyst can possess.

Intelligence professionals use analytical skills as their tools to deconstruct complex data. They must extract practical knowledge from data and provide meaningful insights to decision makers. Strong analytical skills help an intelligence analyst be more adept at navigating the constantly changing national security environment.

Refining critical thinking skills allows analysts to examine scenarios and make informed decisions based on logic and any evidence they find. According to business intelligence experts Eduardo Chavez and Danny Moncada, thinking analytically requires analysts to examine:

  • Where information comes from
  • What other sources of information are available
  • Whether the information is credible and reliable
  • How the information relates to current data
  • Whether that information is valuable to a current project  

Recognizing patterns within vast datasets is a critical analytical skill for intelligence professionals. Using link maps, for instance, can assist an intelligence analyst in examining trends, connections, and areas to research to obtain more information.

Using link maps can also help an intelligence analyst anticipate and respond to emerging threats, as well as decode information, identify trends, and draw connections between seemingly disparate pieces of data. Analysts who are proficient in technological tools and skill sets are a must.

Analysts need to be able to use and incorporate cognitive processes in their work. Indian researchers M. Mayilvaganan and D. Kalpanadevi note that intelligence analysts utilize prior knowledge, attention, memory, and problem-solving in their pursuit of using data science for decision-making. If analysts develop these skills, they can use processes such as data mining to learn about a target population and provide the potential for action.


Technical Proficiency with Technology

With so many technological advancements, an intelligence analyst must use various technologies, such as data collection and analysis software, to complete work. Consequently, analysts must be computer-literate and able to gather information from multiple sources.

An intelligence analyst needs to have technical proficiency with software tools and platforms, which requires a thorough understanding the Intelligence Community’s various data gathering, analysis, and communication systems. As data sources grow and their complexity increases, intelligence analysts must stay current with technological advancements in areas such as computer science and use their data visualization skills to effectively utilize these tools.

There are many tools available to support intelligence analysis. According to the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA), some of the most commonly used programs include:

  • Link analysis software such as PenLink®, which is used to identify relationships between individuals, organizations, and other entities
  • Geographic information system (GIS) software such as ArcGIS®, which creates maps and visualizes geographic data
  • Social network analysis software, such as Sentinel Visualizer®, that analyzes social media data to identify patterns and trends
  • Database management software, such as Kaseware®, that stores, organizes, and manages large amounts of data to make data mining easier
  • Data visualization software, which is used to create charts, graphs, and other visual data representations
  • Statistical analysis software, such as DataWalk®, that analyzes data to identify patterns and trends
  • Statistical text analysis software that analyzes large amounts of text data and identifies patterns and trend
  • Open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools, which collect and analyze publicly available information from various sources
  • Collaboration tools that facilitate communication and collaboration among intelligence analysts and other stakeholders

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative Intelligence Working Group notes that intelligence analysts need to be familiar with other types of software as well. For instance, an intelligence analyst needs to have the technical skills to use:

  • Word documents to construct bulletins, reports, summaries, and analytical reports
  • Spreadsheet software to organize, summarize, and compare data in various charts
  • Presentation software to provide information to decision makers

Other valuable tools include relational, government and public information databases. These databases include:

  • State and national crime information systems
  • Department of Motor Vehicle databases
  • Law Enforcement Online (LEO)
  • Sex offender registries
  • State probation/corrections databases

Other tools, such as i2®, incorporate many aspects of intelligence such as geospatial data, social network analysis, live monitoring, and integration of various financial records, tracking data, and others. With so many skills needed to use these tools, an intelligence analyst must be adaptable and flexible.


Adaptability and Flexibility

The work of an intelligence analyst is dynamic and constantly changing. For intelligence analysts, flexibility is critical, especially when dealing with quickly changing circumstances.

The success of intelligence investigations depends on the Intelligence Community's capacity to adapt and be flexible when information or technology changes. For instance, the intelligence world is constantly changing due to new approaches and technological advances.

An intelligence analyst needs to adjust to new tools and methods. Analysts who keep up with technological advancements cad improve their skills and ensure that intelligence procedures can work with constantly evolving technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Although AI can detect and identify potential threats quickly and offer predictive analytics, an intelligence analyst is still needed to interpret the data. According to a report from The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) notes that AI and automation technologies should be integrated into intelligence work “in order to increase our workforce's effectiveness, advance mission capability, and enhance the IC's [Intelligence Community's] ability to provide data interpretation to decision-makers.”

Intelligence analysts must think on their feet, adjust an analysis according to changing circumstances, and continuously update their knowledge to stay ahead of technological changes. They must be able to think critically and analytically to identify potential threats and develop strategies to mitigate them.


Good Communication Skills

Analysis work includes working in teams, so open communication and the sharing of information, ideas, and opinions is essential for an intelligence analyst. In the intelligence field, concise communication is crucial for effective collaboration. The capacity to precisely explain technical concepts, provide easily understandable data, and express conclusions guarantees efficient communication within the Intelligence Community and promotes decision-making by stakeholders.

Intelligence analysts must be skilled in conveying complex findings and technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders. An intelligence analysis must communicate effectively to close the gap between technical analysis and practical ideas. The main audience of intelligence reports are policymakers and government representatives.

Effective communication by an intelligence analyst promotes teamwork and ensures that all team members understand intelligence evaluations. An essential part of these evaluations is balancing hard data with brevity for consistent understanding by stakeholders.

In intelligence, collaborative communication is critical to achieving common goals. In intelligence analysis, oral and written communication must be clear.

Analysts must convey their conclusions in conferences, briefings, and conversations. Good verbal communication skills promote teamwork and helps all team members understand intelligence evaluations.

Intelligence analysts also need the knowledge of how to create reports properly, using a summary of ideas over word-for-word information. Technical terms can be confusing and hard to understand by people who are not trained in using the correct terminology.

Intelligence often includes large groups of people from various disciplines. As a result, analysts must collect raw data, analyze it through a statistical analysis or another type of analysis, and provide a succinct, comprehensible report to stakeholders.


Interpersonal Skills

Working in intelligence frequently requires analysts to build partnerships with external organizations and use teamwork, which is essential for intelligence operations to be effective. Interpersonal skills are important in building collaboration, and they focus on the value of open communication, mutual trust, and good collaboration with various team members.

For intelligence analysts, it is important to gain experience cultivating solid connections with outside partners and agencies, which is just as important as working in teams in an organization. Analysts must negotiate interagency collaboration, communicate with foreign colleagues, and build confidence to share vital information and support team efforts to maintain national security. These interpersonal skills are essential because intelligence analysts work autonomously and must be able to succinctly communicate their data for others to understand easily.


Language Proficiency and Regional/Cultural Knowledge

Possessing language proficiency, cultural acuity, and international political awareness can be beneficial for intelligence analysts. Practical intelligence analysis is based on a solid understanding of global political, economic, and social dynamics.

Analysts need to remain informed about changes in international relations to understand the connections between nations and regions. Analysts who keep up with international relations issues can offer thoughtful evaluations, essential for making strategic choices regarding national and international security.

The ever-changing landscape of international relations necessitates ongoing education for intelligence professionals. For instance, analysts must remain current with emerging trends and geopolitical events.

In fact, U.S. intelligence agencies and even private-sector organizations often prefer candidates who have a substantial knowledge of languages and global issues and can handle sensitive information. Continuously learning analysts can stay flexible in their analyses, adjust quickly to changing threats, and enhance the Intelligence Community's capacity to foresee and effectively address changing global dynamics.


Time Management and Task Prioritization

Intelligence analysts must handle large amounts of data effectively. Consequently, they must prioritize tasks and remain focused on their work to deliver accurate, timely intelligence assessments and relevant insights to stakeholders.

Setting priorities is crucial for intelligence analysts, because they need to differentiate between urgent and significant activities. Analysts must carefully manage their resources to accomplish mission objectives, concentrating on work that is of top priority and getting that work done in a timely manner.

Efficient prioritization on intelligence results can lead to the overall success of operations. However, demands from professional and personal lives and last-minute urgent requests can be distracting and impact analysts’ ability to analyze information.

Prioritizing tasks, using technology to shorten work time, and implementing disciplined work processes are essential for analysts. Analysts can increase their productivity, offer prompt answers to new threats, and improve the effectiveness of intelligence operations by implementing efficient time management techniques.


Intelligence Degrees and Certificates at American Public University

American Public University (APU) offers an online bachelor’s degree in intelligence studies and an online master’s degree in intelligence studies, designed to help experienced professionals who want to acquire the skills needed to pursue different career paths in the intelligence field. Other educational options include an undergraduate certificate in intelligence analysis and graduate certificates in intelligence analysis and intelligence studies.

Courses in these intelligence studies and intelligence analysis programs are taught by faculty members who can offer deep insight into the Intelligence Community. Courses start monthly and students can utilize APU’s asynchronous format to learn at their own pace.

PenLink is a registered trademark of Pen-Link, Ltd.
ArcGIS is a registered trademark of Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
Sentinel Visualizer is a registered trademark of Financial Modeling Specialists, Inc.
Kaseware is a registered trademark of Kaseware, Inc.
DataWalk is a registered trademark of DataWalk S.A.
I2 is a registered trademark of the N. Harris Computer Corporation.

About Authors
Dr. Matthew Loux and Derek Loux

Dr. Matthew Loux is an assistant professor at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration and a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from the University of Central Missouri State. In addition, Matt has a doctoral degree in management from Colorado Technical University and is pursuing a Ph.D. in educational leadership and administration at Aspen University. He is a Certified Financial Crimes Investigator, a Certified Fraud Specialist, and a Certified Fraud Examiner.

Derek Loux is an alumnus of American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in developmental and child psychology from American Public University. Derek is currently working on his Ph.D. in psychology at Northcentral University.

Derek Loux

Derek Loux is an alumnus of American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in developmental and child psychology from American Public University. Derek is currently working on his Ph.D. in psychology at Northcentral University.

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