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A Spooky Summer Camp, Run by the CIA

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A Spooky Summer Camp, Run by the CIA


A Spooky Summer Camp, Run by the CIA

A Spooky Summer Camp, Run by the CIA

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The intelligence services of the U.S. are looking for a few good men and women and are taking steps to make sure they can find them in the future. Trinity College is running a "spy camp" for high-school kids this summer. The kids will learn about intelligence work and spy craft in weeklong sessions. The camp is free, but you can't tell anyone what you learn.


Perhaps you'd like to do some investigating on behalf of the US government. Well, intelligence agencies are now hiring. President Bush has ordered the CIA to double its research and development staff and to increase the number of clandestine operators and intelligence analysts by 50 percent, and the demand is likely to grow. So Congress has funded a program to help find students who might be interested. As NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports, one result is spy camp.


It's been an action-packed week for Robert Riddick(ph), a high school student from Rockville, Maryland.

(Soundbite of vehicle engine)

SCHALCH: He's not driving, just looking at a replica of movie spy James Bond's Aston Martin at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.

ROBERT RIDDICK (Camper): The tags spin around to change identities, I guess. The lights flash. The different gadgets go up and down.

SCHALCH: But Riddick and the other 25 students attending this week's spy camp seem even more interested in tools used by real spies, like the lipstick pistol and the umbrella with a poison-dart tip. Riddick examines a replica of a carved, wooden CIA seal, a gift from the Soviet Union to the US Embassy in Moscow that turned out to be a bugging device.

RIDDICK: It was in the nose of the eagle. They made a little hole just like a nostril, I guess, but actually they ran wires through and put it against the wall and listened to it.

SCHALCH: The idea of spy camp is to give high-school students a sense of what working in the intelligence community is really like. The group got to tour CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and got briefed by CIA officials. For Brianna Banks(ph), it was eye-opening to learn how many CIA agents have died in the line of duty.

BRIANNA BANKS (Camper): I'm not gonna go down that way. But, I mean, it's just kind of--I wouldn't say scary, but like borderline to, like, OK, I don't know if I want to do that anymore.

SCHALCH: Banks' counselor pointed out that being a secret agent is just one option and that being an intelligence analyst is safer. Recruitment is a chief aim of this free, weeklong summer camp, offered this year for the first time at Trinity University in Washington, DC. The intelligence community gave Trinity a quarter of a million dollars to reach out to high school and college students.

Ms. KATHY McKINLESS (Director of Intelligence Program, Trinity University): They're trying to become more familiar to a large pool of highly qualified young people in the United States who typically don't think of the intelligence community as a potential employer.

SCHALCH: Kathy McKinless, who directs Trinity's new intelligence program, says one goal is to attract more women and minorities and liberal arts students with excellent analytical skills.

Ms. McKINLESS: It's the ability to do research. It's the ability to write. It's the ability to speak. It's the ability to do the quantitative analysis that's necessary. And those are all things that the intelligence community needs.

SCHALCH: The kids at spy camp get to hone some of these skills by pretending they're spies back in 2003 and analyzing options for dealing with Saddam Hussein. Like most of the campers, Chris Hepp(ph) grew up watching spy movies. He loved the intrigue and cool gear.

CHRIS HEPP (Camper): Kind of learned that it's not as glamorous as all the movies, and I guess I expected that, that it wasn't going to be just like the movies, but it's very far from it and it's more like school. It's all research; it's all attention to detail.

SCHALCH: But Hepp says spy camp has also shown him how much intelligence work matters to the nation. Hepp says he's now thinking about a career in military intelligence. This week's spy camp is a pilot program. Next year, more schools will apply for similar grants to create intelligence programs and launch spy camps of their own. Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of "Peter Gunn" theme)

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