Getting the ‘Friday Scaries’ as a Strategic Analyst
Last Updated: Thursday January 18, 2024
This is the 10th installment in a series of profiles featuring DEA special agents, diversion investigators, chemists, and more. Learn about the tough but fulfilling, fascinating, and vital work these DEA personnel do, as well as the many different ways to get involved in fighting drug misuse.
For our 10th profile, we will be interviewing Strategic Intelligence Analyst Thomas.
What motivated you to join the DEA?
I am from Chicago and spent seven years living in Ohio, so I have seen how gang activity and drug trafficking can ruin communities and end lives – I wanted to be a part of something that would mitigate the problems I saw growing up and as a young adult. I worked for an intel contractor in Ohio, primarily as an intelligence/digital forensics analyst, and most of the cases we started or supported were drug cases. After my first couple of big “ah ha” moments during investigations, I was absolutely hooked. There was just something about being an investigator, finding clues, and putting an intricate puzzle together that gave me so much purpose – especially living in the community I was serving, you could actually see the impact you were making. I decided to join the DEA because I wanted to be a part of the bigger picture, help take down the worst of the worst, and inform U.S. policy makers on the most serious national security and public health threat impacting the United States today – the fentanyl epidemic.
DEA sets off an improvised explosive device (IED) during a Personnel Recovery and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) course attended by Strategic Intelligence Analyst Thomas.
What does an average day as a Strategic Intelligence Analyst look like for you?
It sounds so cliché to say it, but there is no average day. I know everyone says that about their job, but hear me out: some days I sit at my desk conducting research all day about an emerging threat, some days I am briefing at a conference on emerging drug trends and cartel activity, some days I am working on a classified project that would make a killer movie plot, some days I am at a laboratory talking to chemists about a new drug combination I heard about, other days I am flying to different countries to meet with sources and gain vital information, and some days I get to brief congressional committees and the White House. Sometimes all of those things happen in the same week and you realize you truly have the coolest career on the planet and you wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I am at the point where I get the "Friday Scaries," which is what I call the anxiety you get knowing the weekend is coming up but all you want to do is keep working. A Strategic Analyst at DEA is someone who is able to soak up and analyze large amounts of information, notice novel trends, anticipate threats, and loves to write. That last part is key – whether you are covertly meeting with a source or preparing a brief for the President, you need to know how to write well and articulate your thoughts: as my work-mom always says, “here in Strategic, we fight crime with nouns and verbs.”
What has been your proudest moment as a Strategic Analyst thus far?
Of all the wild and cool things I have gotten to do as a Strategic Analyst for the DEA, I think the thing that sticks out the most was uncovering an emerging threat my second year on the job and then preparing a brief for the President about that threat just a few weeks later. One of the most intrinsically rewarding moments occurred about a year later when the media and other agencies began to report on the “potential new threat” that we had identified long before; being early to the punch allowed our government to prepare far in advance and really emphasized how good the DEA can be at providing early warnings. Even though the threat ended up being minimal in the end, it was still a really rewarding experience that I will never forget.
DEA Strategic Intelligence Analyst Thomas on assignment in Mexico City, Mexico.
How can young people who wish to become a Strategic Analyst best prepare themselves for the job?
Read, write, and be curious. Whether you are reading a magazine article or Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, you are learning and therefore you are better preparing yourself for this type of career. Sometimes we are asked to write a 30-page sensitive or top-secret paper, then we are asked to turn it into a five-page unclassified paper for the public, and then we are asked to trim it down to a one-paragraph summary for the media. The ability to be clear and concise is a skill, which is ironic given how much I have droned on and on throughout this profile. A magazine article might give great hints on how to write about a topic very concisely, while a tome might provide insights on how to be completely exhaustive in your work – both are important. Words really do matter and minute details are everything. If you are someone who picks up on all the little things and always wonders “why” or “how,” then you should apply for a position with the DEA as a Strategic Analyst (aka Intelligence Analyst or Intelligence Research Specialist, as USAJOBS.gov calls it). We can really use some more curious minds and out-of-the-box thinkers to help us tackle this nation’s greatest threats.
The synthetic opioid fentanyl – often mixed into other drugs – is now responsible for tens of thousands of American deaths per year. How has the fentanyl epidemic changed your job?
Since I joined DEA during the fentanyl epidemic, I wouldn’t say it has changed my job, rather it increased the pace with which I work and the urgency I feel in completing my goals each year. I have always been a very ambitious person, but this crisis has made me even more so and I am lucky to have supervisors and leadership who support my efforts. The DEA’s pursuit against those who wish to do us harm is truly relentless and I am extremely proud to be working for an agency that cares so deeply about its mission.
Aug. 1, 2023 Profile: Meet Special Agent Dave
Aug. 17, 2023 Profile: From Searching Tunnels to Undercover at a Rave...
Aug. 31, 2023 Profile: Fighting the Jalisco Cartel as an Intelligence Analyst
Sept. 14, 2023 Profile: Working With His Wife to Dismantle Drug-Peddling Prison Gang
Sept. 28, 2023 Profile: Meth Hidden in a Gas Tank? Helping DEA as a Chemist
Oct. 18, 2023 Profile: From Teaching English to Helping Capture El Chapo
Nov. 2, 2023 Profile: Phone Forensics: Diving Into Digital Evidence
Nov. 16, 2023 Profile: Inside the World of Chemistry, Calculations, and Clandestine Labs
Jan. 4, 2024 Profile: Training Female Law Enforcement Officers in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia
Note: Some profiles are anonymous or pseudonymous, so as to protect the identities of personnel in the field.