Enabling Intelligence Integration Through Education

National Intelligence University turns practitioners into visionary leaders

June 2, 2021

Among the many opportunities for career development in the Intelligence Community is an accredited university steeped in the academic disciplines of the world’s most secretive craft.

Its curriculum is exclusive to intelligence, its classes are taught by intelligence practitioners, and its students are either civilian federal government employees or military servicemembers with a hand in intelligence and a variety of other career fields. Students are intelligence analysts, pilots, human resource specialist, or public affairs specialist. This diversity elevates the collective knowledge of each class.

It’s called National Intelligence University – or NIU for short – and it’s the hidden gem of the IC.

Tom Van Wagner, director of alumni relations at NIU, knows better than most what the school can do for aspiring intelligence professionals. He’s an alumnus and the longest tenured administrator at the university, and he’s seen thousands of students come through the doors.

“If you were just finishing undergrad and wanted to be with a top-flight law firm, you’d consider applying to one of the top-flight law schools,” Van Wagner explains. “In business, you’d go to one of the best MBA programs in the country. So if you want to rise to the top of the intelligence profession, why not go to the school that’s produced more intelligence community leaders than any other school?”

Van Wagner is talking about leaders like Gen. Paul Nakasone, a four-star general who is currently the director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, and Earl Matthews, deputy assistant to the president, and the senior director for defense policy and strategy for the National Security Council.

The program that produces such leaders, Van Wagner admits, isn’t an easy one. Full-time students can earn a master’s degree in as little as one year, due in part to the university’s academic calendar that packs four 10-week terms into each calendar year. But given the benefits of the education, it’s well worth the effort.

First, full-time students are actually full-time employees who have been assigned to get a graduate degree. That’s right, earning an advanced degree is your work assignment. You attend classes full-time and receive the paycheck and benefits you would earn if you were on the job. All books, all fees are paid for by the government. Part-time students, on the other hand, may opt to attend classes in the evenings and weekends to balance working and career development at the same time.

Next, there’s the professional network. Every intelligence component, in addition to 20+ other national security organizations, across the of the U.S. government, are represented at NIU.

“The NIU network is second to none,” Van Wagner says. “You’re going to class with people from FBI, CIA, the Army, the State Department and the entire IC. Your network expands well beyond the people you eat lunch with at the office.”

Then there’s the faculty: a mix of long-term resident faculty and rotational IC practitioners on teaching assignments. In addition, because NIU is located in the heart of the National Capitol Region, there is a rich pool of current and former IC leaders available to serve as adjunct faculty. All are steeped in real-world intelligence experience, keeping the curriculum current and fresh. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a lecture from the likes of recent Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who’s been known to teach a class or two.

The curriculum includes a rigorous mix of scholarly literature and real-world, top-secret case studies. The readings may come from an outside source or may include books published by National Intelligence Press, NIU’s publishing arm. As the dedicated research unit of NIU, the Ann Caracristi Institute for Intelligence Research (CIIR) represents the IC’s premier resource for academic intelligence research. CIIR serves to support, advance, and promote NIU’s academically rigorous research on topics critical to U.S. intelligence and national security.

The Institute houses NIU’s expert research faculty, prestigious Research Fellowship Program, and a number of pioneering intelligence research centers, which use state-of-the-art research methods and tools to analyze a synthesis of classified and unclassified data on cutting-edge topics. CIIR has also recently launched the IC’s preeminent academic COVID-19 research initiative “A World Emerging from Pandemic: Implications for Intelligence and National Security,” in partnership with the Pentagon’s distinguished Strategic Multilayer Assessment Group.

NIU is the kind of environment that transforms focused tactical professionals into big-picture strategists. It turns competent professionals into visionary leaders.

Just the Facts