Working for security agencies, the armed forces or the police, as an intelligence analyst you'll help keep the country secure by assessing and interpreting intelligence data

Your role as an intelligence analyst is to protect UK national security and economic well-being, as well as to detect and prevent serious organised crime, such as terrorist attacks, cybercrime and drug trafficking.

You'll be involved in the acquisition, evaluation, analysis and assessment of secret intelligence. Intelligence analysts work primarily for the UK's three intelligence and security agencies and are also employed by the armed forces and the police.

Intelligence analysts, also known as officers, are employed in a variety of operational roles by the:

Responsibilities

As an intelligence analyst, you'll need to:

  • build up intelligence pictures, identifying potential agents and targets. This is done through a range of sources, including signals intelligence (SIGINT) and human intelligence (HUMINT)
  • collate and validate intelligence, evaluating the reliability of sources and credibility of information
  • use various analytical techniques to assess and interpret intelligence data
  • liaise and collaborate with colleagues (such as cryptanalysts, mathematicians and linguists) to gather further information, which may help to piece together the whole picture. This process can take weeks, months or years.
  • develop relationships with customers to understand their intelligence requirements
  • deliver information in formal reports or as presentations and desk-level briefings to customers in government, who include the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Home Office, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) among others
  • develop expertise in a specific area
  • observe strict non-disclosure rules about your work, the extent of which will vary depending on your employer.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for the three agencies - GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 - are in the region of £25,000 to £35,000, plus benefits.
  • There are opportunities to progress to higher grades, with salaries reaching around £40,000 after five to ten years' service.
  • All grades experience incremental annual increases in pay, plus bonus payment opportunities.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Intelligence analysts work a typical 37-hour week although you may be expected to work extra hours at times of pressure or during crises.

Part-time working, job sharing and flexible working are all possible.

What to expect

  • The agencies offer a range of benefits including pension schemes, childcare benefits and sports facilities.
  • The male to female ratio of intelligence analysts is split relatively evenly.
  • Location of jobs is limited to where the agencies have their main offices. GCHQ is based in Cheltenham but has other key facilities in Cornwall and Yorkshire. The headquarters for MI5 and MI6 are based in central London. MI5 also has regional offices and an office in Northern Ireland. MI6 offers the chance to spend considerable time working overseas.
  • New staff usually start work at the agencies' headquarters, although there will be opportunities to work elsewhere in the UK and overseas after several years' experience. Staff are not permitted to holiday in a limited number of countries.
  • Intelligence analysts working for the above mentioned agencies are bound by many of the same rules, terms and working conditions of other government departments. The key difference is the secrecy of the work. You will not be able to talk about your work to friends and family, and in the case of MI5 and MI6, you can only reveal your employer to immediate family.

Qualifications

UK intelligence agencies seek to recruit analysts from many different educational and ethnic backgrounds in order to tackle the diverse range of threats from within and outside the UK.

This area of work is open to graduates of any degree discipline. Degree classification requirements vary between the agencies.

If you have language, IT or technology skills, you may be at an advantage, but all three agencies recruit linguistic and technology specialists separately.

You must be a British citizen and at least one parent must also be a British citizen, or be able to demonstrate considerable ties. Further nationality rules apply.

The agencies may consider your application without a degree if you have significant work experience in an intelligence environment, such as the armed forces. In addition, the agencies may consider candidates requesting a transfer from another Civil Service department who are at executive officer level or higher.

The agencies look for individuals with personal integrity, honesty, discretion and reliability, and who can demonstrate professionalism and resilience.

Skills

You'll need:

  • a good aptitude for analysis, a naturally enquiring mind and excellent problem-solving skills
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • good report-drafting skills, with consistent attention to detail as reports will be written for readers in the highest levels of government
  • good organisational and prioritisation skills
  • a willingness to learn and work with a range of IT applications, including some specialised data collection, analysis and presentation tools
  • good communication skills
  • motivation, drive, focus, initiative and innovation
  • to be responsive to changing requirements and priorities and be able to adapt to unpredictable circumstances
  • cultural sensitivity, empathy and strength of character to build relationships with people and be persuasive, especially in human intelligence work
  • the ability to work effectively under pressure, demonstrating resilience and perseverance.

Employers

The main employers of intelligence analysts in the UK are the three intelligence and security agencies:

  • Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) - gathers intelligence through the interception of communications (signals intelligence) for reasons of national security, military operations and law enforcement. It also provides advice and recommendations as the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the UK's national technical authority for information assurance. The director of GCHQ reports to the Foreign Secretary.
  • Security Service (MI5) - the lead agency responsible for protecting the UK against covertly organised threats to national security, using human and technical sources. Their work includes tackling international and domestic terrorism, as well as counter-espionage work. They also provide security advice to a range of organisations - see the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI). The director general of MI5 reports to the Home Secretary.
  • Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) - collects secret foreign intelligence on issues relating to the UK's interests in national security, defence, serious crime, and foreign and economic policies. Using human and technical sources, as well as liaison with foreign counterparts, SIS obtains and provides information about the acts and intentions of foreign nationals, conducting operations overseas in the support of UK government objectives. The chief of SIS reports to the Foreign Secretary.

Other parts of the UK government contribute to intelligence collection and/or analysis, notably the:

The Ministry of Defence also employs intelligence analysts, either directly recruited as civilians into Defence Intelligence (DI), or recruited as military staff. For example, the British Army recruits intelligence analysts into the Intelligence Corps.

UK police services individually recruit criminal intelligence analysts. They analyse reported crime statistics to identify patterns in criminal behaviours in order to predict future crime and persuade senior staff to allocate crime-fighting resources accordingly. For information about working for the police force in the UK, see College of Policing - Join the Police.

Look for job vacancies at:

All three agencies separately advertise vacancies in the national press and on their own websites. Applications are made online.

Selection process

To successfully get through the selection process, you'll need to be a talented candidate with an interest in national and international current affairs. You'll also need a good understanding of information and communications technologies and be willing to keep up to date with related developments.

The selection process can be lengthy and includes a number of competency tests, telephone interviews and attendance at an assessment centre.

The agencies are looking for high-calibre people and competition for places is strong. You're advised not to discuss your application with anyone, and, if successful at the recruitment and selection stages, you then need to pass 'developed vetting security clearance' in order to be granted access to secret intelligence.

This background-checking process can be intrusive and you must be prepared to answer questions about your personal life, such as relationships and finances, as well as take a drugs test. The check can take between three to six months to complete and the time lag between initial application and starting employment may be up to nine months.

Professional development

The agencies offer structured inductions and on-the-job training programmes, combined with tailored courses that are relevant to the particular jobs.

New joiners may be offered a mentor or coach who will offer advice and guidance.

Training opportunities include:

  • attending internal and external courses, ranging from report writing, language learning, legislation and staff review and development to database querying techniques, internet exploitation and digital communications developments
  • attending briefings, presentations and conferences
  • shadowing colleagues
  • secondments within individual agencies and between agencies
  • visits to, and briefings from, partner organisations at home and abroad
  • e-learning training software
  • sponsorship to study for professional and academic qualifications accredited by professional bodies
  • one-to-one mentoring, with more experienced team colleagues who offer support, in addition to that offered by line managers.

As an intelligence analyst, you'll be encouraged to develop your skills and learn new ones as part of a programme of continuing professional development (CPD).

Career prospects

Your first posting as an intelligence analyst is likely to be for a period of between 18 months and three years, and you can expect plenty of responsibility from an early stage. The agencies aim to identify people to work in specific areas from the skills, abilities and competencies identified during the recruitment process.

After this period, there are opportunities to move between jobs every two to three years and regular job rotation is actively encouraged. This may either be moving to a comparable role within operations, or moving to work in other parts of the business including:

  • finance
  • personnel
  • policy
  • projects
  • team management.

The nature of intelligence and security work means that it's possible you could remain in a role for many years. However, you'll be strongly encouraged to move jobs in order to maintain intellectual stimulation, take on new challenges and gain experience across a number of areas. This could mean moving within, or between, teams in order to focus on different areas, such as a new geographical region or specific analytical techniques.

The speed, depth and range of changes in information and communications technologies means that you'll be required to constantly adapt your working methods to meet new opportunities and threats.