Intelligence Officer

Intelligence Officer

An intelligence officer is a professional employed by an intelligence service. Members of the intelligence community make sharp distinctions between intelligence officers and intelligence agents, who are outsiders employed by the intelligence agency. Intelligence officers, on the other hand, are operatives of the agency itself, but their professional role—and the fact that many are military officers and/or intelligence specialists—gives them particular distinction.

The distinction goes back to World War II and the origins of modern intelligence agencies. At that time, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) manuals defined an operative as "an individual employed by and responsible to the OSS and assigned under special programs to field activity." An agent, on the other hand, was defined by OSS as "an individual recruited in the field who is employed or directed by an OSS operative." The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), successor to OSS, calls its operatives CIA officers.

Intelligence officers often work with agents in the role of case officer. A case officer is an intelligence officer whose job it is to supervise agents working on a case, a term referring to an entire intelligence operation. The case officer provides direction to the agent, and if the case officer works on a one-on-one basis with the agent, then he or she is known as the agent's handler. An intelligence officer may assign one agent to perform the role of surrogate handler, working directly with other agents and reporting to the intelligence officer. In that case, the surrogate handler is known as a principal agent.



Phillips, David Atlee. Careers in Secret Operations: How to Be a Federal Intelligence Officer. Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1984.

Roosevelt, Archibald. For Lust of Knowing: Memoirs of an Intelligence Officer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.

Wright, Peter. Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer. New York: Viking, 1987.

Zacharias, Ellis M. Secret Missions: The Story of an Intelligence Officer. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1946.


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