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What does a CIA Agent do?

Margo Upson
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

The CIA, or Central Intelligence Agency, was founded by Harry S. Truman in 1947 to monitor the activities of other countries, watching and listening for any potential threats to the United States and its allies. Although the agency has gone through several changes since then — the most recent revision due to 2001's PATRIOT Act — the CIA is still a huge force in international circles. A large amount of the monitoring and analyzing that the CIA is responsible for is done by CIA agents.

There are two thoughts of what a CIA agent is. People outside the CIA often refer to those working for the agency, stationed overseas or in the United States gathering and analyzing data, developing new technology, and more, as agents. Those inside the CIA, however, refer to themselves as CIA officers.

Agents and officers perform many different duties around the agency, depending on where they work and what they were hired to do. The main duties are broken down into different categories. Agents who work in analytical positions are responsible for collecting, analyzing, and passing on data to those who need to know it. Scientists and engineers are responsible for developing new technologies, determining the technology of other countries, and improving weapon design.

An officer can focus on information technology, working with computers, cell phones, and other modern information-based technology, both for support and development positions. An agent specializing in computers may also be part of a team developing new applications to make the computers used by other agents work better, or be able to better meet the needs of the agents.

Clandestine service agents are what many people picture when they think of a CIA agent. These individuals may be sent to areas all over the world, and are responsible for collecting information that may be essential to different CIA operations. This job is more dangerous than many of the other positions, and requires that applicants go through a very thorough interview, evaluation, and training process.

Once trained, agents are assigned positions that require them to find, observe, recruit, train, and oversee foreign individuals chosen to gather information that the CIA needs. Other officers are then responsible for taking the gathered information, evaluating it, and then sending it through the appropriate channels to make sure it is received and used in a timely manner. A CIA agent working in clandestine services will spend about half of his or her career oversees, on assignments that may last two or three years.

CIA officers refer to the citizens of foreign countries who are recruited by the CIA to gather sensitive information as agents. These individuals usually work in, or have access to, environments where information about another country or organization's capabilities may be. For example, if the CIA was interested in any new weapons being developed in the Middle East, it would recruit agents, possibly members of the military or engineers working on the projects, to gather any information that may be available about the weapons and provide it to the CIA, often at great personal and professional risk.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Margo Upson
By Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education, Margo Upson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role as a Practical Adult Insights writer. Her wide-ranging interests and skill at diving into new topics make her articles informative, engaging, and valuable to readers seeking to expand their knowledge.
Discussion Comments
By anon319378 — On Feb 12, 2013

Could you tell me about how much they earn a year please?

By anon246026 — On Feb 07, 2012

In other words, the Agency chooses prospective recruits based on their political stand towards hostile or populist regimes? I've seen so many opposition leaders in South America accused of trying to sabotage the populist governments on behalf of uncle sam, that in reality they are ineffective (obviously not clandestine anymore).

I wonder if individuals with better perspectives would be considered potential recruits. But how could a foreign collaborator apply from the place of origin?

By anon146888 — On Jan 27, 2011

Being a Nepali citizen does bring employment challenges to US Intelligence Agencies. Your hire process would be over a year out, as the background checks are infinitely harder to perform in foreign countries. And then the question, what country are you seeking an ultimate allegiance with? You would have to have a better line than "...well I think it would be cool to be a spy!" Like what are your true motives for a change in allegiance?

I am not an international attorney, so I do not know if Nepal carries dual citizenship, but you can rest assured that sooner or later, you would be required to renounce the Nepali citizenship and apply for the American one.

And also, what do you really bring to the table? For instance, if you had such unique skills that we believed were indispensable, then even if you did not fit into all normal application channels, waivers would be signed, such as if you possessed super advanced mathematical knowledge that perhaps only a few people on the planet knew.

By the way, if truly seeking Intelligence work, the very last place, my friend, that you want to engage in open dialogue is via websites, blogs and social networks. Right off you disqualify yourself from certain sensitive positions if you were required to work abroad. Best to just read others' thoughts and do research. Knowledge is power!

By anon90013 — On Jun 14, 2010

I am also fantastically interested in having a spy job. I think it is thrilling, fascinating and challenging. I want to know if I can join the CIA even though I am Nepali citizen. Is there a way?

By anon57521 — On Dec 23, 2009

There are many different positions in the CIA. CIA "agents" in the terms of "spies" that most people connect with the CIA, are intelligence gatherers sent overseas to gather intelligence and important information for the CIA (obviously)

By anon44181 — On Sep 05, 2009

How do you guys/whoever wrote all these articles on this website know so much about the CIA and their practices? Do you know someone who works for, or used to work for them, or are you CIA agents yourself?

Not that I am doubting the veracity of your article or that I am questioning your intent, I am just curious.

Margo Upson
Margo Upson
With a vast academic background that has ranged from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education,...
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