Gik-Gik, Pt. III
Philip Agee, a CIA case officer during the 1960s and 1970s wrote the 1975 book Inside the Company: CIA Diary in 1975, a memoir of his service that often criticizes some of the things he saw. Among other things, Agee wrote about how one is recruited into the CIA, at least until recently. In 1998, the Agency, for the first time in its history, advertised in college-targeted periodicals for new recruits, just like any branch of the Armed Forces. Under the picture of a presumed college recruit, a boldface caption asked, “Do you have what it takes?” The underlying small print appealed to the potential recruit’s sense of intrigue, adventure, and patriotism. None of the eight models used in the initial campaign were white males, the predominant composition of the Agency. In the 1980s, they set up job fair booths on college campuses across the country. After 9/11, the Agency sought new spies via television advertisements, some like those below, and another series featuring actress Jennifer Garner:
Figure 2. CIA Recruitment Spot
Nobody really knows for sure how many people were recruited in these drives--it is still the CIA, after all. The print ads, plus the reports of students approached on campus, led many observers to the realization that the Agency was striving for diversity. Of course, they weren’t striving all that hard.
But this is now. How did one really become a CIA case officer back in the day? To put it bluntly, you didn’t really choose the Agency for a career. They chose you.
You first had to be nominated by someone who had a connection to the Company, like a case officer, politician, or professor. This nomination took place without the applicant’s knowledge, and usually occurred late in the candidate’s undergraduate career. Agee’s aunt, a Langley secretary, nominated him. That would make him a rather blue-collar recruit. Many came from more privileged backgrounds--Ivy-League, old money or both.
After a cursory background check, a recruiter approached the prospective case officer at a meeting arranged by the nominator. If the recruiter sensed that the young man or woman might consider a life in intelligence, they then asked the potential applicant to sign a confidentiality agreement. Once that’s done, the recruiter announced that they’re from the CIA and asked if he or she would like to join. A few months later, the recruiter met with the candidate again to confirm their intentions. If the candidate decided to join, then the recruiter gave him or her a set of instructions on what to do after college.
Upon graduation, the future spook would walk into the office of any local armed forces recruiter and enlist in the United States Air Force. There was a place on the application form where the recruit supplied a code given to them in the list of instructions. The recruiter would understand what it’s there for, and process the paperwork accordingly.
When the recruit finished boot camp, he or she was assigned normally, and then put on a fast-track promotion to sergeant. To keep other members of the platoon from getting suspicious about what seems to be unfair treatment, the candidate transferred to another unit and adopted a cover story. A year after boot camp, he or she applied for, and was accepted into Officer Training School (OTS). The spy-to-be then graduated, received a commission as a Second Lt., and served in that capacity for about a year until receiving transfer orders to one of several posts, where he or she would begin full training in spycraft. After a year, they transferred again, whereupon they resign their commissions. The Agency then hired them, and after a five-year probationary period, voila, he or she became a full-fledged CIA case officer.
My friend graduated high school in 1981, so she would have graduated from college in 1985, assuming a four-year degree. The strange reunion occurred in April of 1986, ten or eleven months after she left school. That’s an awfully short time to have received a promotion to E5, especially in the USAF. It’s the most popular of the five military services. Airmen like it so much that they stay, on average, much longer than marines, sailors, soldiers, or coast guards. Thus, the rate of promotion was (at least at that time) the slowest of all of the Armed Forces.
Perhaps, that’s why she lied about her year of graduation. It might have been part of a cover story concocted to obfuscate the real reason behind her quickie promotion to NCO. And, out of all of the people I met on this mini-tour of duty, every other airman felt comfortable to give at least a general description of their duties, even though the nuts and bolts of most Air Force details are classified. By asking her what a Juliet-98 did, I probably placed her in an awkward position, and she then realized that she had said too much. (I talk too much too, but at least I do it on purpose.)
Sometimes, I wonder whether I really live a life of high strangeness, or if I’m simply paranoid. Frankly, I have neither the time nor energy to look for conspiracies behind every nook and cranny. I don’t believe my friend’s actions that night were conspiratorial either. I see no larger meanings. My tendency is to think that an old friend might have joined the CIA, went to hear some music one night, and was genuinely surprised to find me on the bandstand. I neither think nor believe that the chance encounter had anything to do with this strange tour. It really had little to do with the rest of my life.
But, looking back on my life, I realized that I knew an awful lot of people who did intelligence work of some type. The very thought makes me shiver. I don’t think I’m paranoid. To my knowledge, nobody is really out to get me. But, my chance encounter with an old friend makes me wonder why there have been so many spies in my life. At present, I can only think of three possibilities. Maybe I am a target. Maybe I’m a not-witting. Then again, maybe spying is such a common occupation that the number that I know is about average, and that I’m no different than anybody else in that respect.
Out of these three possibilities, I find the third to be the most plausible. It is also the one that scares me the most.