CIA Recruiting: The Rare Topic The Spy Agency Likes To Talk About : Parallels The CIA is notoriously publicity shy. But when it comes to recruiting, you can find the agency's outreach all over the place, from social media to college job fairs, with an emphasis on diversity.
NPR logo

CIA Recruiting: The Rare Topic The Spy Agency Likes To Talk About

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/594909193/596942431" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
CIA Recruiting: The Rare Topic The Spy Agency Likes To Talk About

CIA Recruiting: The Rare Topic The Spy Agency Likes To Talk About

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/594909193/596942431" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:

The CIA does not often speak publicly, which makes sense. It's the CIA. But when it comes to recruiting, the agency can't seem to stop talking. NPR's Greg Myre went to CIA headquarters and brought back this story.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Want to work at the CIA? Here's some guidance from Sheronda. We can't use her last name, but we can tell you she's the agency's chief of talent acquisition, or head of recruiting.

SHERONDA: We are looking for high school students to come in in certain occupations.

MYRE: That's right. Some kids start summer programs right out of high school. But what happens to your social media accounts?

SHERONDA: People here do use social media. And yes, specific guidelines are provided.

MYRE: And what if you dabbled with drugs?

SHERONDA: It's actually asked up front on the application, have you done drugs within the last year?

MYRE: No drug use in the past year? No problem, probably. The CIA invited us to its headquarters in Langley, Va., and into a recording booth to speak about the evolution of its recruiting with Sheronda and two other women, Mary and Kim - again, first names only.

You have a nice studio here.

KIM: No.

SHERONDA: No, not in this space.

KIM: Yeah, I don't think they put us in the nice room.

(LAUGHTER)

SHERONDA: I've actually been in here.

MYRE: Mary is an undercover officer. And it's extremely rare for someone in her job to speak on the record. Born in South Asia, she's fluent in several hard languages, as she puts it.

MARY: I was in training when 9/11 happened. And it certainly was a wake-up call to my class that we weren't going to be hobnobbing in Paris necessarily but maybe going to some of the not-so-nice places.

MYRE: She was right about that.

MARY: I've been overseas for a majority of my career. I've only come back for a few months to process and then go off to the next assignment.

MYRE: The job is demanding, requiring all kinds of sacrifices.

MARY: In my case, I am undercover. I chose not to tell most of my family, mostly because they worry.

MYRE: In contrast to Mary, Kim has spent her 13-year career at CIA headquarters as an analyst - much of it focused on Africa - and is able to be relatively open about her job.

KIM: This is what I've wanted to do since I was 12. I saw a movie. I wanted to be like that guy in the movie.

MYRE: What movie?

KIM: "Clear And Present Danger." I wanted to be Jack Ryan.

MYRE: Growing up in a small Midwestern town, she had no idea how she'd make her way to the CIA or if the agency would be interested in her as an African-American woman.

KIM: When I decided to go to the CIA career fair, I had a college professor tell me that I could not have dreadlocks and that I was going to have to change who I was in order to be at CIA.

MYRE: For the record, Kim still has her dreadlocks, and they haven't held her back. She's now chief of staff for the Directorate of Analysis. That means she supervises teams that put together intelligence sent in by officers around the world. The old CIA recruiting cliche is a college professor tapping a promising student on the shoulder - a white, male student - and discreetly guiding him to the agency. That still happens. But now there are YouTube videos like this one, featuring Frank, a staff operations officer.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "WHAT DO STAFF OPERATIONS OFFICERS DO?"

FRANK: I plan and guide challenging foreign intelligence collection operations, counterintelligence activities and covert action programs.

MYRE: Applications to work at the CIA shot up after the al-Qaida attacks in 2001. The agency became more visible and more widely welcomed at universities. For journalist and author Daniel Golden, this was a sea change from his student days in the 1970s.

DANIEL GOLDEN: Back then, it was commonplace for students to protest the arrival of a CIA recruiter on campus.

MYRE: Golden wrote the book "Spy Schools," which looks at the CIA's multipronged role at universities.

GOLDEN: It hires people from universities. It funds research and other programs at universities. And so an awful lot of things are taking place now that never would've been considered suitable when I was young.

MYRE: The CIA is clearly presenting itself as a modern, diverse place to work. However, an internal study in 2015 showed the agency was falling well short of its own targets for hiring and promoting women and minorities. Still, Gina Haspel, a 33-year CIA veteran, just became the first woman nominated to hold the top job. And here, again, is Mary, the undercover officer.

MARY: I was one of very few people that wasn't a white male walking around the halls here pre-9/11. But now, I mean, the panel speaks for itself (laughter), I think. There are a lot of women. It's very diverse.

MYRE: And that's definitely not your father's CIA. Greg Myre, NPR News, Langley, Va.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.