Myth vs. Fact Quiz

The Intelligence Community is made up of the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

Myth. Those agencies are part of the Intelligence Community but it’s bigger than just those three. The IC includes 17 separate government elements that collect and analyze intelligence in order to better protect our nation and our people.

Learn more about members of the IC. 

All intelligence agencies do more or less the same thing.

Myth. Intelligence Community agencies help protect our country through their work in different fields, from satellites to military intelligence to illegal drug trafficking to counterterrorism investigations, to name a few. That requires agencies with parallel and complementary expertise. To be effective, the IC must be both diverse and integrated: diverse to ensure we avoid “group think” and deliver rigorous analysis, and integrated to ensure our products are complete and that we are not duplicating effort. IC agencies also serve very different customers with different needs, including policy-makers, diplomats, warfighters, and national leaders.

Learn more about how the IC works.

Intelligence Community employees can’t use social media...ever.

Myth. Actually, most Intelligence Community (IC) employees can use social media. Each agency sets guidelines to protect its people and its work, but there can be plenty of friending and following and liking in your future, even for the ~1.4 million folks (at last count) with a Top Secret clearance (working in that secure, undisclosed location you’ve heard so much about). (The total number of people holding a clearance of any type at last count was approximately 4.25 million.) In fact, you could say that IC employees are members of one of the world’s most exclusive social networks!  

Passing the security clearance background check is do-able as long as you haven’t done anything illegal.

Fact. Security clearance candidates must meet specific qualifications, such as being a law-abiding U.S. citizen, but a few parking tickets won’t disqualify someone from a career in the Intelligence Community. The background check ensures that only the most qualified and committed candidates are selected, based on a thorough and stringent application process. Some kinds of legal trouble can preclude you from service in the IC, but even more important is to be candid about issues during the clearance process.

You must be able to speak multiple languages to work in the Intelligence Community.

Myth. Nein, non, no. Operatives in movies are often seen speaking fluent Farsi or Mandarin to do their jobs, but it’s not a requirement to be hired in the Intelligence Community. That said, knowing one or more foreign languages is a great asset. In fact, intelligence agencies often teach employees foreign languages needed to perform their jobs.

Learn more about foreign language training in the IC.

People that work for intelligence agencies use high-tech gear all the time.

Myth. Spy movies like to show off all kinds of outlandish gadgets, but real intelligence officers seldom use them. An analyst wouldn't necessarily need a wristwatch with a built-in buzz saw to write a report, though admittedly that would be cool. That said, our scientists and engineers do get to work on and with some pretty cool advanced technology. While we can neither confirm or deny sharks with frickin’ lasers, you can check out Charlie, CIA’s robot catfish, the high-tech research projects currently underway at IARPA, or what NGA’s Research directorate is doing to advance innovation.

Learn more about innovation in the IC.

All Intelligence Community officers in the field have martial arts skills and special weapons training, which they use often.

Myth. Sorry to disappoint, but Jason Bourne and Sydney Bristow are not realistic portrayals of intelligence work. Most IC employees aren’t what you think of as “field agents,” and even those who do collect human intelligence (HUMINT) don’t engage in hand-to-hand combat or bloody shoot-outs to get that information. IC employees in security protective roles do receive weapons and defense skills training, however, the majority of IC officers are focused on building relationships and collecting information using solid tradecraft, not theatrics.

Learn more about careers in the IC.

The government is hiding aliens in Area 51.

Myth. Area 51, aka Homey Airport and Groom Lake, is a classified remote location of Edwards Air Force Base in southern Nevada—NOT a landing base for aliens and extraterrestrial meteorites. Though the base’s current operations are not disclosed to the public, in the past the area has been used for classified aeronautic technology development and flight test and training exercises. The truth about UFOs might be out there, but don’t look for it at Area 51. Don’t believe us? Read about the CIA’s brush with real-life “X-files.”

Learn more about CIA’s “X-files.”