Ole Miss CISS provides students unique opportunity

Ole Miss is among few universities that offer a comprehensive intelligence minor.

By Grant Beebe | The Daily Mississippian

Ole Miss Center for Intelligence and Security Studies prepares its students to enter the growing intelligence workforce.

The American intelligence community is a sizable portion of the United States’ bureaucracy, and it is still growing. According to the Washington Post investigation, “Top Secret America,” more than 1,200 government organizations and more than 1,900 private government contractors work on programs related to counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering in the U.S. These organizations rely on their ability to recruit intelligent, motivated and dedicated individuals to work within the intelligence community. Ole Miss’s very own Center for Intelligence and Security Studies, founded in 2008, is one of the few college programs in the United States specifically geared to prepare students for work in the field.

The center’s associate director, Melissa Graves, emphasized the importance of the program in practice.

“The conclusion was, at least with the things coming out of the 9/11 Commission, was that we really lacked good analysis, and we saw that again in Iraq with the weapons of mass destruction debacle,” Graves said. “That’s why we’re here. We introduce students to critical thinking, creative thinking and analysis.”

Gathering intel is not the only objective of the center.

Wesley Yates, the center’s internship coordinator, said the desire to share information between agencies and advances in technology used to share the information are some of the biggest changes he’s seen within the intelligence community over the past 12 years.

“When I was in intel (intelligence) school we went over analysis, but some of the techniques we’re using now were still in the developmental stage,” Yates said.  “Now they’re taught here, they’re taught at all the intel schools, so the way they teach analysis and the technology associated with sharing that information has been the biggest change over all.”

One of the biggest changes to the way the intelligence community analyzes its information is to ensure that analysts recognize their biases and that they avoid assumptions.

The 9/11 Commision Report pointed out that while intelligence agencies had information indicating commercial airliners might be used as weapons of mass destruction, people did not believe a terrorist organization could pull off an operation of that size.

“I think a lot of it was people saying, ‘nobody could do this to us and attack us in this manner,’ everyone was so fixated on Cold War state actors that the ability to think outside the box was pushed to the side,” Yates said.

“We had warning signs, but nothing ever directly touched us here,” Yates continued. “The fact that a threat could ever come here and touch us was totally foreign to us in my opinion.”

One of the key parts of the center’s curriculum is allowing its students to interact with members of the intelligence community.

Some students are able to intern with the National Clandestine Service, the CIA directorate that produces the nation’s field agents.

Most of the students must obtain secret or even top-secret security clearances before commencing the internship required to complete the program.

Project coordinator Carl “C.D.” Hill, has been amazed by the level of access and support the center’s students and staff have received from many of the national intelligence agencies.

“Our students get a tremendous amount of support from members of the intelligence community,” Hill said. “It’s such a benefit for our students to get the contacts and the support of the community. They go out of their way to ensure that we know that we have their full support.”

Both Yates and Graves said one of the most important aspects of their program is getting students experience working for our country’s intelligence agencies.

“The course work here is great for them because it puts them ahead of the game,” Yates said. “But to me, the number one benefit of this program is the contacts these students will get. You look at a guy like Phil Mudd (former deputy director of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center) who they met and spoke with. The students actually get to interact with real world analysts and are able to use those contacts to get employment later on.”

“What makes our program different, one thing I haven’t seen in other programs is that we have an extended application process,” Graves said. “Most other programs are open to everybody. We are very selective.”

Graves emphasized that the competitive advantage of the program is in its structure as a minor program of study.

“Another thing is that most of the other programs are focused on being a major,” Graves continued. “What we’re looking to do is pull in students who are majoring in areas that will already make them competitive for jobs and then supplement that with the minor, and then they’re ready to go. Our students are getting jobs that normally would go to people with master’s degrees from Ivy League schools.”

Originally posted at http://thedmonline.com/ole-miss-ciss-provides-students-unique-opportunity/