Faculty Q&A: Professors Break Down Hollywood's Version of the Intelligence Field
Michael Botta, D.S.S., professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Intelligence Studies, is a veteran of the intelligence community and brings real-world experience to the classroom.
"Our program is designed so that students taking these courses will be attractive to intelligence agencies. I took a lot of my field experiences and combined them with academic knowledge, and it has made for a very fine program."
Though the adventures of Jason Bourne and James Bond make for adrenaline-pumping, edge-of-your-seat entertainment, truth is actually stranger than fiction when it comes to working in the intelligence field.
"Intelligence careers take years to build from the entry-level positions," said Michael Botta, D.S.S., professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Intelligence Studies. "No one is a single or lone star like TV and Hollywood portray."
In the Q&A below, Botta and Sean Elliot Martin, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminal justice and intelligence studies, discuss the ways the entertainment industry distorts the intelligence profession and what students can actually expect from working in the field.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about the intelligence field that Hollywood perpetuates?
In terms of general tradecraft, Hollywood productions are usually terrible. The agents don't disguise themselves. They draw attention to themselves through high-profile behavior. Of course, James Bond introducing himself with his real name and making no attempt to alter his appearance to hide his identity is a great example.
Maybe the most damaging trend is how they depict intelligence professionals being betrayed by their own country, especially the U.S. This is great for a dramatic story, but it completely ignores the great loyalty that the intelligence community has for its employees and the lengths it goes to in order to keep its officers safe.
How does Point Park's Intelligence and National Security program dispel those misconceptions?
Botta: Our program is an honest, hard look at what people do in this profession every day. I started the intelligence program at Point Park 15 years ago. When I started writing the classes, I was with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. I was doing a lot of intelligence gathering, and I wanted the program to reflect what it was going on in intelligence, terrorism and counter-terrorism.
Our program is designed so that students taking these courses will be attractive to intelligence agencies. I took a lot of my field experiences and combined them with academic knowledge, and it has made for a very fine program.
We maintain excellent relationships with all federal agencies, as well as state and local officers. We like to give our students first-hand experience. It’s one thing to offer an intelligence program, and it’s another thing to offer a program that these agencies like. We’ve achieved that.
What can students expect to learn from Point Park's Intelligence program?
Botta: Students will learn why intelligence is gathered, how it is gathered and how it is used. We teach them how to think correctly and out of the box. Some of our courses include Intelligence Tradecraft Techniques, Critical Thinking for Analysts, Interrogation Techniques, Counter Intelligence and Evolution of Intelligence.
When we teach our courses and give students an adequate understanding of the field, it’s better than fiction to them. They’re at the tip of the spear. They love it. Our training for this field is spot on. Building on that instruction, internships are available through the program at almost all of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
We also go into the history of intelligence, even back to Biblical times when intelligence was used at the battle of Jericho by Joshua. Intelligence has been used for thousands of years. Some call it the oldest profession.
Is there anything else you want prospective students to know about the intelligence field?
Botta: I loved working in the field. It was the best job I ever had next to teaching. When I designed this program, I hoped I could give back to younger people to inspire them to get into this line of work because no two days are alike. I got into a few scrapes, a few dangerous situations. There's nothing like working in intelligence. You’re serving your country. There’s a camaraderie among agents. It’s hard to explain unless you’re apart of it, and you carry it with you your whole life. It’s not what you do. It’s who you are. That’s the big difference.