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Intel Marines work to obtain sensitive information about an adversary or an adversary's plans. This involves a variety of activity, from debriefing village leaders and interrogating detainees to collecting and evaluating evidence. (Lance Cpl. Robert Frenke/Marine Corps)
There’s a place in the Corps where Marines can grow a beard, ditch their high-and-tights and go undercover to work alongside operatives with the nation’s most clandestine agencies. No, it’s not special operations. This community is even more mysterious, and officials are actively looking for a certain breed of Marine to join.
Do you have what it takes to be an intel Marine?
Working undercover is one of the many roles an 0211 counterintelligence/human intelligence specialist plays. They interrogate detainees, act as liaisons when Marines are in other countries and gather battlefield intelligence for commanders.
Intel Marines didn’t always have much direct interaction with the rest of the service. That changed when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, and now commanders throughout the Corps are calling on 0211s to support missions ranging from bilateral training exercises with other militaries to protecting bases at home and abroad.
In the Marine Corps, which is shedding thousands of Marines every year as part of a massive active-duty drawdown, the intel business is booming. Officials estimate the demand for 0211s has more than doubled in the past decade, and it will remain high in coming years, they say.
“Everybody wants CI/human intel Marines,” said Col. Andrew Moyer, who serves as chief of staff for the director of Marine Corps Intelligence at the Pentagon. “So the operational tempo is very, very busy.”
Intel is considered a high-demand, low-density military occupational specialty, one for which officials consistently dangle plump re-enlistment bonuses in front of Marines willing to change MOSs. But in September, the community escalated its recruiting efforts with the release of Marine administrative message 443/13, which specifically solicits qualified first-term noncommissioned officers — and even some lance corporals — to try out.
Subsequently, Marine Corps Times was granted rare access to Marine officials intimately familiar with the cryptic, fast-paced lifestyles of 0211 intel specialists. These discussions were sensitive, but what emerged is a detailed look at one of the Corps’ most sophisticated, challenging and unique career fields.
“If you want to still be a Marine but hang your uniform up for a couple of years, wear a suit and grow your hair long, this career field will offer you an opportunity to do that,” Moyer said.
The ideal intel Marine
There are approximately 600 CI/human intel specialists throughout the Corps. Men and womeninterested in moving into the 0211 community should be corporals or sergeants with a General Technical score of at least 110.
Lance corporals meeting time-in-grade requirements for promotion to corporal may be considered, too, according to the MARADMIN.
Incentives include a re-enlistment bonus of up to $45,500. Intel Marines also receive a top-secret security clearance, which Moyer said goes far in distinguishing themselves from their peers.
For lance corporals, the move could bring an automatic promotion as the 0211 field is one of nine in the Corps’ Intended MOS Promotions program for fiscal 2014. Marines must be at least a corporal to be a CI/human intel Marine, so a lance corporal approved for the move will pick up a rank regardless of his cutting score.
Primarily, though, officials are targeting sergeants because it’s believed that to be a successful 0211, Marines need experience and a solid familiarity with how the Marine Corps functions, Moyer said. CI/human intel Marines must have a clear understanding of how a Marine air-ground task force operates and how standard operations work, he added.
“Also, there’s a maturity element because oftentimes we deploy in teams and sub-teams,” he added. “Those sub-teams could be two Marines, off completely by themselves, so there’s a maturity and experience aspect that goes along with that, as well.”
Once Marines join the 0211 community, they tend to stick around, Moyer said. They’re at about 95 percent capacity for gunnery sergeants and more than 100 percent for master sergeants. But since sergeants and staff sergeants make up the majority of their operators, filling that shortage is their priority, he added.
Volunteers must be at least 21 years old with a minimum of three years left to serve once they complete the four-month 0211 MOS school. They must be a U.S. citizen with a valid driver’s license. And their immediate family members, including spouse, parents, siblings and children, must also be U.S. citizens.
They must be able to type 30 words per minute and submit to a federal polygraph test.
Marines must also receive a favorable endorsement from a selection and assessment panel, according to the MARADMIN. These panels are conducted by the Corps’ three major intelligence battalions, which are based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Okinawa, Japan.
Officials declined to discuss what selection and assessment entails. An 0211 master sergeant, whose command asked that his name and duty station not be published for security reasons, said “I can’t go into specifics because we try to keep it fair across the board for everyone coming into the screening.”
Officials also declined to discuss the attrition rate for the MOS school. Marines can wash out of a school for a number of reasons, including injury, Moyer said.
Since 0211s are welcomed from all MOSs, there are no specific skills Marines need coming into the job. Moyer said he has seen successful 0211s come from the infantry, aviation and food service communities. They’re simply looking for squared-away, mature Marines who possess good judgment and can act independently without a lot of direction from their superiors.
If selected, they spend about four months at the Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center in Dam Neck, Va., with 91 total training days. Called MAGTF CI/Human Intel Course, it teaches intelligence-gathering techniques and procedures and how the intel field supports the entire MAGTF.
The 0211 master sergeant, who as a sergeant lat-moved into intel from the infantry, said the course was more challenging than others he’d taken previously because it pushes Marines outside their comfort zones. If Marines are uncomfortable not having to follow set procedures to solve a problem, then the school can be a challenge for them, he said.
“The majority of the school is not academic, it’s performance-based,” he said. “You’re put into scenarios and dealing with role players playing different types of people in those scenarios. There’s often a lot of ambiguity when you’re dealing with personalities and ... the way people think and act. It’s not a science.”
What the job is like
During counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, counterintelligence efforts and human intel-gathering were vital, Moyer said. Since 0211s get their information from people in villages who might interact with Marines’ adversaries, it helped them better identify the enemy’s thoughts and plans, the master sergeant added. That’s information that other intelligence-gathering methods can’t always provide, Moyer said, because it helps them better understand certain patterns they identify through computer-based analysis of signals and imagery.
“The nature of human intelligence is such that it provides context to information you just can’t get through other means,” he said. “So through signals intelligence, you can derive certain things and through geospatial intelligence you can derive certain things. But it’s very difficult to put those things into context.”
To provide that context, intel Marines must establish relationships with individuals who hold sensitive information about an adversary or an adversary’s planscan could better tell them what their adversaries might be planning, Moyer said. This involves a variety of activity, the master sergeant explained — from debriefing key leaders and interrogating detainees and prisoners of war, to collecting and evaluating evidence on the ground and writing reports about their findings.
Stateside, intel Marines may work to identify vulnerabilities that could put bases and air stations at risk. They identify the types of internal information that could aid an adversary — unit rotations, for instance — and develop plans keep that material safe to counter those attempts.
While operating overseas, it’s much of the same, Moyer said. Think troop movements, a unit’s equipment or any specialized skills its Marines may employ — that sort of stuff.
“Any time we have Marines forward-deployed, there are other nations that want to collect information,” he explained. “Part of the  effort is to identify what that foreign collection threat is, and then inform Marines about it so that they hopefully do not divulge information ... that may be useful to an adversary.”
CI/human intel Marines deploy with a variety of units, Moyer said. Their skills are in demand not only in Afghanistan, but within Marine expeditionary units, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, joint operations and other governmental agencies, he said. Those special deployments provide Marines with additional benefits or incentives, he added.
“We have CI/human Marines that support MARSOC,” Moyer said. “So there are other opportunities for some of the specialized training that MARSOC Marines do, too.”
The master sergeant said 0211s interact with a variety of people when supporting a mission. Gathering the information they need to be successful requires strong relationship-building with local villagers, elders or officials from the host nation as they work to inform commanders.
But it’s not always just Marine Corps-specific missions they’re conducting. Joint missions mean they work with troops from across the force, he said, and they have Marines assigned directly to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducting counterintelligence. They also work with embassy staff in the countries in which they’re operating, as well as local militaries and law enforcement, he said.
As an 0211, a Marine also has the opportunity to conduct missions outside of the Corps, Moyer said. Marine Corps Intelligence is one of 16 members of the national intelligence community, and its personnel may find themselves supporting the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Administration or the Department of Homeland Security.
Undertaking such a variety of missions helped the master sergeant broaden his view of the Marine Corps, what its objectives are and how the individual Marine has a part in shaping all of it. As a grunt, he said, he knew his mission was to locate, close with and destroy the enemy. As an 0211, he said he saw there was much more to it.
“I had no idea what went into finding the enemy to locate, close with and destroy in the first place,” he said. “[Even] if it’s some type of peacekeeping mission or something that doesn’t involve direct combat, there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes so that the infantry and other forces can go out and actually do their missions.”