By Chris Vitale
Catholic University’s Intelligence Club hosted an event on Thursday evening entitled “A Conversation with Dan Klemens.” Klemens, a Senior CIA Analyst on militaries and insurgencies, spoke about his career with the Central Intelligence Agency in the Pryzbyla Center from 6 to 7 p.m. The event was part of a larger series of talks from the Intelligence Club. Previously, it has featured conversations with former CIA case officers Ken B and Ken Daigler.
The dialogue on Thursday began with a speech from Klemens in which he overviewed the ins and outs of a career as a CIA analyst and also offered some helpful tips for students who may be interested in a future involved with Intelligence.
Klemens first introduced to the students in attendance the three fundamental skills for success in the field of CIA analysis. These are: intellect, critical thinking, and strong writing. He noted that, of the three, strong writing is the skill that prospective analysts can most control, as intellect and critical thinking are more naturally embodied within an individual than writing proficiency. He added that the process of CIA recruitment is designed in order that those who do not meet the intellectual standards required are pruned from the system.
Addressing critical thinking, Klemens insisted that memorizing facts is easy. Rather, it’s the process of connecting the dots between the facts, marshaling evidence, and making a strong argument that manifest effective critical thought.
Klemens warned that the CIA analysis department prides itself on its reputation of hiring strong writers. He cited the rigorous application process which requires applicants to submit writing samples, complete extensive writing tests, and undergo six months of writing training to equip individuals with the necessary qualifications to perform successfully as analysts.
“This is critically important because most of our interaction with policy makers is written,” advised Klemens, continuing that about three quarters of an analyst’s job of delivering messages is executed through written word.
“The CIA has an awful lot of really exciting jobs, and even as an analyst you get to do a lot of really cool stuff,” stated Klemens. “But the fundamental aspect of the job is sitting on your butt at a desk doing research and doing writing, and if you don’t enjoy that, you’re not going to be a very successful or happy analyst.”
Klemens further emphasized that strong writing consists of good, compelling argumentation as well as precision of concise, digestible language. CIA analytic writing is unlike academic writing, he maintains. In other words, if the reader has to pull out a dictionary in order to define higher-level words, the writer has done an unsuccessful job.
Klemens informed his audience that briefing is the other vehicle for an analyst’s job of delivering messages and pointed out that the most effective way to hone the skills of briefing is, like anything, through practice.
“You have to get to the point where you know you’re the smartest person in the room on that topic, and that comes with time and experience,” asserted Klemens regarding the key to fruitful analytic briefing in the CIA.
To conclude the lecture portion of the session, Klemens noted that, as an analyst, it is vital to build expertise through conducting constant research and transcending the obvious of every situation so as to become authentically inquisitive. He then opened up the forum to questions from the attendees, which occupied the remainder of the hour.
The Intelligence Club will continue this series on February 27 with a conversation with Jim Olsen, a former CIA Counterintelligence Chief, and a panel discussion featuring women in Intelligence will take place on March 3.